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February School Website Launch Round-Up
Angelo Otterbein

While many schools and districts aim to launch new websites in tandem with the new school year, February is actually a very good time as well! You might be thinking “really, right in the middle of the school year?” Well, yes!

February is in the middle of most private school’s admissions seasons — meaning when parents re-visit your website during their decision-making process, you have the opportunity to greet them with something fresh and new to get them excited about your school.

That being said, here’s a round-up of February’s recent school website launches.

The Gunnery  | Connecticut

This 150-year old New England boarding school reveals its website as if you’re just peeking in: a video emerges out of something like a shade, and it’s a continual tease — a visual stutter of clips that slow and speed up through a full day of students immersed in everything you’d want to have for your child. 

Important pages like Why Gunnery are hyper focused, with spare navigation and tight language, whereas the Quick Facts page highlights impressive numbers with animation, slightly mesmerizing as you wait for each one to conclude — and when they stop, you can’t help but read what it says. 

For those parents interested in sports, this athletic teams landing page is a beautiful display of sports in all seasons, while the Meet Our Faculty page is elegant and strong. The keyword of their messaging is the word “Discovery”: even their website bears that out.

La Porte Independent School District | Texas

A lovely district website design — the unusual but judiciously-used burnt orange (if that’s the best way to describe it!) makes its own statement, but it’s the subtle interplay of graphics, images, short headers with a heavier typeface that makes this site stand out. 

Homepage panels like the one headed by “Welcome Home to the District by the Bay” provide users with few obvious paths as a next step alongside a friendly message. 

The district can easily publish news, calendars and content across district and school websites alike empowered by the Finaliste CMS that gives them the flexibility to design with easy-to-use software. Pages like Safe and Secure Schools have top billing in the navigation, and is laid out in a way that clearly articulates what the District is doing. Nice job!

Chadwick International School | South Korea

Chadwick’s big headline: “Adventure starts here” is not an exaggeration. As a globally diverse international school in South Korea, it is a fact. 

Amidst the Coronavirus, their use of Finalsite’s page notification technology places the priority information up front, which is smart. 

The site’s navigation overlays the entire screen with a clearly laid out menu and obvious buttons for moving users through the admissions funnel with Inquire, a 360 degree tour, and Apply. 

The Why Chadwick button stands alone, sending visitors to a landing page filled with information that is not only comprehensive but also uniquely laid out as long-form content. Within this page, a “Discover Our True Selves” call-to-action goes to a landing page just like it but developed around the idea of student life. What makes these pages work is that they invite you to spend real time going far into their school to understand the depth of what they offer.

Albert College | Canada

As Canada's oldest co-educational boarding and day school, Albert College has a lot to communicate. The website targets its landing pages with the umbrella theme of “Every Student is an A Student”, using large, inviting hero images moving through a slide show that sequentially shows Arts, Academics, Athletics, Active Citizenship and Adventure, all of which are well-developed landing pages with more information. 

The mega-navigation is clean, with sharp images and a short content blurb to enhance the items. At the very top, the portal links are small but easy to see, the Quicklinks list is well-curated, and the Search opens a very-user friendly bar.

Norwich Public Schools | Connecticut

This district website does a nice job of cleanly separating the navigation for the top-level district, school and constituent portals from the school-specific navigation once you start exploring. 

The Families item serves up a nice list of useful links that’s not overwhelming and very practical. Pages in this section, like the Family Resource Center, may not have a lot of design around them but they present information clearly, making for a user experience that is effective because it satisfactorily delivers what someone is seeking quickly.

Presentation College | South Dakota

This college website is a great example of setting up clear paths for prospective students, current students and alumni right out of the gate on their homepage, while overlaying a search to “Find something new”, a better and more colloquial way to say “Search”.  

Big yellow calls-to-action to apply and request info can’t be missed, and well-developed academic program pages, also featured on the homepage, share the breadth of the offering. 

The Nursing landing page, as one example, provides some high level information but allows a user to tie into the Course Catalog, which dynamically serves up a class list with nice descriptions. 

The Accessibility toolbar through AudioEye ensures that the tools are available to support all users with real-time remediation of any content or pages that don’t comply. Always nice to see the mission in the footer, too.

Norwood-Fontbonne Academy | Pennsylvania

One thing’s certain about the introductory video for this PK-8 independent school website: it’s inviting. And when the aerial clip makes it clear that the home for this school also is a home — a at least, what appears to be a very big home — you can’t help but be drawn in. The updated collection of news, events and social media below, then followed by a spacious footer that comfortably includes important utility links, calls to action, a clear “who we are” statement, and easily visible contact information, provides a manageable amount of information to give a user a practical but compelling understanding of the school. I also love the handy “Search” icon that opens a large yellow box that makes it abundantly clear (and easy) what to do next.

Heads Up Program at Head-Royce School | California

The Head’s Up Program showcases a good example of how practical and unique a microsite can be, as well as a nice demonstration of Finalsite’s content management system: while it’s part of the Head-Royce School’s website, the design, navigation and content are all unique, allowing the same administrators to update both with one platform. 

