Each year, The Connecticut Association of Boards of Education acknowledges districts for their efforts in digital marketing and community relations. This year, two Finalsite districts, Ellington Public Schools and Greenwich Public Schools, received the top honor from CABE for their websites.
Ellington Public Schools
Ellington Public Schools received the top website award acknowledgement and an honorable mention for their social media presence. They entered their website as "The Transparent School," a term they use to describe the authentic, real-time look at life on campus that their site provides.
Scott Nicol, Ellington Public School's Superintendent, said that this accomplishment is a recognition of their forward-thinking efforts:
"Ellington Public Schools believes that it is the responsibility of all educators to promote the opportunities, experiences, and achievements of all of our students, and the creative and innovative work of our teachers," said Scott.
"As part of our transparent school initiative, we endeavor to provide multiple entry points for stakeholders, from students and parents to extended family members and larger community, so that they can see into the classroom in a variety of appropriate ways."
This kind of transparency is something new for a lot of schools and districts. There is much to take into consideration, including privacy, quality of content, frequency of content — and these are all concerns that Ellington Public Schools is extremely cognizant of each and every day.
However, for Ellington Public Schools, the rewards of transparency are well worth the extra work needed to ensure everything always goes to plan because it breaks down communication barriers that previously existed.
"As educators, we take for granted that we get to spend time in schools and in classrooms. Based upon that access, we understand, we grow and we evolve into what education today is all about. Yet, everyone else draws on their experiences from when they went to school, and they can always get the same inside-look that we get when they're invited to."
Of course, let's address the elephant in the room: how do teachers find more time to run a social media account to provide this inside look? According to Scott, it's easier than you think.
The district currently has 75% of teachers participating on a daily basis, and together, they contribute more than 1,000 pieces of authentic content to Ellington Public School's website on a weekly basis.
[Homepage Social Media Feed]
This immense amount of content is handled by Finalsite's social media mash-up tool, Finalsite Feeds.
Feeds allows the district to aggregate and moderate all teachers' social media accounts, meaning:
- Ellington Public Schools can prevent posts containing certain words from ever making it to the website
- Ellington Public Schools can remove posts that don't reflect the school's brand
- Each school in the district can pull in content unique to them
- The district homepage can pull content from all teachers and schools
[Ellington High School Social Media Feed]
With this kind of constant content curation, it's easy to be concerned. However, Scott has complete faith in the system:
"When we set the foundation of producing a significant amount of social media content, where students are in photos in videos, the first step was to get parent permission. As a district, we honor, value and trust the professional judgment of our educators to share appropriate content."
Aside from providing an inside look at the classroom for parents, for the first time ever, educators have an inside look at what other educations are doing. "The social feeds have captivated many of our teachers," said Scott. "As educators, it is interesting to see other teachers from other schools engaging in different types of activities, and its prompting more conversations and professional earning because it's a non-threatening catalyst to take their own initiative on things that are of interest to them."
In addition to their innovative and transparent website, Ellington Public School's logo also went through a re-brand. Created by one of the district's board members, the new logo captures the balancing of tradition and innovation, summarizing the mission of all the district's communication efforts. Together, all of these efforts are brought together to achieve one common goal: market and promote Ellington Public Schools in new ways.
"Traditionally, when you grew up in a town, you went to the school system, so there was never a need to market your school system," said Scott. "With the advent of magnet and charter schools, public institutions have to think creatively about marketing what they do and promoting it."
5 Tips for a Successful Public School District Website Redesign
Greenwich Public Schools
Kimberley Eves, Director of Communications for Greenwich Public Schools, agreed that their award-winning redesign came about for a very similar reason. "We were looking for a way to market our schools, provide transparent information, and make it easily accessible," she said.
"In particular, we were looking for a responsive design, because most of our parents use their mobile devices to access the web. We prioritized that during the process."
A huge priority for Greenwich Public Schools was content strategy. Unlike Ellington Public Schools, who depends on social media and teacher-produced content, Greenwich Public Schools puts an emphasis on a strong, branded message.
"When we launched sixteen new websites, one of our major objectives was to streamline the content and make it more consistent," said Kimberley. "We developed content strategies and standards, and focused training on that, answering questions like 'who owns this content' and 'how should the navigation work?'"
By visiting Greenwich Public School's homepage, and individual school websites, it's clear to see a couple key things:
- The navigation is clear and consistent across every single site
- Content is simple, organized and strategic
According to Kimberley, the best way to keep the new site looking clean and organized is by limiting the content that admins can update. Prior to the redesign, numerous webmasters were uploading policies and other information. Now, they manage the site content by the mantra "if you own it, you post it. If not, link."
"This helps us maintain version control, and reinforce accurate and up-to-date website content across the District by linking to it," said Kimberley.
"We also tried to minimize clicks and use more scroll," she said.
"Our goal was to strive for '140 characters and an image' on each page — not necessarily literally, but the point is that visitors don't have the time to read lengthy narrative. We want to make it easy for them to find the information they need without reading through paragraphs of information."
Kimberley currently manages 100 website admins, which with her two-person office can become a challenge. But, with safeguards in place — like branding guidelines and technical stops — the website has come quite a long way.
"I love the fresh, new design, the consistency, and the presentation of the content," said Kimberley.
"The responsive design, and clarity of the navigation and content is a big shift for us. We were in this horrible habit of throwing everything on the homepage; now we are able to present and highlight the current news and information on the homepage, and provide clear and consistent navigation, making it easier for our community to find the information they're looking for."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.