At what point does “Back to school” become “Back in school”? Is it when summer is long past, daily schedules have finally been tacked up, the lunch box stops making it back into the cabinet, and the alarm clocks start failing? Is it when department stores ditch the “back to school” banners, and replace them with holiday decor?
For Finalsite, that continuum is one still filled with summer launches and admissions season prep, and boy, the creative and deployment teams have been busy, capital B. Here’s September launches. And if you make it to the end of this blog reading about them, just imagine building them all!
Custom Website Design Launches
Stuart Country Day School | New Jersey
Between the exceptional opening image and the brand message at large, the homepage could easily double as a billboard on Route 1 alerting dads and moms itching for a unique all-girls education to pull over. In the compact and competitive private school market of Princeton, New Jersey, standing out requires being both bold and true to form.
For Stuart, the website is just feminine enough to convey its single sex approach — curved type and graceful flurries of graphic touches while the green is rich and bold, with other areas projecting strength and clarity. The “Distinctly Stuart” creates a hard stop for the visitor scrolling, forcing the user to check out just what it is the school is about — but in a way that is intuitive and easy to digest, including values driven by the Sacred Heart tradition and tied to their mission.
Purple finds a home throughout, such as for “Our Campus” which forms part of a header for a brief overview — 55 acres, 15 minutes from the train station, and just a few miles from downtown Princeton — but the image of curving main building is a small architectural wonder, photographed as if the building itself were reaching for the sky. But, “Nothing Stops a Girl” and that becomes clear on pages like the Unstoppable Profiles page, a branded grid of girls who will one day take over the world.
And that’s not just the only page worth checking out: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion provides both a broad overview as well as detailed examples that describe the school’s priorities using interesting layouts and content elements provided by the Finalsite platform.
Other lovely and well-developed pages abound: an inquiry page that isn’t a mile long or the National Center for Girls’ Leadership, a distinguished, far-reaching effort by Stuart to reach beyond its walls to help other schools empower girls to be leaders. After all, it’s not just the girls who are unstoppable here — it’s Stuart too.
Park Hill School District | Missouri
Now here’s a new district website worth a look-see: Park Hill School District, near Kansas City. What’s striking, and notable, about the opening video montage of the new Park Hill School District website isn’t that it has some mind-blowing Hollywood-worthy drone footage, or a perfectly calibrated dance sequence, or perfect sets of timed smiles, but rather that it has just lots and lots of normal — kids making something with card stock or tooling around with colored blocks, students painting some splotches, a teacher working with a special needs student.
In that sense the video is nothing but reassuring: despite this global pandemic, and despite kids bandying about in masks, the normal still happens. In some ways, this only helps to elevate the next panel, “Park Hill Proud,” a clever, interactive trifold of Park Hill voices numbers and achievements.
The News and Stories below showcases the latest with excellent thumbnails and well-written content captions. The site then goes a-parallaxing out of nowhere, a touching teacher/student moment that reveals then disappears behind a simple calendar display with a unique scrolling feature. There’s then a shout-out to the district sponsors in a small carousel of logos and another great shot of kids sits in the footer, overlaid with a compact and effective footer design. For the variety and depth of each element, they all work and look great, spots of blue and gold clarifying the layout with simple lines and bars.
The homepage is of course where things start, but the Schools menu lays out 11 elementary schools, 4 middle schools, 3 high schools and 4 other programs extremely well. The family of sites is clear within a coherent graphic guideline, such as Garden Elementary, a testament to a committed team and the flexibility of the platform to provide both autonomy and scale with a beautiful new design.
Behind the scenes, Finalsite’s Content Management System, Composer makes editing these sites both easy and manageable, allowing administrators to provide the appropriate autonomy for school and district editing alike. Even the practical pages are strong, such as the calendar, which allows for filtering and personalizing, but also has handy downloads in different languages.
Also notable is the “Work in Park Hill” navigation, prominently displayed in the header with a full subnav; we know teacher recruitment is a never-ending job, and their new website only helps with a compelling series of pages developed to bring the best teachers in the door.
