Taking the bus to Boston for creative transportation solutions

When it comes to bringing new thinking to public education, few places can beat Denver. It’s got a wide array of schools that break the traditional mold (both charter and district-run), a cutting-edge enrollment system that covers every different type of school in one application, and a boundary-busting attempt to increase integration by creating “enrollment zones” that give families priority access to several nearby schools instead of a single “zoned” or “assigned” school.

And those innovations have made Denver somewhat of a magnet for other large districts looking to make improvements. Boston, as one example, has modeled its common enrollment system after Denver’s.

But for as much progress as Denver has made at creating new schools and expanding the quality choices available to families, there still is frustration here about transportation. The main driver of change and school choice in the Denver Public Schools has been equity—removing any obstacles that stand between a child and a good education. And for many families in Denver who see a shot at a good education across town, transportation remains an obstacle.

The Denver Public Schools (DPS) has concentrated its efforts, rightly so, at giving families a good school close to home—focusing on improving existing schools and opening new schools. They’ve prioritized bringing the quality to the kids over shipping the kids to the quality.

When pushed on improving transportation to make school choice more equitable, the district’s response has essentially been: Um, that’ll be expensive; we all know how poorly schools are funded; we’re gonna need some help with that.

And this is one area where Denver could maybe turn the tables and steal—er, I mean—learn from other districts, Boston specifically.

As our local Donnell-Kay Foundation pointed out in some new suggestions it’s made for improving DPS transportation—as reported in Chalkbeat—Boston turned to its community and organized a “Hackathon” to encourage some of its best minds to think about creative ways to make busing more efficient and available.

And it worked. The Hackathon was won by no less than…Tom Brady. OK, sorry. It was won, seriously this time, by a team of “analytics and optimization experts” from—gulp—the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

And while we maybe don’t quite have an MIT here, we do have some serious brain power. Lots of great universities, a thriving tech sector, and—heck—a galaxy of rocket scientists, literally, working for the aeronautics companies that call Colorado home.

In describing the power and value of the Hackathon, Boston Public Schools Chief of Operations John Hanlon told the local media: “This is a sign of a new era in government where we work collaboratively with some of the brightest minds in academia and industry to solve challenging problems in a way that helps us reduce costs while also better serving our families and schools.”

Wicked—er, I mean—way cool.

Photo credit: Denver Public Schools

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