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New School Website Launches: November 2021
Angelo Otterbein

What is it about November that comes and goes faster than a stack of presents under a tree on Christmas morning? Perhaps it’s the anticipation, as there’s only one thing that may go faster: the time between Thanksgiving and the first day of winter break. At Finalsite, it’s been full speed ahead every day in November, and then some, as schools race to squeeze it all in, including launching a new website. Congratulations to these schools who ran down that final mile! 

Kents Hill School | Maine

The most prominent word you see when you load the new Kents Hill School website is “Hello!” There’s something just plainly nice about that, like a wave from a stranger passing by. This is the first of many welcoming moments on the website, a second just one short scroll away, which reads: “In your corner, all the time.” Can you really say no to that? Kents Hill has had a lot of practice with all this, a coed boarding and day school of nearly 200 years serving grades 9 through Postgraduate in Maine.

Kent Hill School

The site rolls with the informality of someone you’ve known for a long time, where you’ve been included in the community and it’s now about finding just where you fit in. Even the Head of School page references “Chris” out of the gate, with not so much as a mention of a last name until further down the page. From a design standpoint, the undulating shape of rounded hills starts in the logo and finds its way throughout the site, a nice container for the deep red footer. A nice map of Maine places Kents Hill in the state, but in a way that makes everywhere else feel fun, too; likewise, the integrated social media is current and interesting, an authentic view into the day to day. Some very nice layouts work their way through the pages, such as 4D curriculum, which pulls together varied columns, filtered navigation for courses using Composer’s tab element, layout elements, video and the like; it’s a page where there’s something for all kinds of readers, the skimmers as well as the divers. 

Westport Community Schools | Massachusetts

It’s tempting, and trendy, on school videos to show things happening really fast, suggesting that the frenetic pace of a dozen activities, sports and academic scenes crammed in 30 seconds or less is the way things are supposed to be, a high speed roller coaster with just split seconds to catch the scene around you.

westport community schools homepage

That’s why the slow motion sequences in the opening video of the new Westport Community Schools website, a district of four schools in Massachusetts, is so strong: we actually can take the whole scene in — the two boys building an arch out of wood; a bat swinging toward the camera; even cows and calves munching some grass. It’s fitting, then, that the homepage itself is not panels and panels of scrolling, as if to remind the user that less is more, and acknowledging that one can only absorb so much at a time.

Some nice information-rich interior pages, like School Committee, are good examples of how Composer, Finalsite’s content management system, empowers editors to build complex page layouts with various elements, such as tabs, forms and list of PDFs.

Christina Seix Academy | New Jersey

When we talk about bells and whistles, it’s usually in a discussion about those flourishes that aren't all that necessary, a little sideshow that could be skipped. But, like carefully wrapped flatware and a pressed linen tablecloth at a formal Holiday dinner, these enhancements set the website (and the meal) apart. Such is the case for Christina Seix Academy, a Pre-K through eighth grade in Trenton, NJ, and an amazing place on every count: a top-flight private residential school for severely underprivileged children 3 to 13 years old founded by a woman who rose from a poor single-parent family in New York and founded the school with a $60 million investment following an incredibly successful career. You have to dig a bit to find this story as the site is all about the students.

Christina Seix Academy

Solid and bright animated boxes shimmy down the page alongside a program highlights panel where the featured boxes rise up like a mini jack-in-the-box. Fast facts, as another example, sit on a campus image that expands to the edges of the screen while the What We Value panel provides an inline scrolling solution to highlight key words like “Innovation.” The homepage is going in every direction but in a good way -- the final panel moves left to right, a showcase for their Signature Programs. Other nice bells, or whistles as it were, are more subtle, like the twirly hamburger menu or the search magnifying glass that gets wrapped by a circle on hover. But all this moving and sliding, growing and shrinking help serve a purpose, which is to highlight a school with substance, where Advocacy is in the primary navigation. Other landing pages, such as for Academics, are in good form, an approachable page full of just the right amount of content, where, at this point, there’s not a bell or a whistle in site.

Dana Hall | Massachusetts

How can one argue with a website for a girls day and boarding school that announces: “Audaciously Herself”? You can’t, if not in part because the website itself is its own kind of audacious, like it might jump out of the screen and scroll for you. Purples, aquas and pinks are bright, loud and in your face, not a turn off but rather setting up a first impression that is positive and high energy, like walking into a full stadium at a rock concert going strong.

Dana Hall

For a boarding school in Wellesley, MA, the charge of the site needs to engage on many levels — prospective parents sending their children to live somewhere else, when travel is still difficult, may mean the site is the only window into the school. And it also means pages like Boarding need to efficiently convey a welcoming sense of community, accomplished with a small inline video, share an appropriate and substantive amount of information on the dorms, and, naturally, enough describe the food in a way that’s good enough to make parents jealous (who’d turn down make-your-own waffle Thursdays?). Important pages like Community, Equity and Inclusion are amazing stand-alone landing page examples that paint a full picture of how a school thinks about and is committed to equity, diversity and justice.

