Back-to-school communications hold significant weight. How your website functions, what your emails say and what you share on social media set the tone for the year ahead. For some families, this will be the very first impression they have of your school. Will your messaging project confidence and excitement or will it make parents question their decision to enroll? It all starts with having a well-designed plan for communicating as a new school year begins.
In this post, we’ve taken a deep dive into updating your website for the back-to-school season. We’ll cover the following areas:
- Creating a Back-to-School Communications Hub
- Refreshing Your Staff Portal
- Updating Your Staff Directory
- Converting PDFs to Digital Forms
- Refreshing Your Most-Viewed Website Content
- Creating Multilingual Website Content
Your website is your school’s digital front door and the go-to source of information for all things related to your school district. This is especially important in the weeks leading up to the start of a new school year when your community is naturally seeking information.
Starting your back-to-school website updates early with updated, relevant and easy-to-find information for returning to school is a key component of a successful back-to-school plan.
When it comes to back-to-school information, the content your parents are looking for typically lives all over your website. Health forms, registration documents, calendars, bus routes, menus — they all have a home on your site, but most likely it’s not in one centralized location.
So, what happens when you direct parents to 20+ different pages on your site to find important content they need to launch the new year? It all becomes noise, and a poor website design or user experience gets students, families, and staff frustrated.
There is a better way! A back-to-school communications hub on your website is a one-stop-shop for families to find everything they need to get ready for a new school year. It’s a similar concept to the communications and COVID-19 hubs that many schools created during the pandemic. It all boils down to ensuring relevant information surrounding a single topic is available in an easy-to-find location on your website.
What Should I Include in my Back-to-School Communications Hub?
- Welcome message from the superintendent
- Calendar of events and important dates
- School supply lists
- Online registration forms & links
- Health requirements & forms
- Lunch menus & meal program information
- Transportation information
- Student/parent handbook
- District newsletters
- Where to find teacher assignment/class schedules
- COVID-19 restrictions and information (if applicable)
It’s not just the district that should have a back-to-school hub. Each school should have one, too. There is often school-specific information that parents and students need to know that doesn’t belong in the district hub. Usually, school-specific information is more detailed and informative than the district content.
So what should you include in your individual school’s back-to-school hub?
Back-to-School Hub Checklist for Individual School Sites
- Welcome message from the principal
- School contact information
- Staff directory
- Calendar of individual school events
- School newsletters
- Pick-up and drop-off instructions
- Start and end times
- Meet the teacher events
- PTA/PTO links
- School supply lists
Be sure to reference your district hub and note any items that should also be present on the individual school pages, too (registration information, menus, supply lists, handbook, etc.). There will likely be some overlapping elements that should live in both places.
Don’t forget your staff will be coming back to a new school year as well, and will likely need different information than your parent community. When is their first day? What will the all-staff meeting look like? How can they gain access to set up their classrooms?
To avoid answering these individual questions dozens of times, or having the information get lost in an email inbox, ensure your staff portal is refreshed with a back-to-school section just for employees.
What to include in your staff back-to-school hub:
- Staff-specific calendars
- Building access information
- Institute Day agendas and timelines
- Messages from the principal and superintendent
- Link to public/community back-to-school hub
- Staff COVID protocols and expectations (if applicable)
💡 TIP: Get staff excited for a new year by offering an online school store or a way to sign up to receive district spirit wear. They’ll love receiving a branded t-shirt, sticker or drinkware to celebrate the district and feel pride in working there!
Once teacher assignments are made public, parents will quickly look for staff biographies and contact information. To avoid having incorrect names, assignments or contact information in your staff directory, start cleaning up this content as soon as the new fiscal year rolls around in July.
If your website provider offers staff directory integrations with your student information system (SIS), take advantage of that time-saving tactic. There is no need for manual entry for this type of information. Nobody has time for that! As long as your SIS stays up to date, your staff directory will, too.
💡 TIP: Teacher pages are a great way to showcase your staff online, sharing more than just their name and contact information. If your website provider offers teacher pages as a feature, take advantage of it. Teachers can include a personal message, photos, assignments, calendars and more. Link the teacher pages to your staff directory for easy access to this information.
