Exploring Durham Public Schools with Ease

Code for Durham Alpha Launch of School Navigator

When Alex Lemann, 32, started thinking about raising a family and buying a home in Durham, he was amazed to find that there was no single website where he could find all the public-funded schools — neighborhood, magnets and charters — on a map. Much less understand the different zoning complexities or compare schools in any way.

As a member of Code for Durham, a local volunteer group of civic technologists and community advocates, he brought this challenge to the group. We believe all citizens deserve the best user experiences possible when it comes to getting information about tax-funded services, regardless of one’s views on education policy. So we took a second look.

Many months and Github commits later, Code for Durham is proud to present the alpha release of Durham’s School Navigator @ schools.codefordurham.com.

School Navigator (Alpha) seeks to make it easier to understand the local public school options, and to support Durham Public Schools (DPS) in their mission. We have reached out to partner with leaders at DPS and the DPS Parent-Teachers Association to ensure we are supporting them.

School Navigator in two steps…

Alpha — Phase 1 — De-mystify local zoning!

We heard from many parents and friends that figuring out what zone you belonged to was way too difficult. It took parents hours to discuss and research the options. And while we appreciate the social bonding effect of relying on word of mouth for all information, that’s n0t how this should work!

Our current release reflects Phase 1 — showing you all the schools and all of their zones, when those zones are factors in your ability to access that school based on your residential location.

Beta — Phase 2 — More data in partnership with DPS

This is where you come in. We want to bring more relevant information into the school decision-making process, but want inputs from parents on what is relevant and needed. We are interested in sites like the recently released College Scorecard as a model of simple but informative interface for sharing data.

Please take a quick survey to improve School Navigator, a new community based website for Durham parents by October 20th:

Sharing is Caring

Below is our email and blurb we’d love for you to share with your friends or neighborhood groups or other relevant listserves in email as well.

Dear [relevant listserve],
We’d like your help in sharing a survey about a new website on public schools in Durham with your respective schools. Code for Durham, a local volunteer group, is developing this website called School Navigator to help Durham parents better understand their public school options and make informed schooling decisions. They’re looking to get feedback from a diverse group of parents on the initial mapping tool they’ve build and, most importantly, input on the content for future school profiles.
We are supporting these efforts because we think School Navigator can be a valuable tool for both Durham parents and for public schools seeking to share information with those parents.
We’d appreciate if you could share the blurb below with your listserves or including it in upcoming newsletters to help get the word out.
Thanks for your help,
Please take a quick survey to improve School Navigator, a new website for Durham parents.
Did you ever have trouble figuring out which school zone you live in? Or wish you had better access to information about public schools in Durham? School Navigator is a new community-led website created to meet these needs. We are looking for your feedback, parents, on how to make it better! Please take 5–10 minutes to complete our survey here by October 20th: http://bit.ly/schoolnavsurvey

Our goals in this community effort

  1. Help parents understand the public schools available to their family and make informed schooling decisions based on accurate and complete information
  2. Provide a common platform for all public schools to share information about their offerings and accomplishments with parents.

We aspire to apply most of the principles of the U.S. Digital Services Playbook to our Code for Durham projects (at least as applicable for being a volunteer led group). Some of those principles include:

  1. Understand what people need — we’ve done 80 user tests to get initial feedback and are engaging the Parent-Teacher’s Association to get input to the design of phase 2
  2. Keep it simple and intuitive — the search + map interface choice is meant to simplify the experience
  3. Address the whole experience from start to finish — eventually, we would like to address the entire experience parents go through in choosing a school or a place to live based on schools