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June School Website Launch Round-Up
Angelo Otterbein

You can tell from our launch list for June that summer’s been a busy month even as schools have had to close their virtual doors for a bit. With over 24 launches — that’s nearly one a day — including 12 custom site builds, our designers, front-end developers and project managers have been hard at work. Let’s dive in!

Custom Websites

Harrow School | London, England

When you measure your school history in terms of centuries — as does Harrow since it was founded in 1572 — there’s a lot to say. As one of the few all-boarding boys schools in the UK, Harrow also sits as one of the most prestigious and well-known schools in the world, with traditions and legacies that span generations. Their success and global presence is evolving with the times, while staying true to their mission; the website portrays a place that is vibrant and brimming with opportunity. What’s more, this launch is a conversion from an older CMS and design to Finalsite Composer, and the aesthetic has held up during the process. The Houses page provides a view into boarding life through the buildings on an interactive map and with information about the House Masters, while the Old Speech Room Gallery is just one example of many unique campus features. The Clubs and Societies Page uses a tabbed element to display a broad range of activities to keep students busy. A great introduction to Harrow is their Explore page, which will keep you occupied for hours. 

Lake Highland Preparatory School | Florida, United States

The sun is rising at Lake Highland Prep in Orlando. Quite literally. The camera view of the first morning rays leisurely float around the campus cupola, letting you take dawn in and consider the promise of a new day. And with that 10-second good morning, the homepage story, “Success Starts Here,”  begins: we see just what happens from morning to evening in this high energy PK-12 day school as our cupola intro becomes a complete video montage of the “heart of a Highlander.” Divisional entry points have tasteful interactivity, leading to well-developed landing pages for Lower, Middle and Upper School. Further down the homepage are close-ups of alumni “Connected by Our Values,” giving us a window into life after Highland. Finally, the unique presentation of Facebook and Twitter feeds nested within the design elevate social content without feeling forced.  The interior is full of excellent examples of landing pages, such as the Arts, Support, and the About page — which is one of the most well-developed pages I’ve seen in a long time. All together, if a website is meant to reflect the quality, attention to detail, professionalism and values of the school itself, this is about as good as it gets.

Palo Alto Unified School District | California, United States

It’s hard to launch a school district website and still keep it simple, which is what makes the new website for PAUSD so impressive. The logo is equally simple, but covers a lot of ground: it’s the shape of a tree, but people are implied in the branches, surrounded by a unifying circle. The site’s hamburger menu opens up the world of the district in a bright, full overlay, with big navigation items that expand further. Touches throughout the rest of the homepage make for a unique presentation, with space for the superintendent, animated “By the Numbers,” and a Board of Education section that provides quick access to agendas and minutes. Individual school pages, like Addison Elementary, pick up the design theme with content that is managed and unique to the school, allowing for autonomy and the distribution of work across the whole district.

British International School Riyadh | Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The opening picture for this international school features a classic game of tug-o-war, but this one happens to be out in the desert in the Middle East with the camera shooting from one end.  The effect is one of student collaboration in a very unique environment. “Let’s Reach” is a call to action that broadens the message — this school isn’t about pulling but reaching. The muted tones of sand contrast with the subsequent panels that highlight the school’s greens and purples from the logo, headlined with a “Welcome” that animates in dozens of languages.  BISR Facts and Figures play up just a handful of stats — 50 nationalities across five campuses and 2000 students — but that’s all it takes to communicate that they are a big institution with a lot to offer. Further down, the neatly laid out grid that combines a main calendar event with social posts from multiple channels emphasizes this point. The employment page is a nice example of how to pull a lot of information into one place to help provide prospective teachers and staff with many reasons to come and work here.

Benjamin Franklin Charter School | Arizona, United States

 For a charter school, 25 years is a long time to have been around, so “Excellence in Education since 1995” is worth the opening homepage message. “Tuition-Free and A-Rated” follows soon after, overlaying pictures that all have a unique style and angle, showing a K-12 school that is full of energy. The double utility navigation allows for quick access to public notices and the campuses, which lead to sites specific to each school that pick up the overall design and aesthetic of the parent site while allowing the school to update its own content and pages. The testimonies page is a nice example of bringing voices around campus to the site, and the careers page helps consolidate a lot of compelling reasons to come work here.

Mayfield Girls | East Sussex, England

This beautiful website for an all-girls boarding and day school in the UK, launched in March, continues to impress. The logo in the top left is one of tempered elegance, both suggestive and open to the imagination, perfect for an opening homepage that is nothing but simple: just a few calls-to-action, a simple hamburger menu, and no sweeping brand message since the stunning photography says it all (there are actually a total of just 10 words in the desktop homepage view, above the fold). The homepage then formally welcomes you as you scroll, with a few entry points to learn more, but the design continues to surprise as clean columns of type transition to a blue reveal that’s almost like a wash, shifting the blue on white to white on blue with subtly.  The animated social media grid is fun and sized to be easy-to-read, while the subsequent testimonials present yet another full-panel design that ties text, image and layout together perfectly for the content. The Our Location panel ties up the homepage well, followed by obvious next steps. And that’s just the homepage! 

