• Public School District
3 Audiences Your District Website Needs to Engage
Leah Mangold

Before the Wilton Public Schools (WPS) website became the exemplary communications tool it is today, the district’s webmasters did a simple thing: the school completed a thorough website audit.  

Fran Kompar, Director of Digital Learning at WPS, says the audit inspired the team to think about who the district’s website was for— which served as the basis for pretty much every website design after that. In a recent webinar, she discusses the three main audience groups her team identified for their district:

  1. Current Families 
  2. Faculty and Staff
  3. District Community

So, if you’re looking to learn more about your own audience, what do these same groups expect from your district’s website design, and how can you make sure you fulfill each of those needs? Let’s use WPS as an example. 

know-your-district-audience

Were you unable to make it to the webinar? Download it here!

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1.)   What do families expect from a district website design? 

Families—especially new, young families—don’t have time to navigate through a confusing homepage to find the resources they need. They expect to be able to access lunch menus, school supply lists, and registration information quickly and easily. Though it’s important not to clutter your district’s homepage, you do want to keep important resources at arm's length.

Use Quick Links to Make Content Accessible in One Click

The WPS marketing team curated a list of the most-commonly-searched content and linked them under a tab in the main navigation. The tab is easy to spot— the light blue box and engaging words “I want to” stand out in the design:

Wilton Public Schools

To minimize clutter and avoid making the drop-down menu as long as the webpage (after all, Quick Links should reduce scrolling, not make it worse!), Fran grouped the WPS resources by category, and created a landing page for each category: 

Pay for

The “I want to pay for…” link brings users to a simple landing page. (All corresponding resources are organized in an accordion.)

This organization technique not only reduced the quick links menu to fifteen easily-scannable links, it also is much easier for the team to update. Fran can simply add a form to the “Pay for” landing page, for example, rather than reformat the entire “Quick Links” section.

Not sure which resources to start with? Ask parents which pages of your website they have bookmarked, and make sure the most common ones are featured. Remember, you can always rearrange throughout the school year as parents’ needs change! 

2.)   What do teachers and staff expect from a district website design? 

Like families, teachers and staff use the website to access information they need on a day-to-day basis. Teachers and staff may need quick access to a portal to update grades and attendance, or check their email. 

WPS used a public facing portal to direct staff to the information they would want or need on a daily basis, accessible through the site’s utility navigation.

Staff Center Page

In addition to teachers and staff being able to find information quickly, they also expect the website to be a good representation of what they do in the classroom. Teachers and department heads are a great resource for providing content on curricula and life inside the classroom — content that is important to prospective families in particular. 

Most districts have trouble getting these academic professionals to contribute. But, department heads are usually willing to provide curriculum information—as long as they know what they need to fill out. Rather than asking department heads and teachers to come up with totally unique content, Fran and her team created a template that is the same for each academic subject. This ensured Fran would get the content she needed for the website and it would look good.

Music Page

The music page for Cider Mill School (a WPS elementary school).

World Languages Page

The World Languages page for Middlebrook School (a WPS middle school).

The categories in the accordion are the same for each page, making it easy for website contributors to know what kind of content to provide. The consistent template also improves the user experience— when users jump to different pages, they know they'll see the curriculum overview on the left and information pertaining to specific categories on the right.

Pro-Tip: Recruit teachers and staff to be part of your webmaster team!

Fran’s team includes four other website admins — each involved with one of the district’s four schools. The team makes many of the website decisions as a group (for example, which resources are worthy of the “quick links” tab) and ensure that each school maintains the overall district brand. WPS treats the website position much like a coaching job— teachers receive a stipend for taking on the role. 

Processes that Work

If your school can’t offer a stipend, try forming a more laid-back “website advisory team.” Market it as a way to learn web skills, and schedule meetings less frequently. Or, simply ask teachers (and even parents!) to help with content creation. There is bound to be someone with a willingness and passion for photography/writing in the community! 

3.)   What does the community expect from a district website design? 

Chorus concert attendees, supportive grandparents, taxpayers... it's not just the students and parents who influence a district’s success. If your website isn’t addressing the needs of the outside community, you’re missing out on a huge aspect of district marketing. 

News and Blogs 

WPS chose to focus on community engagement by improving the website’s news section. For Fran and her team, that meant truly utilizing Finalsite Posts. In true C.O.P.E (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) fashion, the team creates entries in the Posts module and then tags it by school. This way, relevant Posts show up in each respective school and on the homepage:

Wilton Public Schools Page

Posts of recent news from all schools are populated on the WPS homepage.

Cider Mill School Page

Only recent news Posts relevant to Cider Mill School are shown on the school page. 

It's necessary (in fact, it’s expected!) to only show recent news on the district and school homepages. Fran keeps the news section looking fresh by publishing new posts frequently—even recruiting interested parents to write entries about school happenings. The Posts often serve as a basis for press releases or a springboard for the local media to cover relevant stories. Better yet, community members can browse the entire collection of Posts and get a feel for the very busy district in one glance:

News from Around our Schools
News from the Schools

The collection of the district’s news Posts are easy to find and reference.  

Pro-Tip: Don’t overthink news posts—keep them short and sweet!

Consider repurposing student projects or do a simple Q&A with a staff member. Even a picture or two with a few paragraphs of text is plenty to keep the community informed and engaged!

Fifth Graders Visit Middlebrook Page

An example of a news Post titled, “Fifth Graders visit Middlebrook.” 

Calendars and Events

Let's face it — district calendars can get very complex. This is especially true for larger districts, where sports games and band concerts are happening at multiple schools at different times.  

To manage this complexity, WPS uses Finalsite’s Calendar Manager. Just like with News Posts, the website automatically pulls in the relevant, timely content you choose. For individual schools, it is easy to pull in calendar content specific to that school, while keeping the calendar events displayed on the district homepage are more general.

Calendar

Community members viewing the homepage can view upcoming events for the entire district, while individuals visiting specific school pages will see upcoming events in their respective schools. 

The WPS district calendar is particularly impressive with its option to filter the month by school or search for an event in a search bar:

Search the Calendar

This makes it easy for community members to look up events. For example, if her grandkids attend three different schools in the district, Grandma can filter to see only events at those three schools:

Calendar Category Legend

The page also includes a downloadable version in case she prefers to print the calendar!

Search the calendar

For further insurance, community members can even subscribe for email and text event reminders and be notified when there is a change in the schedule. The flexibility of the Calendars module allowed WPS to provide its community with plenty of options for staying in-the-know about upcoming events. 

Social Media

Another great feature on the WPS homepages is a collection of tweets from around the district — automatically and regularly refreshed to show the most updated content.

Tweets from our Superintendent

Not only does this social media integration provide community members with tweets they may have missed, it also serves as an overall collection of daily happenings, emphasizing to the world that the district is fulfilling its mission.

WPS a Year in Review

When it comes time for the town or city to vote on budget cuts, you want the community to see all of the amazing things students are doing every day. With social media integration, personalized calendars, and engaging blog posts, WPS inspires its district to love and support the school system. Don’t forget to include the community in your district marketing goals!

Key takeaway: 

"Know Your Audience." 

It’s a skill that teachers look for in student writing across the country— in fact, it’s even part of the Common Core curriculum for K-12 language arts. The concept is no less important for website managers. Before you redesign your district website, consider what kind of web experience your audience is expecting— and deliver. 

click here to learn more about Finalsite composer

Leah-Mangold-Headshot

As Finalsite's Marketing Associate, Leah promotes new school site launches and educates people on all things digital marketing. She’s passionate about global communication, handwritten notes, and sole travel. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s either blogging, doodling, or dreaming about it! 

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