I don’t know about you, but February couldn’t be over fast enough. Here on the east coast of the U.S., it was cold and gray, dark and rainy, with every variation of ice and sleet that even the cooped up meteorologists needed a pep talk. And the snow couldn’t seem to get itself right, a sledding tease for just a few hours before it morphed into something that pushed you back inside, clawing for a blanket.
But there were bright spots! This month’s school website launches are mugs full of hot chocolate with marshmallows and peppermint sticks, a pile of crackling logs in the fireplace that draw you in, burn the steam off your damp socks, and let you settle into reflection. Finalsite was busy this month, and we’re proud as ever to see so many schools and districts launch new websites. Here it goes!
Skip to Website Launches by School Type
Davie County Schools | North Carolina
There’s a lot going on at Davie County Schools, a school district of 6,000 students in North Carolina, and that’s readily apparent by the three columns of news and events halfway down the new homepage. Their tagline: “Engage, equip, empower” is as true for the visitor to the website as it is for the student attending in person. After all, these are the kinds of words we hope describe not just the experience on campus but also vicariously through the website.
The welcoming video montage is nothing but engaging; the site is equipped with large, colorful buttons, a unique “Popular Pages” carousel of icons, and very intentional areas like the grid of key facts. And the easy-to-use Schools navigation empowers parents to navigate quickly, getting from A to B without the need to stop and think.
The orange and dark gray color scheme, dotted with teal, combined with the modern logo and such a clean design all leave you with an impression of a forward-thinking district whose positive virtual image is as close to a match as the positive experience on campus as you can get.
Stillwater Area Public Schools | Minnesota
Here’s a refreshing new public school website to look at: Stillwater Area Public Schools. It’s just all around good. Bright color palette. Solid hamburger navigation. Clean layouts that communicate a lot but avoid the busy, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink trap of district websites. A nice “Schools” drop menu helps to navigate to the individual school subsites, which are also notable.
Take Afton-Lake Elementary, which picks up the structure, style and design of the district site but has the autonomy to have its own navigation, content, news items and the like. Finalsite’s CMS, Composer, allows district administrators the ability to delegate and empower schools to take control while guaranteeing a consistent framework to ensure quality and consistency. Stillwater Community Education, for example, is an important part of the district but only requires a handful of the panels that make up the homepage design of the district and other schools. This flexibility for a medium-sized district like Stillwater makes all the difference for a sustainable web presence.
Sycamore Community Unit School District 427 | Illinois
The new website for Sycamore Community School District 427 is classy and inviting, like one of those chic restaurants you pass downtown where there’s a line out the door. Black and yellow were made for each other, and those colors play out conspicuously in the design, making for a sharply dressed book and torch with the logo, an easy-to-read calendar and calls-to-action in the footer.
There’s also a lavender that makes an appearance in the form of accent and background color for panels that helps expand the palette in a way that seems natural. There are lots of nice features on the homepage, including the profiles of people that are laid out with intersecting circles, or the grid of content blocks that explains what they mean by Strategic Design. Accessibility of their website is clearly top of mind, with the AudioEye toolbar always available in the bottom right to provide all sorts of helpful tools to make the site more accessible. Finally, lots of fresh content makes its way into the Our Stories page, a great example of Finalsite Posts in action.
Keio Academy of New York | New York
Maybe it’s the blooming dogwood trees that drew me into this new site for Keio Academy (and which, by the way, change by season as you navigate); or the 1/6 with adjoining arrows graphically tucked on the left to provide clear direction; or the slimmest of slim bars of color that are delicate but cheery, like a new pack of Crayola crayons; or maybe just the big “Welcome”. Whatever the case, the new launch executes myriad best practices, all tightly wound into a fresh design that is evocative as much as it is intuitive.
The reveals for each of the six panels come splashing out in bursts of color and information, a half-second of anticipation as the imagery builds into final design. There’s a sense of discovery as a result, exactly the mentality the site wants users to have. And the fact that we know there are six somehow incentivizes finishing them all, a sort of website binge and mini accomplishment to feel whole. It’s fun and elegant all at the same time. The tiny Japanese flag at the top is notable for its minuscule design, just big enough for a user to know it’s toggle to transition to Japanese script.
Oakhill Day School | Missouri
The new site launch for Oakhill Day School, serving children from 18 months all the way through to 12th grade, is a right-sized website for a small school of just over 300. The homepage captures enough and not too much -- nice, hexagonal starting points for each division; a “This Week at a Glance” with a handful of easy-to-read events and one featured news story; and three people lined up at the bottom ready to share their story.
There’s an integrated chat feature on the homepage that makes it easy to start a conversation, but the website brings you gently in, serving up all the information you need in a few well-developed pages, like the Admissions landing page or the Student Life page. In this way, the site is compact -- you could almost count the number of key pages on two hands -- but those pages are deep and complete, avoiding the problem users sometimes get on other sites -- that we’ve somehow missed something. It’s not unlike the acorn -- integrated with their logo -- where an entire tree somehow fits into a tiny nut.