Lawrence Academy | Massachusetts
Ok. I’m not one for gimmicks, but this draggable homepage hero image had me hooked right out of the gate… which makes me think: maybe it’s not a gimmick at all? If the bell — or the whistle — has a job, then the answer is definitively no.
In this particular case, the interactivity drives home the mission: here at Lawrence Academy you “Find Your Spark” and “Share Your Light”. One begets the other, the spark bears the light. This is cool stuff, and surely every prospective parent who takes a second to drag that window pane must be nodding to themselves, yes, help my child see (discover?) the spark, turn it into light, and then — here’s the kicker — share the light. That’s a lot of mileage out of six words, and that’s also just the beginning of this best-in-class design, which has more hooks than a tackle shop.
Take the “birds eye” tour further down the homepage: one click takes you from a serene aerial shot of a campus in a peaceful rural setting to a drone-fill image montage that seems to take you everywhere, all without leaving the homepage. Panels below — such as What Makes Lawrence Academy — pack a lot into a small space; you could spend several minutes just tinkering around with the tabs on the left and the expansive content on the right. “Compassionate Culture”, for example, ties to an overlay of values, stories and a small infographic (students from 22 countries!), each of which provides a next step into the site if you’re interested.
Below, the Latest News provides a nice three-column presentation of a few current happenings, with thumbnails that are equally sized and high quality. And when you think you’ve hit the bottom of the homepage, and if your head isn’t already full of possibility by this point, there’s a just-as-cool panel featuring Winterim, Learning Support and the Advisory Program — the website, like the school, makes it hard to leave.
American School of Guatemala | Guatemala
“Legacy” is a very uncommon but intriguing word to use for a K-12 school, much less an international one with over 1,600 students. What student has the wherewithal to already be thinking about what they’re going to leave behind for everyone else? Apparently, students here do, and it’s not hard to see why as the website unveils a remarkable bilingual school in Guatemala.
This is partly achieved because of CAG’s definitive handle on video, which is prominently featured throughout the website, such as at the top of the Upper School where you are presented with a slightly accelerated view of moving kids doing lots of different things. From here you can visit the Curriculum page, an excellent example of how versatile Finalsite Posts is, in which tags and categories are like pixie dust for sorting and filtering the school’s broad academic offerings. Other user-friendly touches make a difference. The Search icon, top right, opens a nice overlay that presents popular navigation items and a big search bar, while the Weglot site translation, bottom right, provides one-click access to Spanish, Portuguese and South Korean content translation. Ready to go? The Visit page will make that easy for you.
DeMatha Catholic High School | Maryland
Aside from the artistically inspired composition, the opening shot of the entire school in chapel feels both somber and consequential, a school united in purpose and community. A Catholic high school in Hyattsville, MD, DeMatha started with just 18 students in 1946 to over 800, a powerhouse in athletics (although, how can you not be when your mascot is a stag?) as well as rigorous academics. Faith, community and service act as key pillars — visual and philosophical — further down the homepage, augmented by bars colored with accented hues of blue, gold and green.
The integrated social media panel closer to the bottom stacks up a unique combination of news items coming from Finalsite Posts along with instagram in a seamless grid of the here and now. Interior layouts, including important ones like College Counseling, showcase well-crafted layouts using Composer; accordions, photo grids, multi-column areas all combine to help right-fit the content into one comprehensive page.
Also worth noting: the New Student page, which pulls together all the essentials for the newly-enrolled, but in its own strategic way, doubles as a reassuring page for prospective families curious what it’ll be like to get started here.
Montgomery School | Pennsylvania
One of the nice things about being a K-8 school is that you get to have a little more fun. In the case of a new website, that comes in the form of bright colors, messaging where cutesy is okay — “Bring your enthusiasm (& your boots!)”, and perhaps a bit more authenticity — such as the homepage image of the boy holding a frog like it’s a small dragon.
The turn of phrase that jumps out here is not just about educating, but about “raising children”. That’s a nuance that doesn’t go unnoticed where kids, “Think Boldly”, “Solve Creatively” and “Lead Compassionately”, all underpinning a central mission featured in its tagline: Embracing Childhood. All of this may sound lofty, but there’s method: the small class size matters (which, by the way, features an awfully nice implementation of the accordion content element in Composer) as much as it does by starting an education here early.