For as long as you can remember, your district has likely relied on PDFs as a vital piece of school-to-home communications, especially during back-to-school season. And unless you've gone through the process of making each and every PDF on your website accessible, your website could be filled with inaccessible content that doesn't meet the mandatory requirements of WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1.
You could go through the painstaking process of making all of your PDFs WCAG 2.1 accessible, but you’d still be creating barriers for multilingual families or people trying to find your content via your website’s search function. Don’t forget that PDFs aren’t searchable or translatable like the rest of your website content.
Another thing to remember: not everyone has a printer at home, so if you are using PDFs as a replacement for a form a parent is required to fill out, you’re creating yet another obstacle.
If your website is filled with PDFs, converting everything to a digital form or website page can seem like a daunting task. Start small by focusing on the most viewed back-to-school content, and scale from there.
PDFs to convert to digital forms or webpages:
- Parent/student handbook (webpage content)
- Student fees forms (digital form)
- Transportation request forms (digital form)
- Free & reduced priced meal forms (digital form)
- Home language survey forms (digital form)
Before launching your back-to-school hub, you’ll also want to take a deeper look at the rest of your website content to make sure everything is relevant and updated for the start of a new year. You won’t want to start the year with a homepage covered in photos of last year’s graduation — or worse, last January’s snowstorm.
Take a good look at some of the more frequently visited pages and take inventory of what can stay and what should go to prepare for the inevitable influx of visitors come August and September.
Let’s dive into the areas to pay special attention to...
Homepage Photos and Videos
Your homepage likely includes visuals like a large hero image or video content. Late summer is a good time to swap out those graduation photos or end-of-year celebration images with more evergreen content that speaks to the back-to-school season.
Even if you are using stock photos from a previous school year, make sure the images match the summer/fall season and reflect an energetic, back-to-school vibe. That means get rid of any photos that were clearly taken in the winter or fall and ensure your images don’t speak to a specific event, like graduation or the Halloween parade.
- 3 Tips for Taking High-Quality School Marketing Photos
- Your School’s Secret Marketing Tool: Cell Phone Cameras
- Should My School Hire a Professional Photographer?
💡 TIP: Take high-quality generic photos throughout the year to create a stockpile of great pictures you can use whenever you need a quick website refresh.
💡 TIP: Hero videos will be harder to create and swap out than photos. When deciding what to showcase on the main section of your website, consider the amount of work it will be for you to update it throughout the year.
School district website accessibility shouldn’t stop with ADA compliance. Accessibility also means ensuring families who don’t speak English can access your website content, too.
In the U.S., more than 61 million Americans speak a language other than English at home, which is over 20% of the population! Before the school year begins, make sure your website has a system in place for translating content from English to other languages represented in your community, which is critical for inclusivity and engagement.
Google Translate isn’t Enough
While Google Translate is a convenient and inexpensive tool, it’s usually not an accurate way to translate content. Automated translation from this source can result in some pretty off-the-wall translations, leaving families more confused than informed.
In working with schools in over 100 countries, Finalsite knows the importance of multi-language websites. We’ve partnered with Weglot to help schools easily and more seamlessly translate their websites into more than 100 languages. While Weglot's translation API is automated, its accuracy is more reliable than other tools on the market.
Perhaps the best part about the tool is that admin users can manually review and override incorrect translations through a simple editing interface. Any corrections will appear everywhere that phrase or name pops up on your site.
Can’t get a tool like Weglot before the school year launches? Consider manually translating key pages like the content within your back-to-school communications hub into the top languages spoken in your community.
More people visit your website during the back-to-school season than any other time of the year, and the content you share sets the tone for the year ahead. Make sure your district and school sites have everything parents and staff need to know to start off the year on the right foot.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Morgan Delack is Finalsite's VP of Communications, leading the marketing team's public school content, branding initiatives and professional development events. Morgan's background is a mixture of public school communications and television journalism, having worked in both industries for several years. She was named among NSPRA's 35 under 35 and has earned two Emmy Awards for her work in broadcasting. Morgan lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two kids.