The 3 Biggest Boundary Planning Project Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

Author: Kent Martin Published: January 12, 2022

We’ve seen even the most experienced school district leaders make some missteps that can derail an attendance area boundary planning project. Working with school districts of all sizes across the country has taught us that if just a few key mistakes are avoided, boundary planning projects get off the ground more quickly and run more smoothly. Here are the three most common stumbling blocks we see and how to make sure you don’t run into them.

Mistake 1: Failure to create a framework for how board of directors/board of education members will engage in the project.

Your school board members are among your most important stakeholders. Get them invested in your initiative by taking time at the beginning of the project to set expectations for when and how board members will engage in enrollment-balancing planning and activities. Here are some key project elements you’ll want their participation in:

  • Boundary adjustment guiding principles development
  • Acting as liaisons to boundary committee working groups (if you’re creating them)
  • Development of a student transition plan needed for new boundary implementation
  • Communication and engagement with district parents/guardians and community stakeholders

Mistake 2: Undefined committee working group roles.

Your initial project planning should include decisions around whether you’re going to form a committee working group, and if you are, what its role in the project will be and how committee membership will be determined.

Recruiting and training a group of community members to help you develop enrollment-balancing solutions is a lot of work, but careful planning pays dividends here—you’ll be ensuring that your project process is thorough, transparent, and respected by the community.

If you are creating a committee, get started thinking about which schools or communities should be represented within the group. What about certain ethnicities? Should building and district staff be on the committee? Should all committee members be voting members? How will consensus be measured? These are all important questions to address.

Mistake 3: No School Transition Strategy.

Begin with the end in mind: plan for when students will make school transitions once solutions to balance enrollment are implemented. It may feel strange to think about this when your project hasn’t yet begun, but trust us—your future self will thank you. Now is really the time to think about when school transitions will occur, and by what processes and timelines affected students will transition to their new schools.

Will all transitions happen on the implementation date, or can students choose to stay at their existing, non-boundary schools until a specific change in grade level? Can students remain in their current school through completion of each respective level? Will students be allowed to attend an out-of-boundary school if they have a sibling attending? You can’t anticipate all the questions you’ll need to account for, but getting some of them out of the way now will help you down the road, alleviate parent and student anxiety, and ensure community trust in the process.

Learn more about attendance area boundary planning

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Kent Martin

Senior Planner—School District Sector Lead


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