New School Website Launches: August 2021
Angelo Otterbein

Oh. Summer. And now where have you gone? Passing faster than a midday tweet, but still clinging to the top, like a boosted post. Some of us just need a little longer before swiping down. But I know one group here at Finalsite that’s starting to breathe a sigh of relief that summer has closed its sunny doors: deployment. I think we need a separate hangar for all the sites we’re launching these days. What a great set to finish off August! I encourage you to mute your email dings for a bit, set up some ocean sounds on your phone, and surf some sites for a bit.

View new August websites by type: 

August Independent School Website Designs 

Choate Rosemary Hall | Connecticut

High school really can’t get much better than at Choate Rosemary Hall, a top New England boarding school in Wallingford, CT, made up of two schools rich in history (Rosemary Hall, 1890 and The Choate School, 1896), that asks its students to “Be Undefinable” an oxymoronic imperative in a world that is fixated on definition. 

Choate Rosemary Hall homepage screenshot

The inline video exploration of this message is show stopping: a dancer showered in light; divers that look like Olympians; a plant nursery the size of a warehouse; cross country runners flanked by a shot of full solar panel arrays. At the end of the video, a young woman smiles directly at the camera, imploring you without words that you could be a part of this experience. 

And that invitation is just the beginning of this online journey, where panel by panel, the value of boarding, eight signature programs and more reveal an institution that has spent more than its fair share of time building something that you can’t find anywhere else. The use of animation is superb, juicing up the design with an electric current of moving, sliding and transitioning parts. To the extent that the homepage has just one job -- to hook prospective families and get them excited -- this one delivers through and through. But for the returning families, there’s plenty to tap through to maintain that enthusiasm. The trifecta of Arts, Athletics, and Academics are intricately and beautifully designed, with photography worthy of picture frames. Not a student and interested in a job here? It’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with looking!

The Bishop's School | California

Allright. If your drone footage can pull up both your school’s main building, the beach and ocean waves lapping against it, you make it awfully hard for those of us pining for all of the above here on the East Coast sitting at our computer -- and three hours from the shore. And that’s just the backdrop for the Bishop’s School, an Eposcopalian high school in La Jolla, CA: Integrity, Compassion, Inclusion and Justice are rooted big and bold right on the homepage. 

The Bishop School homepage screenshot

The water makes for the perfect design element, and as you scroll, the wavy, textured aerial of the ocean break is like a digital river table at its finest, acting as a background for quick facts that are equally compelling (90+ student clubs! 150+ course offerings!). Value proposition follows in quick succession with both testimonials and programmatic distinctions, the School’s burgundy and deep gray blues playing out calmly and with purposeful contrast. Even if you’re 3,000 miles away, you may still want to see How to Apply, a simple and approachable page that packs a lot of content into collapsible text elements. There’s also a nice Curriculum page worth checking out - filterable using Finalsite Posts - and an easy way to explore the deep academic program here.

Harpeth Hall | Tennessee 

You really have to nail a bullseye to make highly posed, group shots of kids work well. The hero images on the new Harpeth Hall site do that and more, in part by pushing that boundary to its final stereotypical limit -- the artist with the paintbrush, the soccer player with the jersey, the musician with the cello, a young girl propping up test tubes. We know students don’t hang out together dressed for their part, so we can take the picture for what it is, a photographic survey of a broad school offering, showcased through several dozen girls in three different settings. The thinly typeset action words, “Think”, “Live”, “Lead” are paired with its thick adverb: “critically”, “honorably”, and “confidently”, each of which lead into panels of content that convey much to be impressed by with beautiful pictures and well-written blurbs. 

Harpeth Hall homepage screenshot

As if the design weren’t already cool enough, a parallax treatment pops out of nowhere to reveal the entrance to the school, a bit of a teaser as to what it might feel like to attend. Unusually, the footer blends right into the tailend of the news and calendars, which works well as a single unit and ends with a soft landing. Some really nice interiors like the At a Glance page and Career Opportunities demonstrate how to layout pages that are full but not overwhelming, taking advantage of the flexibility of Composer, Finalsite’s content management system.

The Webb School | Tennessee

Speaking of Tennessee, The Webb School, a boarding and day school in Bell Buckle, swung big and hit a blue and gold homerun that’s well worth cheering loudly for with its best-in-class website launch. 