Clean layouts are like bright smiles on this website, such as the admissions landing page which ties it in a bow with nice welcome text, inviting pictures of the team, and next steps, as well as the Student Life landing page, which is all about kids. It’s hard not to leave this website feeling a little happier.
Riverside Presbyterian Day School | Florida
Typography plays a leading role in the new Riverside website with each subsequent panel an opening salvo of letters stacking up like kids in a carpool line. It’s akin to the logo, in a way, which is filled with hands that could all be high-fiving each other, or waving, one after the other.
Each panel is worth the pitstop. The academic excellence one, for example, combines organized collages with a tabbed navigation that paints a full picture of just what happens in the classroom for this PreK3-6 school (hint: a lot). Programmatically, the opportunities don’t stop there, as the next panel describes, with short blurbs about each division’s unique experience, with links to more.
Finally, the day-to-day shows up in the form of a carousel of instagram posts, a nice feature using Finalsite Feeds that allows for moderation on the backend as well as custom design on the front. Even for a school that ends at sixth grade, there’s all the makings of a school that ends later, with competitive sports and real service learning, both of which are just components of a rich Riverside experience, laid out plain and clear in the Community Experiences page.
Maret School | Washington, DC
Out of the gate, there are only three things you can do when you first open the new Maret homepage: login, search or tap the menu item. To the first, current families and faculty/staff know exactly what that means and can access password-protected portals with everything they need. To the second, a nice overlay drops down with the input box for searching, with quick-access icons and curated short lists for the Community and Students, as well as a convenient “What’s Popular”. And to the third, a full panel of navigation, a few news and events, and calls to action.
This trifecta micro-nav of portal-seach-nav is the epitome of simplicity and user interface economy, minimizing what’s in front of the user but providing the most complete access possible. That’s where the site begins, at least. The rest of the design is equally elegant but also spare, filled with white space and wide open margins.
A bit of scrolling leads to a nice collection of news and events, until you arrive at the “At Our Core” panel which picks up the green vis-a-vis a gradient overlay on hover, punctuating the distinctions that make Maret, Maret. Single infographics position over a big open picture next, making the simple back and forth navigation for each obvious. If a user hasn’t clicked over to somewhere in the interior by now, the footer is topped with access to the core areas of arts, athletics, academics and wellness — broad areas for the indecisive to explore.
And for those digging into the academics, the Curriculum page is a must-see, if for no other reason than the filtering and sorting alone, which makes it plainly obvious just how strong and deep the academic program is — a great example too of the tagging and customizations available with Finalsite Posts. Other landing pages are worth checking out, such as the About page with a nice treatment of their core values, or Wellness, a lovely example of how to cover a lot of ground with just one page — Maret’s clearly a place that knows how to take care of you.
St. Andrews Delaware | Delaware
Before I even considered scrolling, I found myself refreshing the homepage just to see the opening message again — bathed in its full red overlay — for what it was: “Accessible to all, regardless of means.”
Such is the beauty of a generous donor, A. Felix duPont, who endowed the School to ensure that any student who was qualified could attend, regardless of their financial means. Thus, this is a school, with a new website, eager to find the best students, full stop, which in turn means bringing this boarding school straight to the laptop or phone as if it were right outside. This effort starts with a group of fantastic images linked up with hotspots for bullseyes, an interactive homepage where you get the feeling you’re just coming into the party, getting to know things as you poke around.
The selection of pictures is unique, too, captured moments that look effortless but surely took some doing. Take the image of the family being welcomed with poster board signs and balloons — we can feel the energy and warmth, as if we’re also standing on the side, cheering. St. Andrew’s is, among other things, a place of stability — the School is welcoming their fifth head of school even though they are coming on 100 years old, one of the just three coed all-boarding high schools in the country, sitting on 2200 acres in a beautiful part of Delaware.
One area worth checking out is the Front Lawn, a virtual version of its namesake and a creative solution to bringing together photo candids, school and alumni news stories, and recorded talks. Together, the fresh content paints an updated picture of a very active institution. Similarly, the Calendars and Events page takes a tabbed approach to providing a simple list, a block view and a downloadable pdf of all that’s coming up — a flavor for every calendar taste — and as good an example as any of the flexibility in Composer to display event information in many different formats.