Likewise, the Academics or Signature Programs landing pages are heavy on content, but in a good way, with right-sized blocks of informative content and links to learn more, on whatever path makes sense for the user. Can’t get enough of this place? Try the Job Opportunities, and you may find yourself hitting “Apply”.

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Briarcrest Christian School | Tennessee

Nested in the stem of the “B” in Briarcrest is a cross, the right edge of which just faintly visible where the intersection of the letter’s two bowls occur. This graceful touch is representative of the rest of the website, headlined in messaging by “Excellence Unmatched”. Indeed.

Briarcrest Christian School

To find out just how, a visit to Why Briarcrest? is a good place to start, answering that fundamental question with six featured boxes each with a question, a telling sign that the School already knows just what is going to come up. For instance, “Why Choose a Christian School?” opens a lightbox that takes its time laying out a thoughtful answer, a nice in-page approach to ticking off the objections that may be lingering as prospects pass through the site.  Briarcrest is a big school - 1,600 students big — and the At A Glance page makes their size plainly evident, with so many facts to be proud of that there’s a filter on the left to shuffle them out by arts, athletics, spirituality and academics (which in itself is an awfully nice use case of Finalsite Posts, by the way). The Service and Missions page is another good example of a page that’s full but not overwhelming, a nice execution of the accordion element, image galleries and multiple columns.

St. John Bosco High School  | California

A simple website is never a bad thing, especially if it’s done well like the new launch for St. John Bosco, an all-male Catholic high school. The hamburger menu is eat-in only — for current families, alumni and faculty — while the primary navigation is bucketed into just three items: Your Education, Your Experience, Your Future. Each of these leads to a handful of key links to tell the Bosco story. A handy set of utility links line the top right, calls to action that take your finger and help you tap. 

st john bosco website homepage

International Students is an excellent landing page and one-stop-shop for those coming from overseas, teasing the prospective family with all the perks and benefits while providing current families some useful details. Notable to the design is the return of gradients, a pre-millennial fashionable graphic treatment that saw its days then went to bed, and seems to have woken up again in a good mood — in this case in subtle ways for the nav items and a few background blocks. All the basics are handled well, too, such as the online giving form, which is clean and approachable, just gathering the information the School needs for someone to open their hearts, and their wallet.

South Washington County Schools | Minnesota

What is it about this site that just makes me happy? Maybe it’s the cheery colors, the big circles of red and yellow and green that are reminiscent of those translucent plastic circles you played with as a kid to see how two colors combine to make a third. Or could be the abbreviated SoWashCo header that is as colorful as a box of crayons and playful, too - a wave cruising through it in a demarcated horizon. Or possibly a subtle throwback to the game Connect Four, with dots of color stacked one on top of each other, or a variation of Othello where it’s everything but black and white.

south washington public schools homepage

On the interior, pages like Community Education are big and bold, but very practical and helpful in terms of information, and important pages like Careers are awash in information, a huge resource of downloads, next steps, contracts and similarly relevant details. These pages follow a similar structure, such as the Preschool page, but that makes for less thinking on the user’s part, a simply designed content framework that has everything where you’d expect. 

The Branson School | California

The “R” and the “A” play a leading role in the Branson School logo, the tail of the R invoking a valley, the A, missing its bar, invoking a mountain. The rest of the letters are simple sans-serif, equal in width and dimension, a solid nameplate you can’t miss. That’s good, because the rest of the homepage has lots going on, starting with an interactive homepage panel that ties values to images, including the word “Kindness” which is a welcome attribute that typically seems to get displaced by other words in school missions. Not Branson, where they teach kids to “seek understanding of others” so they can be “compassionate,  helpful and fair.” And the word “Courage” sits right above, a meaningful pairing when you think about it. In this way, this Bay area private school just north of Muir Woods, is thoughtful throughout, including a panel and page about adapting to change, naturally the challenge of COVID-19.

Branson School

The true blues, purples and greens play a nice role in the design, such as for the At A Glance page, where blocks of color help segment the content and keep the layout organized. The Meet Our Faculty and Staff is excellent, a huge effort but well worth it to pull together professional photography and profiles to focus on the life of the school. This design is reusable, too, a nice feature of the Finalsite content management system, where individual elements inherit the same styles, such as for the Leadership page. If you are so inclined to check out the place, the Visit page is very well done, a compact and very useful page for doing just that. 

The Gordon School | Rhode Island

Nice round O’s, combined with a nice round logo, surrounding a simple cupola, is like a well-fit glove for Gordon School, a progressive nursery through eighth grade independent school in Rhode Island. This “roundedness” is pervasive, with arcs crossing the entire plane of view, or the numbers in the infographics, or the occasional full circular drops of green and teal, that look incidental yet seem like they fell right where they belong.

