REDMOND, WA - When you're the fourth-biggest public school system in Washington, your website needs to be spot on. The Lake Washington School District serves almost 28,000 students and their families in 52 schools. The growing district also includes Microsoft Country, otherwise known as the City of Redmond. Constituents are informed and standards are high.
Administration, teachers, students and parents have long known that the district's nine-year-old website needed an overhaul. "Our constituents are varied, and they all need information that best fits their needs. It's been a challenge," said Shannon Parthemer, the district's communications manager.
Its leadership team wants more than a Band-Aid solution: they aim to reinvent Lake Washington's digital presence in a best-in-class way.
Many — perhaps most — districts and independent schools determine their website needs on their own. Lake Washington has taken a more thorough route. The system sought outside expertise to optimize time and focus on the project. It turned to a nearby firm, Loft9 Consulting, for help. "It was critical for the district to look at its website needs through the lens of an overarching, strategic information technology plan," said Senior Consultant David Martinez.
The first step has been gathering information.
The folks at Loft9 talked to parents, teachers, and administrators to clearly understand the website-user interface from all sides. What problems does Lake Washington's current set-up pose? What do various audiences most need, most want from a site? Only when these two important questions were thoroughly explored could the district begin to step confidently into its online future.
The answers were straightforward, but formidable. From the outside, parents and others struggle to effectively navigate Lake Washington's site. From the inside, site managers have trouble making changes. With so many schools, this congestion multiplies across the district—especially problematic because many Lake Washington schools rely heavily on parent volunteers for content management.
A thorough understanding of Lake Washington's online environment and needs has enabled Loft9 to help the district choose the right firm to design and implement a new and better online communications platform – one built precisely to suit.
The new online environment will accomplish another of critical goal as well — it will keep the community informed about how the district is spending their bond money.
Website Redesign Playbook for Public Schools
A key tool in the selection process: a "scorecard."
Loft9 created a rubric to help the district's leadership team compare various candidates. Categories included:
- Product demonstration
- Tool management
- Systems integrations with other applications such as Skyward or Google Apps for Education
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- Service and support
When Loft9 tallied the results, a clear winner emerged.
"Finalsite scored first in five categories, and came in second in the rest. We were particularly impressed with its design expertise, the quality of its references, and the transparency of its process," says Martinez.
Work on the redevelopment is now underway. The district hopes to have the new site launched by the end of the school year.
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