And on that practical note, the parents landing page offers a nicely-designed and convenient assemblage of updated news, quick links, a COVID status icon, and short navigation for more. As your favorite librarian may have said, the new St. Andrew’s website “has a right place for everything.”
Wayland Academy | Wisconsin
With the simplest of headers — the School name (all seven letters of it), three buttons, a search and the menu icon — the new Wayland website is all about easy. The navigation opens a large overlay, a white carpet of sorts, with individual items that reveal the second tier, as well as an added touch of a large image and caption that appears on hover with each one, a little surprise gift as you peruse the sitemap.
The rest of the homepage builds on the notion of “possibility”, squaring up with values of Knowledge, Character and Community, each with its own distinct landing page. The interior pages deliver a nice user experience, such as the Leadership page, with professional-grade photos of the team as well as, unusually, the same for the Trustees page, which is generally just a list on most school websites. Traditions uses a nice alternating background color scheme to share some of the unique vibe, including no less “The Axe Hunt” — you’ll have to attend to see just what that’s like.
Dallas International School | Texas
Okay, so it’s impossible not to smile when the small page pop titled “Join Us” features an animated gif of five small lower school students bouncing up and down on repeat, like kernels of popcorn on the edge of bursting. This little barrage of fun is an active website just getting going.
The school’s motto, we learn, is “Globally inspired. Distinctly different.” And its vision captures this well: “Bilingual Immersion for Pre K-12 in Dallas, TX.” Speaking of immersion, the language translation feature up top is a convenient toggle to German, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic and French using Weglot, a preferred partner of Finalsite.
Regardless of language, the design is elegant with a soft touch — even the animated sequences glide in purposefully but measured like a well-healed couple making their way down a grand staircase. Curved edges are everywhere, smoothing out the design and layout, and rollover states are used in multiple ways to enhance pictures and content blocks.
The footer of the site is notable, too, if for no other reason than as a nice example of how to show lots of accreditations and share social handles without gunking it up with too many icons. Interiors are equally strong; even pages like Parent Zone, which is a portal for current families, brings together lots of content in a convenient layout, or better yet, the Inquire page, which bravely pushes back against the tide of long forms and asks for just five pieces of information — refreshing to stay the least!
Shattuck-St. Mary's School | Minnesota
Special props to the photographer for the new Shattuck-St. Mary’s website: three totally different shots, angles, composition, times of day, focus and emotion. More ground gets covered in those three pictures than their varsity cross country team, I bet. For the pictures alone, check out the Fast Facts page — can’t remember the last time I’ve seen rays of sun pointing… sideways? Or of the theater - is that place actually real? Great images are just one of many effective design elements on the site, including a calming color scheme of light teals, grays and burgundy.
The top navigation has uniquely pointed drop downs, and the collapsible hamburger menu opens a very simple list of primary navigation, underlined with a search bar. A congratulatory shout out to the site’s administrator for making the quick links menu, indeed, quick, and not a repository of indecisiveness and vocal parents who said they can’t find something even though they never really tried.
This 150+ year old boarding and day school in Minnesota has lots to say, and the homepage continues to tell the story through a combination of features, news, calendars and testimonials — with, of course, an opportunity to switch up the language at the top into five other languages. Throughout the site, such as for the Performing Arts Series, content, styles and images are knitted together perfectly, keeping simple pages simple while providing the right amount of information. Even more practical pages, like the faculty portal, look good and efficiently provide a broad set of useful information.
Theme Website Design Launches
Archbishop Murphy High School | Washington
Glendale-River Hills | Wisconsin
Optima Foundation | Florida
International School of Kenya | Kenya
Skokie and Morton Grove School Dist 69 | Illinois
Villanova College | Ontario, Canada
Office of Education, Evangelization and Catechesis | Connecticut
Seven Peaks School | Oregon
Pequannock Township School District | New Jersey
Summit School District R-E1 | Colorado
Boyd Buchanan School | Tennessee
Mission Lazarus | Tennessee
George Washington Academy | Casablanca
Peninsula Heritage School | California
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.