The Webb School homepage screenshot

“The Character of Home” frames the site thematically, and it plays out in all sorts of ways, one of which is their WILD outdoor program, which in itself is cool enough to complete an application, or Emerging Voices, a robust writing program that’s clearly been through its paces. Even the more pragmatic pages, like Visit Campus are impressive, nesting video and blocking off maps, tour information and directions to be skim-friendly. Other nice touches don’t go unnoticed, like the social media Instagram feed that rides along the bottom of the homepage -- a nicely scaled size to showcase authentic stories; a carefully designed Mission and Values page emphasizing where the School really places its principles; and an excellent implementation of Finalsite’s Directories for the Meet Our Community page, grouping faculty and staff in ways that make it easy to pan through or search. Ready to volunteer for the Parents Association? PAWS is where it’s at!

All Saints' Episcopal School | Texas

It’s always a little extra fun when the message plays the main role, and, like the barrelling headline of a action movie, the words come fast and furiously toward you; that the words in this case are “Uniquely Episcopal” bellows the point loudly and overlays the first of many great campus scenes. These shots are certainly unique, too -- some drone footage master at the school had a field day -- with many moments that make you long to get closer; it’s a bit of a tease, in other words. And that’s really what you want. 

All Saints' Episcopal School homepage screenshot

The School’s promise is ambitious but pragmatic: “We develop students to become the best versions of themselves so they can transform the world.” With this in mind the rest of the homepage taps out this preliminary journey, with a few carefully constructed panels to help us explore. “Portrait of a Saint,” for instance, spells out the list of qualities and outcomes we’d all like to see in our children, but if that’s not enough, the Uniquely Episcopal is just one of several calls-to-actions to drive it home even further. Among many things, this is a site that’s very good at staying on message.

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St. John Vianney High School | Missouri

Speaking of eye-popping messaging, St. John Vianney High School, a Catholic Marionist school in St. Louis, gives you just one chance to see the words, “Men of Character and Accomplishment” hurl toward you like a freight train, which then stops, fading into big open images of graduates. This moment of anticipation happens only once, so if you’re like me and want to see it again, you’re kind of out of luck. But that’s OK, as the site, painted black and spotted with gold, is a striking best-in-class design with contrast as dramatic as the language is powerful.

St John Vianney High School homepage screenshot

Said Saint John Vianney, midway down the homepage, “We are each of us like a small mirror in which God searches for his reflection.” And that’s not all that’s spiritual: there’s a big griffin, wings folded back and head animated and poised for action, front leg up. The mythical creature is imbued with energy even as an illustration, as if it might fly right out of the page and to where “discipline meets victory.” Combine this high-impact backdrop with a sequence of tightly composed pictures of students who are actively engaged and immersed, and you get a highly functional juxtaposition of life today with the deep legacy of the Marionist tradition. It’s worth the visit just to see the statue.

Prestonwood Christian Academy | Texas

Prestonwood Chrisitan Academy in Plano, TX, is a school system, not just a school, with links to two campuses as well as to their hybrid and online program. This is just one navigational feat that the website addresses head-on with its new launch. 

Prestonwood Christian homepage screenshot

The portals (MyPCA), the language translation through Weglot, and Careers finish the visible top navigation. But the alternating blue and red button for the hamburger menu opens a particularly well-designed roadmap for the website, a full overlay with critical admissions calls-to-action (and Give!), additional buttons for the campuses, the sitewide programmatic areas, search and “Popular Searches.”

It’s a virtual Swiss Army knife to get around. The site design is crisp, as are the animations, which pop rather than stroll in from various directions, not all that different from students who are rushing to find their seat as the bell rings. Leveraging the power of Composer, the individual school pages, like Plano, pick up the parent design as well as intricately woven content elements, incorporating their own media and information. No matter where you are, the quick toggle to Spanish is convenient and well implemented, acknowledging that a broad swath of their target audience may be non-native English speakers.

St. Andrew's Schools | Hawaii

Birds fly over campus, and the drone with them, in the opening video sequence of the new St. Andrew’s School homepage, as if we’re part of the flock taking the long view. There’s a lot to peek at here, and the opening design has a migratory feel too, with Point A (“Future-ready: Success starts here”) to Point B, the footer, where pushpins mark the location, in Honolulu. 

St. Andrew's School homepage screenshot

In between, there’s the unique story of a single gender education that’s also coordinated. If you’re not entirely sure how that works, the About page is a good place to start, which also includes key words from the native vernacular: ʻImi Naʻauao (“Foster joyful learning”), Hoʻomanawanui (“Be patient, courageous, and persevere”), and Mālama (“Take care of the  mind, body, and spirit and the natural world we live in.”) to name a few. 

