And just like that, October was gone: flew right past us like a witch across a full moon. Here in the Mid-atlantic the frost is settling, the flannel has come out, and we’re all in cider mode. No better time, then, to check out some great website launches, which are firing out of deployment faster than a flock of birds heading south. Let’s dive in!
Calhoun School | New York
For just a split second when you arrive at the new Calhoun website, you think there might be a mistake. The page is all but a handful of circles, and just one with a picture, like bubbles or a piece of modern art. But then: boom! The bubble explodes edge to edge, and the story — in this case a child working closely with a teacher — reveals itself, literally.
The circle as a design device is a handy mechanism in this homepage: divided in quarters for their infographic; a framing device for programmatic distinctions; a playful enhancement to a vertically-engaged slideshow. The pairs of green from the logo, which celebrate 125 years, pop amidst all the white, another nod to a modern bent. With two campuses in Manhattan, Calhoun’s pedagogical brew is very appealing, “designed to literally and conceptually eliminate the barriers between grades, disciplines and learners.” Pretty cool.
The site is not huge, but it’s dynamic, with Calhoun voices showcasing a nice library of videos, filterable via tagging thanks to Finalsite Posts; a nice media portal and mashup, featuring updated news, social media via Finalsite Feeds, and other fresh content; and an extremely active athletic schedule, that might even tie up the avid sports fanatic in knots. Great header shots also abound — just a click-through survey of various pages will give you a feel for the place.
Cotter Schools | Minnesota
Having four separate campuses serving children 16 months old all the way to grade 12 isn’t the only thing that makes Cotter Schools, in Winona, MN unique. The design begins modestly — easy blues and whites with a short slideshow featuring a handful of nicely cropped shots overlaying a blue panel with a semi-transparent shot of a classroom. The “Ramblers”, as they are known on the field, have a lot to say.
The navigation is one place to start: a non-traditional hamburger menu containing just three items: Globally Learning, Faithfull Serving, and Together in Community. Elsewhere, the Boarding, Staff and Alumni feel more like calls-to-action than primary navigation but they too send you off to key pages for their targeted users.
Just below the homepage feature, the big “C” for Cotter plays a supporting role behind a grid of quick clicks to each campus; it’s a complicated setup made simple visually, tying together shades of blue and a calming beige to get parents where they need to be. Further down, the number “10,000” headlines the page, an impressive tally of hours served within the community across 100 organizations every year.
A two-column block of events display within small shield outlines, laid across an illustrated wallpaper of sorts featuring classic school icons, a retro shout-out to school days that maybe parents remember most. That outline of a shield shows up again, but this time a curvilinear frame for images to spotlight “Education with Character”, an important feature of the program. This website is also a good reference for reusable elements in Composer, Finalsite's Content Management System. Take the Admissions landing page as one example — many of the same design components show up again, a cast of characters in slightly different roles, but accomplishing just as much for the prospective parent making their way through the application process.
St. Dunstan's College | United Kingdom
When you date back to 1446 (yes, that’s correct), one place to start on the new St. Dunstan’s College website is the history page, but if you wind up beginning with the Headmaster’s welcome, you’ll find a school looking very much ahead, rolling out a new STEM facility and performing arts center. If you miss both of those pages, then for a school covering Nursery through Year 13, the landing pages are a good place to settle in — Junior School, Senior School, and Sixth Form. These pages tightly package video, wide-frame images, and blocks of content that say a lot, and which bring you to pages like the St. Dunstan’s Diploma, which talks about “Characters and Leaders, Knowledge and Futures” (do ambitious words like these get bigger when they are strung together? I think so).
The grays, deep blues, and dark brown ochres, combined with elegant italic headers and very legible body copy make for a site that is both inviting and informative, a wide open house where the hot tea and comfortable chair is just a cup away. The tall footer has a transparent overlay of a grand main building, with a London address just 15 minutes from London Bridge. Need a little more of the day-to-day? The Headmaster’s Blog provides weekly soundbites of a bustling school with lots going on.
Canadian Academy | Japan
For one, Canadian Academy, a day and boarding school in Kobe, Japan, certainly knows how to take stunning pictures, and not just great, well-framed images of the campus and school life, which their new hero slideshow contains. But terrific close-up images of kids with masks — the ongoing challenge every Director of Communications and Marketing faces — that capture that elusive emotion and energy that makes some pictures jump right out of the screen.
