New School Website Launches: May 2021
Angelo Otterbein

I love May. Still spring, not quite summer. Weather can be hot, but there’s also a good bit of chill. Weeds still haven’t overtaken those neatly-planted garden beds and the days are long. So why not add to such Spring pleasantness and launch a website? Truth is, I always advise for an April or May launch in general, because you get the gratification of the announcement, just enough feedback to be helpful, and then the summer to refine.

In any case, congrats are in order for these two dozen or so schools who just launched!

Antilles School | Virgin Islands

Naturally, if you’re a school in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, it’s fitting that there’s a large sailboat resting atop your logo. Antilles is a beautiful place, but that’s just the backdrop. The website showcases an incredibly diverse student, faculty, parent and staff population that would make it the envy of many independent schools in the States — as would the opportunities outside of the classroom, including the beach, forests and mountain tops. For most of us, that’s a dream come true right there. 

Antilles School

Having persevered through the devastating hurricanes in 2020, Antilles has been recovering and getting its feet back on the ground ever since. Content-rich landing pages, like that for Lower School and Fast Facts provide nice coverage for prospective families who are interested in the substance of the education provided, and who may be looking to St. Thomas as more than a vacation destination.

Seoul Foreign School | South Korea

Why is it always so awesome to see someone with their hair standing on end, touching an electric ball? Whatever the reason, it’s a great image to open a website homepage, and that’s just the first of many good decisions Seoul Foreign School made with its new launch. 

Seoul Foreign School

There are two hanging tabs along the side, as another example, the first encouraging an outreach (book a tour, apply) and the other one that’s less of a commitment (explore by age). Together, these form the gently stacked virtual cairn for any prospective family who shows up to the site, which is to find a path with the school at whatever stage of the funnel they might be in. 

The site’s dynamic homepage combines black and red elegantly, with some lovely infographics, a thin sans serif type for the headers, and unexpected parallax effect toward the end. These little surprises make a difference, not to mention the ultra-cool hand drawn skyline that carries the footer; somehow it makes a huge city like Seoul feel readily accessible. Can’t visit in person? There are some nice videos that’ll draw you right in.  And if you want to just be inspired, check out Mission in Action


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Holliston Public Schools | Massachusetts

According to Niche.com, Holliston Public Schools in Holliston, Massachusetts isn’t just one of the top districts in Massachusetts, but also one of the top districts in the country. As a top-rated school district, this K-12 district of about 3,000 students has an important story to tell — and their new website helps them connect with and engage current and prospective families and staff.

Holliston Public Schools

Land on the website’s homepage, and you’re greeted with photography that shows a community thriving in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic — with clear depictions of academic and personal growth happening in and out of the classroom. Scroll down to discover the latest district happenings — including recent news, upcoming events, and the latest social media posts. This kind of content is commonplace for a district homepage, but the clean and elegant layout make Holliston Public Schools’ website stand out.

Beyond the homepage, you can easily navigate to any of the individual school pages and personalized content for families or staff. The website experience is simple on desktop and mobile, keeping any and all content just a click or two away.

Valley Christian School | California

Don’t we all need a quest? It’s a notion that dates back centuries, the foundation of countless movies and plotlines, and, in this case, the centerpiece of Valley Christian School’s messaging on their new website. It begs the question for a private school: quest for what? Well, VCS has one broad answer for that — Excellence. But the twist on the idea is a reversal. At VCS they don’t give you a quest, as King Author might, but rather, you define your own quest, a DIY for life, in many respects. The homepage then throws out some ideas: Entrepreneur? Scientist? Artist? All of the above? The quest is yours, and these are just some starting points. 

Valley Christian Schools

Outside of this core “quest” theme, the design is strong, accentuated with tasteful interactivity using overlays, subtle animation, and simple hover states. The footer in particular finds gravitas in the architectural strength of a signature building, with “We Are Warriors” bellowing at the top, and a semi-transparent overlay of their logo sitting on the right. If a website has a sense of purpose, like the school, this is it.

American International School of Kingston | Jamaica

Allright. If you’ve got parakeets flying on your campus out in the wild, then you’d be crazy not to feature them in your homepage video. But as the video walks you (literally) through the entrance to campus, that’s just the beginning of lushness: it feels like there’s green everywhere, which becomes the canopy for the rest of the new homepage for AISK. 