Aside from that, the interactivity on the homepage is varied and tasteful; hovers, scrolls and clicks are like small tips of the wand, making things move just enough to keep you engaged, and, more importantly, point you to the next step. One of those is the Giving page, brightened by a stunning photograph, like a burst of sunlight coming off the horizon of the Pacific Ocean, which for a school in Hawaii is just about every day. 

Solomon Schechter Academy | Quebec

If you’re a school with a bilingual audience, like Solomon Schechter in Quebec, the opening dialogue box that makes you pick a language is a smart move and, as designed, only comes once to make your selection. There’s still a toggle to French or English in the nav, but the bilingual welcome mat is like a host asking if they can take your jacket when you arrive. 

Solomon Schechter Academy BIC

That simple je ne sais quoi comes in a few shapes and sizes, one of which is the single calendar item posted in the top navigation bar, a noticeable but not intrusive alert of an important upcoming event tied to their mission as a Jewish day school.

The heavily saturated color palette of blues, purples, golds and teals come and go in squares and rectangles, some framing words while others framing icons. The blockiness is not overdone, though, and the effect is more of a modern design using a traditional device in new ways. As one example, “A Glimpse into SSA” further down the homepage is a nice, squared-up social media feed from Instagram, and the “Visit Our Blog” button below is all about smiling kids. Need a campus walk-through? The Virtual Tour is simple, but effective and fun. 

Old Trail School | Ohio

When your name is Old Trail School, it should come as no surprise that the first clip on the opening video is of children walking through the woods on a trail. Is that the Old Trail? That question didn’t linger long as I watched the second clip of students who appear to be documenting a wildflower garden. It’s all very peaceful and harmonious.  

Old Trail School homepage screenshot

The way the lines of text break, there’s also a haiku-feel to the enormous words layered on top of the opening image: “This is true learning, embedded deep within. It is unforgettable. It is unparalleled.” Like seeds carefully placed into the soil, these elements almost grow as you scroll to learn more, natural images of forests and trees tied to the thick green letters and dark brown type, as if the color palette was harvested from the ground. 

At the bottom, the entire footer takes over the screen, almost as if a new homepage just appeared anew, filled with a picture of an awfully cool looking building tucked into a hill, an oversized pergola of sorts spotted with adirondack chairs and kids hanging out. This website, and school, seems to put nothing above being outside and appreciating the natural surroundings, integrating an education from preschool to grade eight with all the right parts -- if you need more, their History, Mission and Core Values page is an excellent place to start.

Village School of Naples | Florida

What is it about the word “village” that draws out the sentimental nuance of being somewhere close to home? As is the case with the Village School of Naples, a Christian PK3-12 independent school in Florida, we can see that community right through the homepage, tucked away in what appears to be a pristine plot of woods flanked by a lake, a proverbial village one might happen upon during a long trek out into the marshy Everglades. 

The Village School of Naples homepage screenshot

There are some nice features on the website that get you closer to understanding the school, like the centralized “School Communications,” as well as pages that connect you to the broader city of Naples, which has much to offer, in the “Discover Naples” section. A mini parallax happens upon you as you scroll through the homepage, a tiny window into an important campus building. Can’t make it to Naples to see for your help? “Meet the Village School” is a great place to get to know the school.

St. Francis Episcopal School | Texas

Is italic making a comeback? That’s the first thing that popped in my head when opening up the new best-in-class design for St. Francis Episcopal School in Houston. “Take a step forward” leans to the right, as if the letters themselves were following their own lead. The motion inferred by the letters is augmented by the real motion of waves bouncing and fading in and out with each successive picture, a fanfare of sorts to welcome the image. 

St. Francis Episcopal School homepage screenshot

Bottom right are two notables - the Audio Eye accessibility icon, which is nice to see on an independent school website to make it even easier for users with disabilities, and a small animated button leading the user to scroll, a sonar-esque blip that’s hard to miss. This blip becomes your guide, almost like a subway map that connects you from one experience to another, thematically set just where all this stepping forward is taking you: scholars, believers, seekers, communicators, champions. Who wouldn’t want to go along? 

There’s a stunning featured news image for the “Sporting Clays Classic” that is as good as any featured homepage image I’ve seen, but that’s just the beginning of a tremendous library of photography. The red focal point leads you all the way to the bottom of the homepage, where the site describes “2 campuses, 1 school,” an important piece of information to explain clearly. Interior designs are rich and expansive -- the Strategic Planning page centralizes a lot of information about where the school is headed, while divisional pages like Middle School, showcase a school making it happen every day. Want to stay tuned in? Wolf Watch has it all.

