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March School Website Launch Round-Up
Angelo Otterbein

I’m sure I’m not alone in longing for things to celebrate, so it was nice to do just that with so many schools launching a new website in March. What perfect timing, too; we’ve always insisted how critically important it is to a school’s marketing and retention efforts that it effectively shares its story online, but never before has this been more true. Congratulations to these schools for keeping things moving forward!

Marin Academy | California

Animation plays an active role in bringing this beautiful design to life for this well-regarded independent day school in Marin County, CA — but it’s really the fact that Marin Academy (MA) has such a strong brand and identity, which bears out in numerous ways throughout the website. 

The playfulness of the logo helps balance what is clearly a rigorous and comprehensive programmatic offering.

marin academy homepage screenshot

Why Ma and MA Competencies bring the School’s distinctions to life by communicating a lot while not making it feel that way, and both are nice examples of using Composer’s layouts to make the content more accessible and interesting. “Everything is a question” captures the spirit of this place in just a few words, and the array of their Signature Programs called out on the homepage makes it clear they’re serious about it. 

Stafford Municipal School District | Texas

This new school district website for Stafford in Texas says a lot with a little. The Schools menu provides quick access to its 7 schools, leaving the hamburger menu for more district-specific information -- smartly described as "Discover SMSD".  What's unique about this district site is also how focused the message is on prospective students, families and teachers, all oriented around discovery. For example, "Discover Yourself Here" picks out some obvious distincts that stand apart -- from robotics to career preparedness. "Stories of Stafford" provide social proof that the district stays engaged and builds experience, which sits just above two calls-to-action to inquire.

stafford municipal school district homepage screenshot

Millfield School | United Kingdom

Modern elegance defines this UK independent school website, a school with a vision both bold and direct: “To be the world leader for the development of children.” Thin accent lines and a restrained color palette set up the stunning homepage photography well, and the thick sans serif headers against muted grays convey confidence and simplicity. 

millfield school homepage screenshot

From the left a user can open an animated navigation easily, with a short list of options and convenient access to the Parent Portal. Interior pages, such as the Pre-Page and Senior pages are well developed, telling a complete story about a single division just as effectively as the homepage. Reusable content elements within the content management system Composer allow the school to set up infographics, testimonials and the like throughout the website to add visual interest with every click.  

Ermitage International School of France | France

This lovely multilingual website came out of our theme library, and feels like a perfect fit for this 80-year old international school in France. 

ermitage school homepage screenshot

The second panel on the homepage is an accessible grid of entry points — to the academic divisions, boarding options, proximity to Paris, and steps “Beyond the Classroom” — followed by updated news and social media, providing a broad but current view of the school right on the homepage. 

The tier one navigation are all action words: Engaging, Applying, Learning, Leading and Connecting — all evoking a sense of a school in motion. The Welcome page is a particularly strong use of Composer’s layouts with a nice array of pictures and content.

Oswestry School | United Kingdom

If you’re looking for a school with some perspective, try Oswestry School, founded in 1407 and over 600 years old. Wow. But this is an independent day and boarding school in the UK that is clearly thinking forward, centralizing its social with #ThisIsOswestry, and launching a design that is modern and intuitive, with big open layouts and large featured photography. 

oswetry school homepage screenshot

The About page brings together a lot of key information in bite-sized chunks, providing clear calls-to-action at every step. Prospective families just poking around will get what they need quickly, while those who are more deeply considering the school can find plenty to keep them informed. The Meet the Heads page is a nice example of how to feature two profiles with wrapping content around strong pictures.

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De Smet Jesuit School | Missouri

Burgundy and gold were made for each other, and this fact plays out nicely for this all-boys Jesuit school in Missouri. Compelling keywords that the school teaches students to “Pray”, “Lead” and “Serve” are supported by testimonials, infographics and clear, succinct content. The language continues as you scroll: “Learn and Seek” and “Create and Lead” all convey a place that is true to its mission and unequivocally committed. 

de smet jesuit homepage screenshot

Nice touches throughout the design, like the expandable sitemap in the footer, and nicely laid out pages like “Grad at Grad” that talk about outcomes, all combine to provide a compelling user experience.

St. Christopher's School | United Kingdom

As far as hero slideshows are concerned, St. Christopher’s School, a day school in London for girls age 4 to 11, brings together a collection of photos that feel more like a curated album than the traditional montage you see on most website homepages; perhaps it’s the consistent student uniforms (and their smiles) or the framing of kids active in something fun, but either way, the series provides an authentic glimpse into the school that evokes memories of what it’s like to be a child again. 

st christopher's school homepage screenshot

Authentic photography continues throughout the site, such as the header image on the Ethos page, which shows a young girl staring at the camera, slightly peeved at the disruption in her activity. Social media clips bring the homepage to life, an alternative glimpse of daily life, whilst a row of upcoming events shows prospective families an impressive view of what’s ahead.