In addition to the images, this best-in-class design is a basket of goodies, starting with mega-navigation that introduces a brushstroke edge to the boundaries of many straight edges in a gray wash that’s touched with green and which augments that bright school red. A larger brushstroke animates across the screen as you scroll, a background for “Tradition Meets Innovation” and a picture of students in traditional Japanese kimonos drinking green tea; it’s a picture where you wish you could walk up and join. These brushstrokes continue to make their way through the design, swiping up and down, left and right, as if an artist had just stopped by the site on their way to the easel. Out of nowhere, an incredibly serene shot of a lake fills the screen close to the water and from the perspective of a seated kayaker, all captured by the word “Imagine”.
But there’s more to do here: Experience, Grow, Belong and Learn — each coupled with a photograph of everything you hope to see in a school. There’s a great “What’s Happening” social media panel, powered by Finalsite Feeds, and a very unique college matriculation grid that aggregates an impressive list of colleges, bordered by “100% acceptance”.
It’s all very compelling. And then! A final surprise: an illustrated ferris wheel and gondola, silhouetted in red and black, shooting up the page, on a trajectory to a mountaintop we can’t see, a touch that is both fun and different. There are some excellent layouts built in Composer, Finalsite’s content management system, like the CA Difference, or the Elementary School Landing page, which ties multiple images and calls-to-action together into one two-column layout. And if you happen to wonder what field trips look like in Kobe, Japan, well...If you live halfway across the world like I do and know you can’t go, you kinda don’t want to know, but I couldn’t help looking.
Great Oaks Career Campuses | Ohio
It’s not every day I get to see a group of firemen and women posed for the hero image of a recent website launch. Such was the group of five smiling down toward the camera, greeting the user on the new Great Oaks website, with the Fire Training tower above them. The slideshow continues to deliver a similar unexpected variety, and with that it becomes very easy to appreciate the role a place like Great Oaks plays in educating adults, not to mention aspiring high school students.
The Adult Education landing page compiles lots of useful starting points for those who are beginning to explore options, but the program pages, like CNC Manufacturing, are full of important content and information, creating a one-stop shop for that next level of nuts and bolts for someone ready to enroll. Meanwhile, the Student Resources page packs a lot in for adult students currently enrolled, a nice content management sleight of hand of how to use the accordion elements to stash additional information ready for the linking.
San Luis Coastal Unified School District | California
One place to start on the new San Luis Coastal Unified website, a district in California made of 15 schools and an adult center, is the Find it Fast button. On click (or tap), the full transparent overlay provides a big search box at the top, a row of neatly designed quick links dressed up as thinly-lined icons, and three buckets of links, one for the community, one for staff and one for parents -- all sitting on a beautiful coastal image that, if you’re like me, will make you start wishing it were summer again. What is it about water that is so mesmerizing? That may be the next thought you have where, as you scroll, you’ll be suddenly facing this animated water sequence where a mountainous island of sorts — straight out of Jurassic Park — greets you, as good a backdrop as any for the district’s mission statement.
Guiding principles follow, in a semi-symmetrical stacked grid of six scenes from the schools, with intriguing items like “All Means All” and “Collaboration and Civil Discourse”. Individual district department pages, like Building, Grounds and Transportation, are well-developed and organized, each one clearly given attention and thought, not to mention pictures and short bios of the department directors. Individual school sites, such as Morro Bay High School, continue the homepage image theme of showcasing the building, but then roll out a site of their own, in which news and calendars play a more important role on their homepage, guiding principles are distinct, and videos are prominent. The navigation for each school is unique, allowing the district to provide each administrator options to manage and maintain their site directly while staying within the boundaries of the overall aesthetic.
The intricate emblem of the International Leadership of Texas is front and center in the nav, like a keystone of sorts that locks in the design; it conveniently disappears though as you scroll, taking a temporary back seat while the user takes it all in.
As you come to learn in the About page, IL Texas is quite the place, an amazing charter school serving more than 21,000 K-12 students on 20 campuses in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and College Station areas, and teaching not just Spanish but also Chinese as it takes a global perspective on its educational approach. In this way, the “Schools” mega navigation is a design coup, tucking in over 20 direct links to schools, organized by city, while not feeling overwhelming to the user. Like other district websites, IL Texas provides its schools, such as Grand Prairie K-8 with the autonomy it needs — including a unique navigation — to manage its own web presence within a common design. Interested in working there? The Careers page has it all, including a large video at the top making it even more enticing.
Edina Public Schools | Minnesota
Whoever designed the Edina Public Schools logo and masthead knew what they were doing; “Schools” naps cozily into the word “Public”, while Edina perches on top, balanced. The heavy sans serif for the name works well with the thinner type of the headers and navigation, and the greens that dominate some of the opening shots and accent colors, gets supplemented by an occasional orange, fuschia and blue.