Friends of Baltimore | Maryland

Having over two centuries of Quaker education under your belt is no small deal, and when you say “The Journey Matters” you can be pretty sure this school knows what it’s talking about. Appropriately, this best-in-class design is in itself a quaker expression -- simple and balanced.

The color selection is diverse but still intentional - bright purples and teals augment their classic opening red. There are some stunning photographs too, atypical and scroll-stopping: one of a classic meeting room bench sits next to a young woman draped in the reddest of red outfits with sleeves that extend up to the ceiling. This montage is tied to a message of “Build a better ladder,” which is a nuanced twist on what you’d expect to read (leader not ladder). 

Friends School of Baltimore homepage screenshot

Other strong moments continue: “When Friends is your school, Baltimore is your classroom” is a potent statement, bathed in bright yellows and tied to a unique vista that includes a playing field with the city in the background. Likewise, “Changemakers” captures the testimonials in a far more compelling fashion than normal. The quality of the site continues into the interior. 

The Athletics landing page opens with a lively collage of professional grade shots but offers the practical details of who’s playing what, as well as some tidy buckets of useful information, such as the championship records, the philosophy, and a written commitment to their students (and the parents). And if you’re still in a state of denial that summer has come to an end, you can take a peek at the Summer at Friends microsite, which allows website administrators to maintain a separate presence for their summer programs, all under the same roof of the school’s.

St. Philip's Episcopal School and Church | Florida

A church and school pairing is not uncommon, but what is uncommon is directing users to easily navigate to either, while also ensuring the website for each is related but still autonomous. The new St. Philip’s is excellent in that regard, providing a quick bifurcated homepage that uses a clever side wipe to open up one or the other. In this way, it’s easy to see how church and school are tied together without interfering with a user’s interest in getting to where they need to. 

St Phillips School homepage screenshot

Once in, the School website is a fully-developed independent school website as is the Church. Both, though, have their own site-wide navigation, pictures and content, while maintaining a common aesthetic. Finalsite’s content management system, Composer, makes this easy, not just in terms of management, but in terms of sharing any relevant content or important information from one to the other, like calendar events or announcements. 

The design, dressed in burgundy and gold, is modest and elegant, with classic typography and open margins to make the pages easy to digest. Quick facts on the homepage are also nicely featured, with calls-to-action leading to more. The emblem -- with a stripe of green - is a shape that winds up playing many roles, as an icon, a button and a placeholder for the thumbnail that comes up from time to time. Solid, through and through.

Cape Henry Collegiate School | Virginia

It’s all about nautical with the new best-in-class Cape Henry website. That theme rolls through the site like a gentle breeze from the west, including the headline of one of their first news posts at launch: “Navigating the Waters: Campus Guide Unveiled” as well as MyCompass in the utility nav. 

Cape Henry Collegiate School homepage screenshot

Calls-to-action on the starboard-side sticky nav are reminiscent of nautical flags, popping out as if the captain were somewhere hidden beyond the screen’s edge; the blue gray could pass for oceanic, propped up by the red. The rest of the homepage has pleasant interruptions of animation that talk about students, philosophy, and educational opportunities -- for a school of over 1,000 students (and a 10:1 student/faculty ratio no less), there’s a lot to talk about.  

Speaking of which, the news implementation, using Finalsite Posts, is very cool; the featured item anchors on the left, while the cluster of other news stories float through their own private channel independently. A nice history page spins a yarn about its early days as an in-home school on Virginia Beach nearly 100 years ago, and if you want to join the dolphin community, here’s your chance.

August International School Website Designs 

Fukuoka International School | Fukuoka, Japan

Among the many worries and stresses brought about by COVID, one (relatively) small one has occupied at least some mindshare of most every communication director: how to get fresh pictures when kids are wearing masks all the time. Fukuoka International School seems to have embraced it. Kids in masks abound on this site, and that’s OK -- the eyes tell a big story. We see young girls with masks joyfully acting, a boy planting in the dirt, a xylophone getting a workout from a young student, and this continues even into the divisional call-to-action thumbnails. 

