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Dads code their own boundary solution

Website users can quickly test Beaverton school attendance ideas

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Darren Hart, left, listens as Susan Finch shares her concerns about what draft high school boundary changes would mean to friends as Brad Larson and his daughter, Sarah, 13, listen during a high school boundary open house in the commons of Five Oaks Middle School. Hart and Larson created software that helps residents experiment with high school attendance boundary changes. How did you spend your winter break?

Brad Larson used a good bit of his own down time to write computer code he believes could improve the Beaverton School District’s complex, and sometimes controversial, process to redraw its high school attendance boundaries.

Darren Hart joined Larson as the two high-tech professionals created a website called sensibleboundaries.com that allows a far less-sophisticated user to almost instantly move around lines on a school district map and receive instant feedback.

“We hope that it helps them because it will give us a much better school district than the behind-closed-doors process,” Larson said.

Larson and Hart are both fathers who live in highly contested neighborhoods near Highway 26, which under the district Boundary Advisory Committee’s latest proposal would shift students from attending Sunset High to Beaverton High.

But they said it’s not just about them.

“We want to get the people in Aloha involved in the discussion, the people from Southridge involved in the discussion,” said Hart, who like Larson, believes the committee’s work has been too secretive, too slow and perhaps too data-deprived.

The dads opened the website’s access to anyone in the district, giving demonstrations of the software during the committee’s open house last week and handing out passwords so others can log on and test their own ideas.

Hart’s brief demo showed a highly functional technology that immediately calculates the effect of boundary shifts on school capacity, students’ travel distance and number of students who would transition to another campus, free and reduced lunch counts and so forth, which are among factors the district committee is mulling.

Boundary lines can be altered sweepingly using elementary school attendance areas or more subtly by smaller grid areas that track projected student populations in smaller neighborhoods.

Amber Christensen, a parent who knows both Larson and Hart, has used the website to come up with her own boundary ideas she thinks improve upon the committee’s work so far.

“There’s a possible map that satisfies all the criteria.”

Christensen said the website seems to make better use of technology and data, and offers her instant results on the pros and cons of boundary shifting. Hers and other ideas also are available for all users to compare.

“It feels like we’re in a different century, using Sharpies when we should be using software,” Christensen said.

But don’t expect the district to tear up its latest “learning map” and start over with sensibleboundaries.com.

Maureen Wheeler, the district spokeswoman, said their strategy was well thought out and already deep into the process, but she said committee members would consider maps produced through the website along with a torrent of other comments.

Robert McCracken, the facilities planning coordinator and a member of a technical advisory team assisting the committee members, said their technology would allow them to produce boundary maps quickly and with similarly rich data, but the committee by design only releases versions in an orderly fashion when they believe a proposal is polished enough for public release.

He recognizes that their own process looks slow from the outside.

“It’s not evident to the public because they’re not in there with the committee,” McCracken said. Committee members “are working nonstop in these committee meetings.”

The committee’s newest proposed map is likely to be unveiled at its Feb. 4 meeting.