“Future Ready Competencies” is a good pit stop to make on your way down the homepage, a convenient EZ Pass to race through the series of notable distinctions. The split panel of a news feature and a few calendar events are nicely integrated, while the row of accreditations finishes the page with a solid online fist bump. This district’s “Find it Fast” packs in a lot, including a site and staff search as well as quick links and icons to get you from point A to point B efficiently. On the interior, pages like the 2021 School Board Election are good examples of how flexible Composer is, enabling multiple and varied column widths, buttons and other clear mechanisms for segmenting content.
Lipscomb Academy | Tennessee
There’s a symbiotic relationship between shield and website for Lipscomb Academy, a Pre-K through 12th grade private school in Nashville, TN. If it doesn’t seem obvious at first, the biggest connection being that the bottom of the shield sets up the mask for the homepage video, holding it like a cup but also in turn guiding the eye like a broad arrow to the key message: You Belong Here.
The shield is hardly intricate, but in its Christian simplicity it communicates a lot, the vertical bar of the cross doubling as what appears to be a flame. The words, “You Belong Here”, headline a series of upbeat photos of kids jumping and smiling, encouraging you to “discover what it means to be a Lipscomb Mustang.” Purple and Gold adorn the largely white canvas, until you reach the “I Am Ready to Explore” panel which is as good an example as any of using Finalsite Posts and filters.
The “I’m Interested In” drop down is a nice interactive feature (as is the default answer: “Everything”) and the Faces of Lipscomb bring a slew of students, parents and alumni to the fore with strong testimonials. Back to the shield: it shows up again, in parallax fashion and reversed out in white this time, with the downward vertex pointing to the most important of questions: “Ready to Apply?”. On the inside, the About page tells as big of a story as the homepage as do key landing pages like the Admissions and Academics homepages. The bottom of the shield even makes it way into the faculty directory, a nice framing device for a big team.
Riverside Presbyterian Day School | Florida
A student’s journey through eighth grade can begin with a lot of things, but at Riverside Presbyterian Day School, it begins with leadership, passion, foundations and learning. Accompanying these broad words are compelling, motivating hero images of kids raising the American flag, working assiduously with pencil and paper, running a football, and holding the yellow-wrapped chain links of the swing we all gripped at one point in our lives.
If you don’t get a little nostalgic as the pictures loop through, then your eyes may lock in for a few on the logo, which at first appears to be rays of white and blue, but are hands stacked on each other, like a team gathering in a circle, arms in, rallying. Stacking, coincidental or not, serves as the device for the animated letters below, the headers spelling themselves out one letter at a time like kids lining up for recess. Simple interactive moments enhance the experience, like the six-square grid underneath the Riverside Difference, where each image squats down on hover, like a game of duck-duck-goose, of sorts.
This symmetrical grid is balanced by a two-row, five rectangle grid just below, filled with stories that prove out the mission with action. Importantly, a map comes next, describing in a highly visual way how far you can live (39 zip codes!) to be a part of this community, the central logo blaring light like a radar signal. But this panel succeeds in more ways than one, cleverly pointing out that RPDS is near major corporations in Jacksonville and downtown, as well as the cultural and educational opportunities, such as museums, the zoo and sports stadiums that are within close proximity. The integrated social media carousel using Finalsite Feeds is a winner, with a call-to-action to a great news portal that brings it all together in one convenient location.
High School of Glasgow | United Kingdom
There are many excellent posed shots greeting you on the new website for the High School of Glasgow, serving ages 3-18 in Glasgow, Scotland; but there are also many that aren’t, moments when the students are clearly tucked into their moment, such as the group of three giggling at what appears to be an afternoon tea.
These photos serve as the messaging, but access to information requires no scrolling if you’re not inclined, with a well-engineered hamburger navigation that opens their school-blue overlay, or the three quick links to visiting, requesting information and applying. This trio hangs with you, but crouches down once you start to scroll, as if playing hide-and-seek, leaving plenty of room for clean layouts with little type, big margins and lots of white space to let everything breathe. There’s a particularly sharp section, “Three Stages, Two Locations” which describes the stepped trajectory from Kindergarten to Senior School, and sets up a nice transition vis-a-vis a screenful of blue to the At A Glance panel, featuring just a handful of infographics that are big and kind to the eyes -- all set against a dramatic wintery and rocky landscape filled with kids with climbing gear. The homepage keeps on giving, like free trials at a shop, with stories filled with bright smiles and faces, and a “Life at HSOG” montage of stories and social media posts, integrated into the design seamlessly with the help of Finalsite Feeds. If you find yourself in Scotland and want to see for yourself, the visit page is particularly good at helping you get there.