Suffield Academy | Connecticut

If you’re looking for a homepage that’s “different”, Suffield’s certainly is -- and in a very good way, not just for the sake of being different. The vertical banner for the school’s name, combined with a row of tall panels featuring people works nicely, all sitting below quite a bit of real estate devoted completely to their motto: Esse Quam Videri. A clever use of animation allows the layout to subtly reorganize as you scroll, collapsing Suffield Academy into a small “SA”, which frees up the full width of the page for uniquely designed content elements that bring the school to life.  The website is fun in this way, but more serious in tone and thoughtful in message. The footer sets up links with a nice structure -- Learn, Explore, Experience, Connect -- each with a more prominent button below to guide the user further.

suffield academy homepage screenshot

Dame Allan's School | United Kingdom

This UK Independent School website is not shy about its red, which accentuates content elements and incorporates large call-out diamonds that break up the page. These diamonds aren’t just for design: they speak to the “Diamond Structure” of their education, a rare combination of single-sex education within a co-educational setting. While not the most exciting content out there, the Policies page on this website serves as a great example of how to package a lot of information into one page using a tabbed element, one of many layout options in Finalsite’s CMS, Composer; the result is a much easier page to manage and just as easy to navigate for parents.

dame allan's school homepage screenshot

Howard-Saumico School District | Wisconsin

Using one of our custom-designed themes, HSSD leveraged a modern responsive design while customizing it with their logo, colors and content.  Each of the nine schools picks up the theme while also having their own navigation and header. The power of this setup is behind the scenes: the district can make one change and share it out to as many of the schools as it needs to, while also allowing each school the autonomy to manage its own web presence. Saving time has become ever more important, so efficiencies like these are critical.

howard-suamic school district homepage screenshot

Toronto School of Management | Canada

Here are just a few reasons why this new website is worth checking out: student chat and a program search right on the homepage, above the fold; interactive infographics; video testimonials; an integrated blog; an instagram feed that ties directly into the design; and an embedded inquiry form. Combining the above gives users multiple opportunities and avenues to get what they need quickly. Unconventional angles with red and black shape a design that is memorable and functional, allowing for variety within both a panel and a full page.

toronto school of management

University Canada West | Canada

As far as higher education websites are concerned, UCW’s site is in some ways a welcome relief, avoiding the temptation of trying to do too much at once, and presenting clear options with a site architecture that is intuitive and convenient. Once inside the site, layouts like the Bachelor Degrees landing page and then the program page for Bachelor of Commerce, use the full page to give users a lot of important information without being overwhelming; and by keeping everything you need on one page, UCW avoids a deep site where information can get lost. 

university canada west homepage screenshot

The Language Gallery | United Kingdom

This unique website for English language instruction keeps navigation simple with traditional drop down menus, which works perfectly for a school that is tightly focused around its mission. Clearly thought has been put into pages like Contact Us, which recognize that users want an easy way to get in touch with someone based on their location, or the Evening Courses page, which leverages Composer’s accordion element to hide content until someone is ready to read more. The subtle link for “Agent Portal” adds convenience for that group while not taking up too much real estate.

the language gallery thumbnail

Vanke Meisha Academy | China

For this 4-year old international school in mainland China, it’s important they speak to both native Mandarin families and prospective families out of the country, so it’s always a nice opportunity to see how a school leverages Finalsite’s CMS to handle multilingual website capabilities so elegantly. Pages like the “Community of Learners” provide long-form content, supplemented with images, to provide an in-depth view of the academic programs, education philosophy and approach, while other pages, like The Agora bring current thinking to bear in a uniquely designed blog with useful tags and categories.  The STEAM program is clearly something to check out and the Careers page, while text-heavy, spells out a long list of compelling reasons to come and work there.

vanke meisha academy homepage screenshot

American Section of the Lycée International | France

The logo’s subtle insinuation of the globe, shaped by tiny spots of color, and with a moon-shaped sliver as its cradle, anchors Lycée International’s name plate, which, in turn, gives the homepage a sense of global professionalism. While not heavily designed, the directness of a navigation with pages like “How We’re Different”, and their “Illustrious History” work well to tell a story of a school founded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower to educate the children of NATO officers. In this way, the site continues to honor its original purpose, built around strong academics, but also one that takes a full world-view built on values. The new website echoes this philosophy through simple design and strong content.

lycee international american section

Annunciation Orthodox School | Texas 

I’m not sure you can streamline a homepage any more than AOS does with its school website, showing just three things when you first arrive: the logo, “Portal” and “Menu”. If you then choose to run through or skip the video, which is a terrific overview of a school day, only then is the user presented with three paths to start their journey: Early Childhood, Lower School and Middle School. Limiting the initial choices like this makes everything a lot easier for prospective families, but then the site manages to guide them to a broader set of information once they do. Easier said than done! If a user does choose to scroll, a search bar conveniently shows up, along with a nicely designed footer with utility links, calls-to-action, and contact information.

annunciation orthodox school homepage screenshot

Tsinghua University High School | China

A good example of a bilingual implementation of a school website in mainland China is Tsinghua University High School International - Chaoyang; the toggle between English and Mandarin is clearly accessible, and the design conforms to the change naturally. But the site is rich with art and style -- as just one example, the overlay of the hand-drawn lotus overtop the infographics brightens each item, a nice surprise as you explore. WeChat is accessible via a QR-code, which is an interesting approach to building awareness of how the school would like to communicate, and the ticker tape of college placement demonstrates outcomes that they are clearly proud of.

tshinghua university high school

International School of Kigali, Rwanda | Africa

It’s nice to see one of Finalsite’s themes play out so well for this international school in Rwanda. Big, colorful and open hero images bring the school right to the desktop, making it easy to admire the cultural diversity through the faces of children, dress and life at the school. Pages like the Letter from the Director and the Living and Working in Rwanda are simple but effective layouts, a good example of how Composer allows schools to build and maintain their site without the need for handholding.

international school of kigali-rwanda

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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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