It's a software package that was developed by a seven-person firm in Vancouver, B.C., that its makers say can revolutionize the way school systems plan for boundary changes, new school construction and enrollment shifts.
And Prince George's County could become the first U.S. school district to use it.
Superintendent Iris T. Metts and her staff are testing the software called Geoschool, which was developed by Baragar Demographics, a Canadian company that specializes in software for educational planning.
The software is designed to chart geographic and demographic information on electronic maps. School officials theoretically could easily determine how potential boundary changes would affect not only the population of schools but also their racial and economic makeup. And they could project estimated enrollment growth based on data such as building permits and migration of families in and out of the county.
Currently, the school system uses a hodgepodge system of paper maps and several school and county data systems, and they aren't always compatible. Metts has said that piecing together this archaic system creates massive paperwork, wastes valuable time and is too expensive.
Metts, who first learned about the software on a recent trip to an educators' convention in Canada, said she is excited about the chance to upgrade the central office technology.
"There's really not another software that can do what this one can," she said. Her only drawback is that "while many Canadian districts use it, there's no track record in this country."
Chuck Curteis, president and founder of Baragar Demographics, said his product is reliable and points out that it is used by dozens of school systems in Canada, including the 80,000-student Ottawa-Carlton district in the nation's capital.
Curteis, 59, worked many years as a director of planning for the Surrey School District in British Columbia, which at the time was the fastest-growing district in the country. As he came upon planning problems, he said, he compiled a "wish list" of what his ideal computer program would be able to do.
When he retired from that job, he and his son Jason, 30, started working on the development of the software, which Curteis says differs from typical geographic planning software designed for county government planners because it is tailored to the needs of educators.
The way it works is that the school system sends its maps and student data files to Curteis, whose staff enters them into the software program. The software can analyze the data and show educators what kind of students live in which areas of the county and what the demographic trends are in different areas.
"It's designed for senior staff to ask what-if questions," Curteis said. "What if we change the boundary here and here -- what impact will that have on all of our other schools? It'll give you an answer in less than a minute. It's virtually instantaneous."
This kind of information is particularly useful for Prince George's educators who are trying to determine the best way to redraw school boundaries after a federal judge last summer ended 26 years of court-ordered desegregation busing.
Curteis would not say how much the software would cost the 130,000-student school system, but he did say that Ottawa-Carlton paid about $40,000 in U.S. dollars for its version. The Prince George's version would be more expensive because there are more students here, he said.
Although a deal has not been struck, Metts said she hopes to purchase some sort of planning software soon.
Templeton Elementary in Riverdale was the only Prince George's County school and one of 10 Maryland elementary schools to be honored last week by the U.S. Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.
The honor is considered the highest recognition for a school. Across the nation, 266 schools received the award this time.
"Templeton is a lighthouse school that has capitalized on its potential and truly made a difference in the lives of youngsters," Education Department official J. Robert Hendricks said after he toured the school.
Templeton's rise is remarkable because 70 percent of its students come from families whose incomes fall below the poverty level. From 1993 to 1996, Templeton's score rose 23 percentage points on the state performance test.