Gordon School

The “Gordon Community” panel on the homepage is a particularly excellent montage of faces -- parents, alumni, students, faculty -- mixed together in a nice “well rounded” way, a carefully curated subset of a group that you’d be happy if they dropped in at your house for a visit. Out of nowhere, an aerial shot of campus shows up, a quick peek at a beautiful place but an even better way to ground all of these compelling images in a real location. A full news portal, Gordon Today, speaks for itself, a Finalsite Posts tour-de-force, dropped in easily on a Composer page in an accessible grid format, highlighting a school that has truly committed keeping their audiences informed and engaged — and a pleasure for the communications team, surely, as it can be reused on the homepage, too, without any additional work. A few unique entry points in the primary navigation - “Create” and “Lead” send a message that this is a school of doers and of action, with a submenu that includes pages like Confident Risk Takers, which, in some ways, is exactly how the website handles itself. 

Dallas International School | Texas

Seeing pieces of images animate while others in the same frame stay still always takes a moment for the brain to process, a bifurcation of reality that puts a break on the scroll and click. Which makes sense, since Dallas International is “Globally Inspired. Distinctly Different,” a unique bilingual immersion school serving grades Prek-12th. The homepage video treatment isn’t the only instance of subtle animation: infographics float into place elegantly; full color images for the “vision” panel glide directly to a comfortable home; even news stories “Fresh off the Press” make their presence gracefully known. The footer is large and helpful, topped with a “Find Your Calling” that directs users to tap on Apply, Inquire and Visit, varying degrees of commitment that give the prospective parent an opportunity to dip a toe or dive all the way in. Site translation, naturally critical for an international school, sits at the top, a nice implementation of Weglot, one of Finalsite’s partners, to provide convenient access to the site in five other languages. Curious how an international school found its way in Dallas? The history and timeline page is a good place to start.

Dallas International School

The Catholic High School | Louisiana

There’s a lot of red in the new website for Catholic High (serving grades 4 through 12) in New Iberia, Louisiana — and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a bright and full red, the color we think hearts are made of, but also with a prevalence, it seems, to be symbolic of school spirit and pride — nearly every clip in the opening video montage has some red in it. The homepage panels alternate in this blaze of color, including a nice carousel of testimonials and pictures, clipped within circles, and a big red footer to hold everything from the bottom. The fast facts introduces a complementary black in the form of icons and stats that are worth noting, such as 932 student hours dedicated to service annually.

catholic high school website homepage

Wow! Interior pages, like the We are CHS, are nice examples of clean, varied and strong landing pages that take advantage of layouts and content elements in Composer, Finalsite’s content management system — all easily editable, cloneable, configurable and other-ables that you’d want to have handy in managing a page. Other pages, like Academic Excellence showcase using other content elements, like the accordion and tab content element, a nice solution for making more information available without overwhelming the reader. Best part about this? It’s a theme design, a great example of how to take a pre-built website and make it your own.

Ravenscroft School Magazine

The launch of the new Ravenscroft online magazine is as good a reminder as any that there’s never a dull moment in the world of Finalsite Posts, particularly when paired with the Publications module. The combination is like a fishing rod added to a motor boat; the possibilities just suddenly expand to the horizon. In this case, Ravenscroft, a PK-12 private school in Raleigh, NC, has a lot to be excited about, with a new Center for Student Life deep in construction. The online publication is a beautiful, accessible blend of high-profile featured stories that take up most of the page, with shorter updates, each with a thumbnail.

 Ravenscroft Magazine

A parallax moment opens up about halfway down the page, followed by “Alumni to Watch” which ties in stories about Ravenscroft graduates making their presence known in the world. What makes Posts so powerful is its tagging and sharing -- a content storage technology akin to the Spotify of content management, allowing you to use and re-use content whenever and wherever you want, and however you’d like to view it. In the case of the magazine here, the carousel of news stories at the bottom is re-clothed and made to work visually on the main ravenscroft website (equally lovely), as it is on the centralized news portal page. The “create once, publish everywhere” (COPE) is one of those conveniences that, like power windows, you can’t imagine not having until you do.

Xavier High School - 175th Anniversary

Speaking of microsites, what better reason to have one than when you're turning 175? Much easier to launch a website to celebrate this milestone than to squeeze that many candles onto the top of a cake. The opening class shot from 1865 followed by the football pose from 1917 tell enough of a story on their own, that this school has been educating and guiding boys for a very long time.

Xavier's 175th anniversary

Interactive timelines are always a nice way to roll through history (in this case, in 30 year increments), but the homepage brings a lot more to bear, including a list of all the presidents and headmasters, and a stroll down 16th street, where a long narrative gives you the complete scoop. The homepage slideshow gradually makes its way to the present, with the last image from 2007 a high-energy action shot of a pep rally. Toward the bottom, a very old gathering on 16th sits behind quotes from prestigious alums, including Thomas Curran, Secretary of State in 1947, marking Xavier’s 100th anniversary.

November Theme Website Launches

Lakes International Language Academy (LILA)

The Mead School

Dieringer School District

Saint Joan Antida High School

Dean Close School

Pomperaug Regional School District

The East Harlem School at Exodus House

Texas City Independent School District

Catholic High School - LA

Saint Joseph High School (NJ)


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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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