Marin Montessori School | California
You can’t help but notice the solid silhouette of the water bird next to the Marin Montessori School header; the heron (egret?) is either landing or taking off, eddies around its feet making way for both, with its big outstretched wings taking in either the launch or the fall, leaning either in or out. The interpretation of the bird is yours, which may be overanalyzing the logo but is no doubt part and parcel to the philosophy of MMS, laid bare as you scroll: “Grounded & Soaring.”
Unexpectedly, a big group of four black-and-white images jumps out at you, each one describing a division, from Toddlers to Junior High, and each one blowing up into a big solid block of saturated color and tight messaging, such as the lime green for Primary: “Teach me to do it myself. Help me to discover who I am” or the halloween orange for Junior High: “Challenge my mind. Allow me to contribute. Help me to be and belong.” These powerful statements have all the words they need to drive a prospective family to individual landing pages, such as the one for Primary which pulls together information and expandable blocks of content that spell out the value of an MMS education, with lots of great images to supplement. The Join Our Team page, which hangs from the top, is as welcoming as you can get, a unique collage and a diverse set of faces of people you can’t help but want to meet.
Xavier High School | New York
The last thing I expect to see on a school website is a subway map, but when I saw the one on the new website for Xavier High School, a Catholic, Jesuit high school for boys in New York City, it made total sense. The animation is smart, making it plainly visible the degree of access and convenience to the far reaches of the NYC boroughs and New Jersey — surely a leading question for a prospective parent. Burgundy and blue work symbiotically in this design, an elegant combo to frame the video montage, high quality thumbnails for the spotlight feature and profile shots for the Voices of Xavier.
Landing pages, such as that for Admissions, are great reminders that these pages are just as capable as the homepage of bringing together inviting content, images, infographics and calls-to-action into complex layouts that are interesting and uniquely developed, a function of the versatility of Composer, Finalsite’s content management system. Likewise, the Affording Xavier presents the costs to attend in the context of many financial aid and scholarship opportunities, a message made loud and clear by a touching testimonial of a single mother who was able to send her son here. And on the fundraising side, the Ways to Give page has a nice use of the accordion treatment, providing an accessible treatment for understanding all the ways to give back.
The Academy of Charter Schools | Colorado
It’s nice to see a new charter school website launch, especially like the one for The Academy of Charter Schools in Westminster, CO, which gears its program around “responsive experience centered around three notions we call Navigational Stars – Prepare, Explore, and Empower.”
Pictures of kids with llamas and barn bays sit side by side with pictures of students with laptops and notebooks in the classroom with no particular priority, conveying a sense that all of it matters equally to a students’ education and growth. Prepare, explore and empower are framing devices not just for the mission, but also for how the divisions are structured and how the pyramid that makes up its logo uses these as a sort of hierarchical building blocks. As a free public school of choice, it’s hard to ask for more.
The Campaign For Landon | Maryland
For fundraisers, when is it not campaign season? And for independent schools, that season sometimes may feel year-round. At Landon School, what better way to kick it off than with their new microsite, the Campaign for Landon. In some ways, the video is all the site needs to build a case for what a special place the school is, but the snapshots of the architectural renderings of future buildings is a major call for engagement.
The rest of the microsite homepage naturally includes an animated progress thermometer (because fundraisers love thermometers!) and even more shots and angles of what’s ahead — a new Upper School, a Middle School that’s becoming a Lower School, a Lower School that’s also becoming an Arts Center, an Academic Center that’s becoming a Middle School — and if you can’t keep that straight, you can always see it clearly in the campaign overview page or this handy aerial shot.
Theme School Website Launches
Let’s see who launched beautiful new theme website designs! Finalsite's theme designs are school website templates perfect for schools and districts working on a tight budget or tight timeline (or both!)
Barstow Unified School District | California
British Education Korea | Korea
Catholic High School | Louisiana
Green Acres School | Maryland
Herron Classical Schools | Indiana
J.O Wilson Elementary | Washington D.C
Millcreek Township School District | Pennsylvania
Oak Grove School District | California
Quincy School District | Washington
River Valley Local Schools | Ohio
Salesian College Preparatory | California
St. James Episcopal School | Alabama
Kuspuk School District | Alaska
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.