West Island College | Calgary, Canada

Certainly this independent school in Calgary, Canada gives new meaning to outdoor education; the pictures alone tell a story of a place that is fully connected with its environment; the spectrum of green hues within the design harken to nature. But there are other interesting ways the website highlights the unique qualities of education here: Focus Friday, which surely sounds appealing to most everyone, gives students a block of time to tackle something meaningful outside of the classroom; a French immersion program; and the Institutes Program, to name just a few. The website design supports the content with clean layouts and unique grids, an uncomplicated navigation, and a nice balance of pictures and content.

Olentangy Local School District | Ohio, United States

With over 20,000 students, Olentangy School District has a lot of ground to cover, but its new website is simple and intuitive. Clearly defined navigational blocks segment district-specific information, utility links, and a schools drop-down menu, which directs users to select the division. Elementary Schools, as one example, leads to an index of schools accessed via a list or by a grid of school icons; then each school page, in turn, tells its own story with a unique subset of news, events and images. The Olentangy website also takes advantage of the AudioEye toolbar, ensuring that the site is in continuous WCAG 2.0 compliance for accessibility, which includes a visual tool bar for adjusting everything from contrast to type size. The certification sends a message to all users that the district cares about ensuring its site is available to everyone.

Bullis School | Washington, D.C.

What is it about blue and gold that makes for a great school website? The color duo works its magic in the latest iteration of Bullis’ website, a K-12 school outside of Washington, D.C. that has also been a Finalsite client for well over a decade. The homepage design very clearly follows a center alignment, but it’s not forced. This line keeps the user focused on the middle of the page, which starts with a call-to-action for a self-guided tour and ends with a group of updated news and events. The predominance of a classic serif typeface brings a nice formality to the look, but the more playful infographics remind us that this is a school. The interior is just as strong: Why Bullis? uses rich media to answer the question, Signature Programs makes the most of complex layout options within Composer, Finalsite’s content management system, and the comprehensive Arts Program page provides users in-depth content without being overwhelming. The entire site is a terrific example of how to effectively combine multiple columns and a mixed grid within a full-width page to create page after page of interesting presentations. 

Yateley Manor | Hampshire, England

What ties this website design together? Red. At first, you don’t notice, but as you scroll down the homepage to learn more, you start to see how the red from the student uniforms connects to the red accent colors and the red typography and ultimately to the red in the boat in their logo. The bright collection of reds makes the homepage cheery, which is only fitting for this independent school in the UK that serves nursery to year 8.  Across the board, the photography is stunning, and the school is fortunate to have a lot of it: throughout the landing pages, the hero images fill the screen with crisp imagery of students and teachers fully engaged. But the content is also strong: pages like Distance Learning are complete and well organized, a central location for parents to get what they need quickly.

Springside Chestnut Hill | Pennsylvania, United States

You have to spend just a few extra seconds watching the homepage image and video to see the innovation going on, which of course is just part of the SCH story; they’re almost optical illusions that instruct your eye to focus on just one part of the video, which in turn somehow forces your mind to give more thought to what you’re watching. It’s like the red laser pointer a museum curator might use. Up top, there are three very clear options: Explore Grades, Start Here, and Search. Together these capture the most important entry points for a prospective family, and allow the site to gently guide the user to areas of the site that make sense. Once inside, pages like the Upper School combine the essential elements for a great landing page: stories; critical information; and key resources, such as the curriculum guide -- all laid out in an easy-to-consume format leveraging Composer elements like accordions. From there, prominent links such as one to the interactive Campus Map help continue to engage the user; these added conveniences are abundant throughout, and set up a great experience for visitors. 

Richfield Public Schools | Minnesota, United States

There’s always some risk when experimenting with navigation, but the new Richfield Public Schools district website carefully tows that line by providing a narrow vertical bar to provide access to the main navigation and a few key calls-to-action. The slight curves of the diamond logo provide interesting contours that play out in various ways throughout the design, and the prominent, deep red is balanced by blues and golds. Individual school pages, such as Richfield High, easily pick up the design while taking advantage of the flexibility they need to post unique content, messaging, images and the like — the uniform look is seamless despite the fact that content updates are made by different users distributed throughout the district. The expanded primary navigation includes not just access to the site’s main areas, but a search bar and prominent buttons for key services and links. This site finds a nice balance of fun and professional, representing a district that takes its education seriously but knows it’s still a school.

Theme Websites

Taejon Christian International School | Daejeon, South Korea

Skyuka Hall | Tennessee, United States

Faribault School System | Minnesota, United States

St. Mark's Cathedral School | Louisiana, United States

Grace Academy | Texas, United States

Carlstadt-East Rutherford Regional School District | New Jersey, United States

Litchfield Elementary School District | Arizona, United States

Dexter Community Schools | Michigan, United States

Genesee School District | Michigan, United States

Lompoc Unified School District | California, United States

Robbinsdale Public School District | Minnesota, United States

Los Alamitos Unified School District | California, United States


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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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