Looking to redesign your school district's website, but not sure where to start? Take a lesson from Avon Grove School District, who was in need for a total website revamp, and took all the necessary steps along the way.
Inspired by their snazzy new website, we sat down with Avon Grove School District's Technology Director Gary Mattei, and Webmaster Kat Lawyer to learn more on their effective redesign process, which consists of four basic steps.
Step 1: Find out what your community needs
Before heading into the redesign process, Gary and Kat has some ideas of what the site needed to stand out, but they also held focus groups to get opinions from key stakeholders on what they thought was important to have on a website.
"We met with groups of students, parents, staff, and our publicly elected school board," said Gary. "We assimilated a list of everyone's wants. From that, we knew we wanted something that helped us point in a new and modern direction."
Focus groups are a great way to get opinions from different stakeholders, but be careful: it is nearly impossible to get everyone's suggestions, opinions, and wants into one site. But, they do allow you to obtain an understanding of the direction you want to go, as well as which host can deliver what you envision.
"The focus group helped us validate that what we had in mind for changes would be helpful," said Gary.
Aside from what the community wanted to see on the site, there were also needs on the backend.
"We have about 45 hands in the website with skill levels range from basic to advanced, so we needed the platform to be easy to use" said Kat. "I find composer very user friendly, and that's the general consensus."
Website Redesign Playbook for Public Schools
Step 2: Choose the right host to meet those needs
Choosing who is in charge of redesigning your school's website is quite the responsibility. You need a host that will listen to your school's values, create a site that attracts prospects and reflects those values — and don't forget, developing it in a timely manner is of the utmost importance.
"Our current web host could not provide what we wanted to do," said Gary. "We interviewed several different web hosts, and we decided that Finalsite could give us the best service and the best end-user experience"
Fast forward to website launch, it's the general consensus they made the right choice: "Most page managers are secretaries. What used to take them 20 minutes now takes them two," said, Gary.
Aside from a new platform, Gary and Kat knew they needed a website that would make them stand out. From scoping out websites across the country and taking into account that their school's website is in fact, their front door to the district, Kat and Gary had some precise ideas about what they wanted.
"I wanted the motion video on the homepage. No one else in the county had that, and I knew it would make it stand out," said Gary. "Most people visiting Avon Grove will visit our website first, whether they are current or prospective. If you're looking to buy a home, you look at our website first."
Luckily for us, we truly were the right vendor for AGSD. "We had a positive experience, from project to design crew, to support, the experience has been incredible," said Gary.
3. Train your users
Gary and Kat noted the importance of preparing your teachers, staff, and families about the change to be fair.
"We've been telling them since January of 2015 this was coming, and we told them it was coming in the first quarter or 2016 and who the page owners were going to be," said Gary.
Once the site's design was ready, it was time to start building. It only took one 45-minute training session on Composer to get the 45 page owners up and running. They also set parameters for content, styles, and brand, to ensure that even though there are 45 page owners across 4 schools, there is a consistent look and feel.
"I really think everyone was relieved at how easy it was. And once they saw that, they started with the content, with minimal bumping," said Gary.
4. Accept feedback, and always be ready to update your district's site
"We're very open to feedback on the site," said Gary. "For example, the 'I want to' navigation dropdown started as 2 columns. But different parents or staff would say 'hey, I think this should go here,' so we added it."
The dropdown moved up to 3 columns and then 4, and according to Kat and Gary, makes important information "very easy to find" and is one of the most popular feature's of the new website.
Aside from feedback, Kat and Gary have other plans in mind — especially when it comes to video.
"We have students who from our TV crew who will be filming the next (homepage) video. Next year were expecting to have really cool videos that frequently change, and getting more student content is something we want to expand to next year, especially with photos and video," said Gary.
The district is also working on getting Portals ready to make private information easily accessible.
"The Portals will keep all the secure documents that families and faculty access hidden from the public, as well as provide logins and other information," said Kat. "The public doesn't need to see everything we see internally, so this will help keep the site clean and the community informed."
Are you going through the redesign process in the near future? Here are some tips from Kat and Gary:
Start early. Being ahead of the game never hurts, and always keep your staff informed.
Be inclusive with your process to get feedback. Opinions will begin to circulate around you, so include your team and get inspired by their ideas.
Be open to change. Don't worry – everything may not go as planned, but it will all work out in the end.
Have a preview window. Always be open to feedback and allow others to see how the site is coming along. You may have people who notice things you haven't or offer ideas you hadn't thought of before.