The two-row grid on the homepage does a nice job of featuring various aspects of this amazing program with nice overlays and hover states that extend invitations to the user to see more. Pages like Get Involved are simple but use the accordion elements properly to hold a lot of information on the page while not overwhelming the user.

Novi Community School District | Michigan

Out of the gate, I love the title tag: “Rated the No. 1 public school district in Michigan” — paying attention to these sorts of details can make all the difference for a district website. Two hanging buttons on the right — both related to transparency and accountability — along with the AudioEye Accessibility toolbar to enable the best experience for all users, tells its own story of a district that has the end user in mind and has considered its audiences. 

The integrated social media and news toggle on the homepage are a nice way to share the latest content, and the Spotlight features a nice collection of distinctions they should be proud of.

Aquinas Institute of Theology | Missouri

This higher ed website leverages one of Finalsite’s custom-designed themes, which helped to speed up the deployment and enable a launch in just about three months. Nice work! Pages like the Degree Programs effectively pull together a lot of important content and access points for prospects, while taking advantage of the layout options in Finalsite’s content management system. 

The extremely important Request Information page, linked throughout, is a great example of keeping an inquiry form simple — collect the minimum amount of information to keep the barrier low for users who may be on the fence as to whether to submit. Affording Graduate School deserves its own page, and AI does a nice job building a case for how to handle tuition.

Jefferson County School District | Tennessee

It’s not often you see two scenic nature shots — a beautiful river and a shot of the Smoky Mountains — on a district homepage, but it’s a nice way to open. Further down are key entry points to the rest of the website, followed by an easily accessible row of events, and a nice grid of updated district news. 

Pages like the School Board and New Student Information do a nice job of leveraging treatments like the accordion, which is part of a library of over 40 elements within Finalsite’s content management system. Individual school websites pick up the layout and design of the district site, while providing independent navigation and content for each, creating a coherent experience for users while allowing for appropriate autonomy.

American School of the Hague | The Netherlands

An international school with 1,300 students from dozens of countries in The Netherlands can’t help but be a high-energy, thriving community, which makes the job of this best-in-class website all the more important. Where to start? There are touches of uniqueness everywhere, such as the navigation: Explore, Join, Experience, Connect is at once different, and you can’t help but want to click on the “Inspire Me” call to action sitting at the base of the stunning homepage video roll. 

The slight animated overlay of the logo in the top right to take you home, and colorful bicycles running along the footer turn the website into something fun and playful, an appropriate touch for a school website. 

The homepage is as immersive an experience as you can find, with panel after panel of uniquely designed stories, news, infographics and the like that describe a place any family would want to visit.

St. Mary’s Episcopal School | Tennessee

The animated “For Girls. For Life” on the homepage sends a clear signal that this independent, all-girls school in Tennessee knows what it’s about, which is then anchored with: “Founded in 1847, St. Mary’s is the oldest independent school in Tennessee, and one of only nine Episcopal girls’ schools in the country.” 

Combine the above with vibrant photography of girls engaged in learning and a design that marries strong content, informal script typography, formal serif headers, and brush stroked borders — and it’s no wonder why this school attracts students from all over Memphis. 

Throughout the website, such as in the About section, layouts are varied and interesting, bringing the content to life and telling a story. As another example, The Buckman, a highly-regarded theater in the community, is a good example of a microsite at work that leverages the design of the main site while allowing the school to manage a separate navigation and content altogether.

Aldwickbury School | England

It’s always nice to see purple on a school website; and this independent boys school in Hertfordshire, England does a nice job of using the color to frame a design that brings stunning photography, tight blocks of useful information, and clear calls-to-action for the user to take the next step. 

The footer in particular is a great example of how to anchor a website, with a clear and large map, contact information, useful links and their branded emblem. Pages like the photo galleries and testimonials are simple but effective ways to share what the school experience is like in an authentic way.

Enumclaw School District | Washington

There’s something very clean and easy about this theme design for this school district in Washington state. Two shades of blue bring a nice contrast to the white, and the slender type face brings a simplicity to the design that really works. Stacking social media feeds, the calendar, and news items bring the site to life with updated information, and the footer — with the subtle landscape shot filled with mountains explains where the logo came from and gives the user a clear sense of place. 

Washingtonville Central School District | New York

Featuring one of Finalsite’s pre-built custom designed themes, Washgintonville was able to launch a new website with its five schools quickly. The individual school websites pick up the same design, but have navigation and content that is specific to them, allowing the district to distribute the management of each site, while also maintaining a consistent structure and look.

The accessibility icon for AudioEye ensures that the site works for all users, sending a clear message of inclusion and where the district places its priorities.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angelo graduated valedictorian from St. Paul's School in Baltimore, MD and from Princeton University. Despite getting his degree in creative writing and English Literature, it generally takes some doing to keep him from programming and breaking websites. Just after graduating, he started Silverpoint, and grew it to over 300 schools worldwide before merging with Finalsite in 2013.

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