• Public School District
3 Communications Strategies for School Districts in 2020
Risa Engel

As we start a new decade, are your school district’s communication efforts headed in the right direction? Here are three digital communication strategies schools should be thinking about in 2020. 

Many school district strategic plans led up to the year 2020. The significance of a new decade made this year an easy target to reach for. Variations of “2020 Vision” or “Vision 2020” were used by districts nationwide to describe their cohesive planning strategies. Does that sound familiar? 

January is the perfect time to dig up your “2020 Vision” documents and create a new game plan to drive your school communications into the future. Public school communications are more important now than ever before. Not only are districts investing more staff, money and time toward school communications, but parents, staff and students have come to expect more in this area, too. 

As you start to plan for the year ahead, consider these three communications strategies that will be essential for your school district in 2020:

  1. Mobile-First Web Design
  2. Mobile App and Push Notifications
  3. Meaningful, Personalized Website Design 

1. Mobile-First Web Design

Back in the early 2000s, school districts were ahead of the game by simply having a website presence at all. Fast forward to 2020, and not only is a website expected, but having a site designed for mobile access is also critical! 

Think of your own Internet habits. How frequently are you surfing the web on your laptop or tablet, or do you find yourself looking for information on your phone? 

Your parents and staff are no different. In fact, more than 50 percent of website visitors are visiting from mobile devices (Statista, 2020). That number is likely higher in communities with larger levels of poverty, as mobile access is often the only Internet access some families have.  

So, what does all of this mean for you and your school district’s website? 

When redesigning your school district’s website in 2020, ensure it is mobile-first in order to meet the needs of your mobile visitors. Mobile-first design means your website is built to look and navigate just as well on a phone as it does on a larger computer or laptop. This is different than responsive web design because mobile-first websites are built for mobile. Responsive websites are built for desktop, but will collapse to perform well on mobile. As we head into a new decade, prioritizing mobile-first is essential to reaching your diverse community.
There is an art to perfecting mobile-first web design. What looks and functions great on a large monitor doesn’t always work well on a mobile device. Finalsite’s designers kept mobile viewers’ needs in mind when designing responsive versions of these sites: 

Rowan-Salisbury School System | North Carolina

rowan salisbury school district homepage screenshot

Rowan-Salisbury School System’s homepage translates well from the desktop to the mobile version. Visitors on the mobile site have easy access to the navigation through a condensed hamburger drop down menu, and can still enjoy the photo gallery and district mission statement in a slightly adjusted configuration. 

rowan salisbury school system website screenshot mobile view

When you tap on the menu navigation of the mobile website, you’ll see the needs of the mobile visitors have definitely been kept in mind. The drop down menus are easy to click through, and there is strategic placement of news and calendar buttons, offering easy one-click access to frequently viewed pages for those on-the-go visitors. 

mobile view navigation example screenshot from rowan salisbury school district

District 125 | Stevenson High School | Illinois

"by the numbers" example screenshot from stevenson high school district

Stevenson High School’s website includes two side-by-side block feature sections, that become single columns on mobile. This makes it easy to scroll through, without having to eliminate content or sacrifice design. 

rowan salisbury school district "by the numbers" example screenshot

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Key Takeaway 

In 2020, most school website traffic comes from mobile visitors. In order to meet the needs of these on-the-go website visitors, school districts should consider a responsive website design. 

2. Mobile Apps and Push Notifications

Mobile apps are no longer just a fad. They are an important extension of your district’s communications plan, and for good reason. We already know that the majority of people today are accessing the Internet from their mobile devices. Furthermore, these mobile users are spending 87 percent of their time using apps (ComScore, 2017)!

screenshot of the Minooka School District app in the app store

One of the biggest benefits of a mobile app is personalization. With a district mobile app, visitors are offered a personalized, on-the-go viewing experience. If a parent doesn’t want to see information related to certain schools, activities or events, they are able to filter those things out, only viewing the content that matters to them. A mobile app also allows faster access to on-the-go information than visiting a school district’s website directly.

screenshot of the Finalsite app showing filterable option for events

So what’s the difference between a mobile-first website design and a mobile app? Why not just do one or the other? Although the end goal is similar - access from a mobile device - they both serve different purposes. 

A mobile-friendly website allows easier access to everything housed in your website-the full navigation, and likely thousands of pages! The mobile app is meant to provide a simplified and personalized experience for those quick access items like calendar events, phone numbers and news items. 

Beyond quick and personalized access to information, mobile apps have additional perks that will be important to engaging with school communities in 2020: Push notifications. 

Push notifications are an effective way to ensure your parents and students are receiving important information, by pushing it directly to their phones. Have a field trip form that needs to be signed? Sending it as a push notification will likely get a higher response rate than sending it as an email alone. Research shows push notifications can boost engagement by up to 88 percent (Invesp, 2019). Push notifications are a more effective way of connecting with your community than relying on email alone. 

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Key Takeaway 

Mobile apps offer personalized, quick access to information and allow for your district to better connect with its stakeholders. The implementation of a mobile app should be part of your 2020 communications plan. 

3. Meaningful, Personalized Website Design 

The thread that ties these pieces all together is your school overall website design. What does your current website say about your school district’s brand and reputation? Is it something to be proud of? Your website is a main driver of your district’s overall brand. The style and content of your website should match your brand standards and tell your district’s story. Website design trends are evolving every year. What was popular and impactful over the last five years may no longer be the direction to take in 2020. Make sure your website effectively tells your district’s story and makes a powerful first-impression by staying on top of design trends this year. 

Great public school websites have a marriage of modern design and intuitive navigation. Dare County Schools website is a great example of this. 

dare county school district homepage screenshot

The eye-catching hero video gives you a taste for what this district is all about, showcasing the culmination of the school experience of graduation. The navigation is also easy to follow, with well thought out placement of key items like Board of Education materials and department listings. 

dare county pop-up navigation example

The addition of photos and information within the pop-up navigation is both helpful well-designed, elements that make this website stand out from the crowd. 

Eden Prairie School

Eden Prairie Schools understood the need to tell their own story through strategic website design. Many school district websites are incorporating the standard full-screen photo slideshow/video and news segments, which Eden Prairie certainly has. But Eden Prairie didn’t just stop there. As you continue to scroll through the website, you begin to see more purposeful content utilized. Well-designed “What Makes Us Unique” and “The Student Experience” sections appear below the fold to help prospective and current families understand what it’s really like to be an Eden Prairie student.

eden prairie school district homepage screenshot of "academic opportunities"
"the student experience" example screenshot from the eden prairie website

Need a new website but don’t know where to start? Finalsite’s talented designers can lead you through the full design process, carefully understanding your district’s brand and unique needs and translating them into a custom-built design to bring your school communications to the next level. 

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Key Takeaway

School communications is more important now than ever before. Ensure your district enters the next decade on the right foot, by considering these three communications strategies in 2020:

  • Mobile-first web design
  • Mobile app and push notifications 
  • Meaningful and personalized website design

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risa engel headshot

As chief marketing officer, Risa orchestrates the talented team responsible for worldwide marketing strategy and plan execution at Finalsite. She joined the company in June 2019 with an extensive background in education, finance and tech marketing communications. Most recently at Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, NJ, Risa transformed the school's brand awareness through innovative programs including the CASE Circle of Excellence award-winning #LEADLIKEAGIRL K-12 conference. Born and raised in Silicon Valley, Risa cut her teeth at tech startups and is excited by the incredible opportunities technology provides schools to better communicate, demonstrate value and, therefore, advance the mission of their school.

  • Marketing/Communications
  • Web Design
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