American International School of Kingston

The confident, emphatic language shapes the message well, such as “Relentless Dedication to Student Success” and “Sure Path to University”, all supported by evidence with content and images, but also reversed back to the user with an “Areas Important To You” call-to-action that opens up a grid of possibilities, the outcomes of which are reinforced with testimonials of graduates and faculty alike. There’s a simple integration of Finalsite Feeds tucked along a row at the bottom, nicely finishing the homepage with some recent updates on campus and simple hover states that show the content. If you see a toucan flying around, let me know.

St. Patrick's Episcopal Day School | Washington D.C.

There’s lovely, and then there’s lovely. And if this site isn’t the latter, I don’t know what is. St. Pat’s, as it’s affectionately known, is a prominent K-8 private school in DC, which is one of the most competitive independent school markets in the country — and its peer schools will need to take note. 

St.Patrick Episcopal Day School

Something as simple as a curved line becomes an active participant in the design, animating its way down as you scroll, a way-finding companion that’s light as a feather. The palette is equally soft, pale tones and colors that are somehow difficult to name (is that blue or green?) but comforting no less. Typography is also perfectly aligned: a unique sans-serif face with large capital letters that feel right-fit, the stretched ascenders on the letters almost like grownups working closely with their young students.

In terms of content, the homepage is all about discovery, with easy divisional entry points, a shout-out to the mission statement, and then the four pillars, divided up into a simple balanced grid that makes their distinction plain. But that’s just the beginning! A best-in-class homepage requires both art, great technology and a little graphic sensibility, but making that happen on the interior requires just as much legwork, consideration and focus.  

Notable, too, was the partnership with Finalsite Advantage’s Lead Consultant Tracy Tigchelaar, which provided strategic guidance for the project, and a boost of creative energy for the interior pages. The Equity, Diversion and Inclusion page is excellent -- varied layouts, imagery, sensible use of content elements -- all of which provides a complete picture for visitors learning more. And to the core question, “Why Our School?”, well, this page — and most every other on the site for that matter — provides answers in dozens of ways. It’d be hard to leave this site not ready to apply.

Franklin School | New Jersey

One of the impressive aspects of the new Franklin School website is the fact that it’s so complete, yet it’s for a school that hasn’t opened yet. Pages are topped off with images and content just to the right capacity — it almost seems like a school that’s been around for decades. And in some ways, it has, which is captured in this well-executed timeline that clearly ties its future program to its established connections with the global network of Dwight Schools — instant cred in the school world.  

Franklin School

To this end, while the website conveys a school that hasn’t opened physically, it has the presence of one open plenty long, building off of the philosophy and know-how of its sister schools. 

On a detail, it’s also nice to see such a compact, easy-to-complete inquiry form, a rarity still when schools can’t get out of their own way when trying to collect information from prospects. Who wants to fill out a long form to get a little bit more information in return? Not me! Follow Franklin’s lead and don’t miss those hunting for the answers they were otherwise hoping to find, and become an at-risk prospect knocking on someone else’s door. Combining a short form like this with Finalsite’s Forms Module and Workflows makes for a gateway to multiple opportunities to build relationships with visitors online.

EIB Paris | France

If you’re a group of six private, secular bilingual schools in Paris, you have plenty to say and need a good website to do it, so it’s nice to see L'Ecole Internationale Bilingue cover so much ground with their new site launch — made easier not only with a well-structured navigation, but also a sliding tab to “Choose Your School”. 

EIB Paris

This side panel is highly functional, too, allowing a prospective family to filter by percentage of native English spoken as well as age range. The bilingual translation is also a good place to start: a simple toggle in the upper right and – voila! – native French and English at your fingertips. The design is friendly, clean and functional, like a streetside cafe where you grab your baguette with jam and carry on with your day. Nonetheless, areas like the homepage Infographics, pronounce the distinctions well, such as having a total enrollment of 3,000 students across 70 nationalities. The individual school sites, such as EIB Grenelle have a simple left-side sub navigation that has just enough information to prompt an inquiry and get those core questions answered by prospective families.

Theme Launches

Kents Hill School | Maine

SUPER School 19 | Indianapolis

Marple Newtown School District | Pennsylvania

Choctaw-Nicoma Park School District | Oklahoma 

Trinity Episcopal School | Louisiana

Walker County School District | Georgia

International Group Education

Mercymount Country Day School | Rhode Island

Maine Central Institute | Maine


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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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