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How Burbio Is Turning Calendar Events Into School Reopening Data

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In the Covid era, everyone is pitching in. The latest example of this involves Burbio, a data service that’s known for aggregating school and community calendars to digital partners, local media, and real estate firms. With the intense interest in school openings, and the impact that distance learning is having on back-to-school retail sales, Burbio’s team recently built a school opening tracker that uses hyper-targeted data to measure in-person versus virtual schooling at schools all across the country.

Data for Burbio’s School Opening Tracker comes from more than 150,000 school and community calendars. Burbio is actively monitoring millions of events in these calendars, representing more than 35,000 schools, including the 200 largest school districts in the U.S. Events are dynamically updated daily and targeted to the zip code level. This allows retailers, brand marketers, and investors to quickly pick up on emerging trends—like schools in certain zip codes beginning to reopen for in-person learning—so they can make smarter business decisions based on local schooling data in real-time.

“For investors, whether a school is in person or virtual has a dramatic impact on energy usage, retail sales, mobility, and local employment conditions,” says Burbio Co-Founder Dennis Roche. “For retailers and their suppliers, the shift to virtual is having a major effect on the levels and timing of back-to-school sales.”

School reopening plans are changing daily, but Burbio’s most recent data shows that 62% of all K-12 public schools in the U.S. were “virtual-only” as of September. However, a shift from virtual to in-person schooling is happening in certain regions, which means the 62% figure may begin to decline in the coming weeks.

Although Burbio is capable of measuring virtual events as well as live ones, Roche says the live element is the best indicator of community life re-emerging after statewide Covid shutdowns.

Thousands of school districts changed their announced plans from in-person education to virtual beginning in late July, and retail chains that rely on back-to-school sales were left scrambling to adjust their product stock to account for the change. Although overall spending on back-to-school products remains unchanged, regardless of whether schools opt for virtual or in-person learning, researchers from Deloitte found that category purchases have begun to shift. Lunch boxes, backpacks, and apparel have been pushed aside to make way for more Chromebooks, headphones, and home workstations.

According to Deloitte, mass merchants are still the top back-to-school shopping destinations, but they’ve lost some share to local neighborhood stores, like drugstores and grocers.

Roche says major retailers like Walmart, Target, and Kohl’s are all looking for real-time sources of local school information, and he’s hopeful that his company’s data will be useful from a business intelligence perspective.

“We provide daily updates to clients and a projection of shifts from virtual learning back to in-person based on districts announced plans,” he says.

The schools tracker can also be combined with other data products that update events, like school start dates, vacation schedules, and in-person activities.

To ensure complete accuracy in its School Opening Tracker, Burbio has a team working full time checking the status of districts by reviewing school websites, social media announcements, and local media reports. The company expects to keep its tracker updated daily through 2021.

“There is no other product on the market that is auditing this information daily, in this depth and breadth, and aggregating in a way that can quantitatively measure differences over time down to the county-level insights,” Roche says. “Thousands of school districts changed their announced plans from in-person education to virtual beginning in late July, so the information needs to be actively reviewed.”

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.