Liberty Christian School | Texas
What school is bold enough to open with: “Be a Warrior”? Well, Liberty Christian School in Argyle, TX, for one. To bookend the emphasis, even in the footer is a picture of the front of the campus and a sign “Home of the Warriors!” But the homepage hero images and video broadens the message, with big, wide shots of theater, art, chapel and teaching.
The dark and light blues help break up the homepage into consumable layouts filled with interesting bits of information, distinctions, stories, upcoming events and more, while on the inside, interior pages like Who We Are or the Academics landing page showcase unique layouts that the School can easily assemble and edit using Finalsite Composer. Interactive design treatments are repurposed, such as on the Student Life page where Liberty Christian explains all the ways the school develops a well-rounded student, warriors and otherwise.
Nansemond-Suffolk Academy | Virginia
It’s not unusual to see the words “Engage. Inspire. Empower.” on a school website, but in the case of the new launch of this best-in-class design for NSA, those words take hold fast, splitting up the homepage with the fullness of their six and seven letters, and, more importantly, a short explanation of how NSA interprets them. Meanwhile, the homepage is one to explore, with each subsequent panel full of graphic depth and interactivity, finished with a surprising and very unusual animated denouement: Ready to Apply? You’ll see what I mean when you go there.
If you skip right ahead to the Admissions Process page, you’ll find a classy example of how to spell out a step-by-step process that should make the best practice top 10: a bright yellow “Apply for Admission” followed by a clearly labeled requirements list, expandable as needed and coupled with a cute photograph. Simple but well developed, like the rest of the site.
Stuart Hall School | Virginia
There are a lot of drone shots in homepage videos for school websites, but this one is worth checking out -- there’s an appreciation for form, architecture, rooflines, the artistic possibility created by a town block, the opportunity presented by an open window. This boarding and day school in Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is lovely, as is the website.
Pages like Our Location or Mastery Learning are simple but excellent examples of how the website administrators can build intuitive, compact layouts that deliver all the right information without being overwhelming. Meanwhile, Graduate Goals tucks a lot of great content into columns of accordions, the effect of which is a school with real substance to its program while making the end-user experience easy. For a school founded in 1844, this site is all about looking forward, too.
Boys Latin School of Maryland | Maryland
If you’ve been educating boys since 1844, you’ve probably got a pretty good handle on what that’s all about. This is certainly obvious with Boys Latin, serving grades K-12, a story told well not only on the new homepage, but also throughout the interior, starting with About, which is a model example of how to weave together content elements, images and layouts to build a full and complete story of who the School is.
Then there are pages like Affording Boys Latin, a critical page for the prospective family contemplating the tuition and what options there are, such as the scholarships panel, which leverages the tabbed element to show three broad opportunities, or the common questions, which leverages the accordion. You can’t visit a boys’ school and not talk about sports, so the Athletics page is worth checking out, another handsome combination of video and images, but layered with practical-minded content such as the upcoming games and integrated tweets; it’s nice to have a “Student Athlete” Inquiry button right at the top, a simple prompt for someone ready to start a conversation.
Commonwealth School | Massachusetts
Commonwealth School is a whole lot of uncommon. Uncommon community. Uncommon Curiosity. Uncommon opportunity. These words, after all, are the only thing sitting atop the featured hero image for the new website launch of this Boston private high school of 135 students. There’s a pulsating “play” button that’s hard not to tap, which launches student-led interpretations of just what these words mean to them. More faculty, student and alumni profiles are just below: “My eighth-grade self would never have believed I would love homework so much,” says one. These are the kinds of unique approaches not just in content but also in design that set the site apart and help visitors understand just what Commonwealth is about.
There are plenty of other interesting treatments on the homepage, such as a nice panels-worth of news and calendar items or a By The Numbers, but interior treatments like How to Apply and Equity and Inclusion are ambitious in scope, with thoughtful layouts befitting the content. Consider the Curriculum page, which is about as good as it gets in highlighting how Composer allows the School to build pages with one, two, and three columns on the same page and integrate unique calls-to-action, accordion treatments, and call-outs — all while telling a coherent story about what’s important to know about learning. Great examples all around!
Duke School | North Carolina
I think if I were starting a school and needed to create a mascot, a dragon would be high on the list. For Duke School on its new website, their dragon makes its appearance not in the logo but as a link to the portal and as a background element on the sleek design of their homepage.
Meanwhile, the logo is an extremely clever blend of “D” and “S” that, combined, is its own piece of unique art, insinuating symmetry, but not enough to be forced. Such is the way of Duke School which aims to “Inspire learners to boldly and creatively shape their future” -- just one part of a Discover landing page that tells much of the story and background of who they are. Serving preschool through eighth grade, the site is full of large, stunning pictures of young children engaged in learning, interacting with teachers, and having fun -- it’s not hard if you’re a parent wanting to see your kid there, being a dragon like the rest of them.