Fukuoka International School homepage screenshot

Outside of this achievement, the teal and muted blue serves the design well, which breaks up the grid throughout the homepage without interfering with alignment. The hamburger menu opens a large overlay divided into five columns of links, a handy roadmap to the site, with a search just below if you get stuck. On the interior, pages like Student Leadership and After School Activities take advantage of Composer’s convenient library of content elements to create accordions, multiple columns, call out quotes and the like -- all to serve pages that are more than just a paragraph.

Stonehill International School | Bangalore, India

India seems awfully far away for us East Coasters, but the new website for Stonehill, a premier day and boarding international school in Bangalore definitely gets us closer. The school’s logo, a pyramid of what could be terracotta roof tiles, hills or simply an artistic composition of curves, makes itself known throughout the rest of the design, dividing up areas or serving as the background for a call to action. 

Stonehill International School homepage screenshot

Speaking of which, the two that hang to the right are crisp and ripe for the tapping, but keep their intrusion into the site at a minimum. Nice interactive blocks, some with the curved corner, some without, step you through a range of offerings and possibilities, leaving the user with a feeling that one visit just won’t cut it; with students and faculty from over 35 countries serving children from nursery school to Grade 12, that’s no wonder. 

The Spotlight really should be plural, as there are numerous -- students, stories and news together -- a nice compilation that shows happenings at the school without needing a lot of extra flourish. Finally, at the bottom you get to meet their mascot - the Stonehill Tigers -- and there’s something about the crisp illustration that makes it all the more inviting, a sort of rubber stamp that’s making its claim of a true athletic program.

August Charter School Website Designs 

Granada Hills Charter High School | California

If you just scroll down ever so nonchalantly on the new GHC website, you’ll get a nice swing as elements animate in from the left and right. It’s fun, but it’s also purposeful as the website tees up for delivery. 

This charter school isn’t just any charter: it’s one of the largest independent charter schools in the country with more than 5,800 students, “walking the breezeways on two sites.” Among the notable areas is the footer, which incorporates a handy visual of the school’s location within Los Angeles (with a bright green call-to-action), a very strong two-sentence overview, contact info, and a nice set of internal links, one set just for governance. 

Granada Hills Charter High School P2

From an ADA perspective, the AudioEye toolbar is plainly available ensuring an accessible website as well as inline tools for those with disabilities. Pages throughout the site show Composer well, such as Why GHC, which features content in one, two and three columns, and with each block containing a clear next step. Likewise, the inquire page is a nice example of how to incorporate a simple interest form with value proposition content centered around their Effective School Learning Results (ESLRS) program, a compelling approach for their educational pedagogy.

Open Sky Education | Arizona, Missouri, Wisconsin

I’ve lost count as to how many schools are interconnected in this trifecta of well-designed websites, the parent site of which is Open Sky Education, but which also include Eagle College Prep and Hope Christian Schools, which call their website their own. 

Open Sky Education homepage screenshot

These charter schools have a big voice collectively and individually. And each of these provide access to unique school websites, worth a look-see if for no other reason than to see how a family of websites can be both autonomous yet interconnected behind the scenes.

It’s a little bit of Finalsite magic running the engine, one which is easy to operate and maintain. Pictures, text and navigation are unique but fill a design that is largely shared, though each has its own moments of independence. Keep poking around; you’ll see what I mean.

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August Theme Launches

Finalsite’s pre-designed theme website designs make it easy for schools and districts to launch beautiful, mobile-friendly websites on tight timelines or budgets. These schools and districts launched new theme websites in August:

District Theme Websites

Don Bosco Technical Institute | California

Galveston Independent School District | Texas

Hawthorn District 73 | Illinois

Interdistrict School for Arts & Communication (ISAAC) | Connecticut

Keystone Central School District | Pennsylvania

Libertyville District | Illinois

Mashpee Public School System | Maryland

Newark Unified School District | California

Scarborough Public Schools | Maine

South Kitsap School District 402 | Washington 

Twin Valley School District  | Pennsylvania

Westport Public Schools | Connecticut

More Theme Websites!

Anglo-Italian School Montessori Division | Italy

Avery Coonley School | Illinois

Benton Harbor Area School | Michigan

Berlin British School | Germany

CAIU (Capital Area Intermediate Unit) | Pennsylvania

Cold Spring School | Connecticut

Faith Christian Academy | Pennsylvania

Feather River Charter Alliance (Sequoia Grove) | California

Global English School | Thailand

International School of Bergen | Norway

Oasis International School Kuala Lumpur | Tennessee

San Francisco University High School | California

Villanova College | Ontario


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
angelo otterbein headshot

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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