Hamlin Robinson School | Washington
The HRS Scoop, on the new homepage for Hamlin Robinson, is as good a way as any to get a feel for the School, based in Seattle. It’s also a great example of the flexibility and versatility of Finalsite Posts to display a few items in one place, and a great newsletter on another, a perfect solution for a school with lots to share. With a focus on educating students with dyslexia, the School serves its website visitors well with pages like the Dyslexia Q&A or a comprehensive page About Dyslexia. Thursday Thoughts is like the first serving at a buffet, a broad spread of news and events that you take in as much as you can, with links to archives if you can’t get enough.
International Schools & UK Independent Schools
Seisen International School | Tokyo, Japan
Even without scrolling, there’s just a lotta cool with the new Seisen International School website. Maybe it’s the hidden video behind “Learning to Love, Loving to Learn”, a short tease before the video opens up, while squaring up the three still images that line the left side. Or maybe it’s that the video itself is on hyperdrive, a fun torrent of students going about their day that is all energy and plenty of substance.
There’s also a tasteful blend of unique typography that marks the site with a simple elegance and modern sensibility, with content that is filled with personal stories and expression. The Seisen Story, for instance, has lots to tell us, with sharp, large contrasting numbers to emphasize nationalities (55+), Student/Faculty ratio (7:1), or recent Championships (3). For an all-girls school, the Student Life area is important, and the website delivers a lot of good content, such as Global Mindedness or Activities, which leverage many of Finalsite Composer’s design elements to display content in varied layouts. Want to see the school in Tokyo for yourself? This is a great Directions page.
Rishworth School | West Yorkshire, UK
“Deeds not words.” That’s what’s large and prominent on the new homepage for Rishworth, a coed day and boarding school in England, founded in 1724. Such is the theme for the messaging and content for the website, too: students and teachers doing, socializing, baking, teaching, learning, achieving. Framed with “Rishworth Because” the website lays out a broad set of pages finishing that sentence, mostly simple paragraphs combined with a scenic picture in a setting that could be a movie set, such as the Senior Academic page, Aims, Ethos and Values, or one that is all about students in the Introductions and Principles page.
The Harbour School | Hong Kong, China
It’s always cool when you see a young student handling a drill press. That’s what you see first on the new Harbour School website, an indicator that “Unlocking your Best” isn’t just words on a screen. Even the logo has its own bit of unlocking — there are indicators of a sail, water, a sunset, perhaps with Near East influence — but it is open to interpretation.
The highly detailed illustrations that follow are a welcome change from other school websites, a bit of a gift to the eye with so many many thick straight lines on the internet. In turn, the portraits of students are excellent - uniquely framed with backgrounds that only enhance the focus of expressive children who seem mid-thought, as if the photographer caught them unlocking their best in real-time. Even the closing calls-to-action that toggle wide images are oriented differently: School, Local and Global. Here, you can “Be Part of a Bigger Picture”.
Without doubt. While not exhaustive in content, the Academics interior has titles that maintain this thoughtful articulation of what they do: Lifeworthy Learning, Redefining Rigor, and Experience First. What’s not to like?
UWC Dilijan College | Armenia
“Education to Unite” is an unusual tagline for most private schools, but for UWCD, a school part of a network of 18 other United World Colleges and the first international boarding school in Armenia, it is part and parcel to its calling. The new website is solid and matter-of-fact: not necessarily a lot of sizzle, but rather a focus on high-quality content and clean design elements. The site is colorful and cheery, a palette you’d want from a school, and the typography is made up of big thick letters that are easy to read. A fully integrated social media area of the homepage communicates a place full of life, and a big call-to-action to subscribe to the newsletter is a smart way to engage a passerby. Curious what the UWC Education Model really is? This page does a nice job answering just that. Miss having a homepage video? Then check out their Facebook page, right at the top.
SEK - Dublin International School | Ireland
“Providing quality international private education at our schools for over 128 years.” Save the clever messaging for later - doesn’t get much clearer than that. The homepage for this beautiful new site also moves in two directions; things scroll vertically until partway down at which point the downward moving shifts to right-ward, an interesting way to force an understanding of some key uniquenesses of the school (who can say no to kayaking?). The tabbed approach to meeting members of the community is a unique variation of a common theme, which is to make the school more personable. There are a lot of people featured, too, which makes for a nice amalgamation of school diversity and spirit.
More functional pages, like Visit Us or the inquiry form overlay at the top, are handled really well, as are key pages that build the case, such as Boarding, which takes advantage of strong content and images to showcase living on campus.
SCIS is another rock-solid international school website. It’s not necessarily pushing the limits on design but it checks all the boxes for prospective families: big pictures of active, happy kids, and diversity (65 countries and over 45 languages since 1996); a well-presented array of distinctions to set it apart; voices from the community; fresh news stories to show life happening in near real-time; and a clean footer with clear contact information and good buttons to inquire, apply or visit. There’s depth too. Each of the distinctions on the homepage have corresponding interior pages that tell more, such as a full page of voices in Community Voices or a page about After School Activities (but be warned: once you visit you’ll wonder why only your child can attend) -- all of which keeps reinforcing the same message that this school knows all about what it means to be set itself apart on the global stage.
Bavarian International School | Germany
Props to BIS for giving bright colors their fair due, because the first splash of the new homepage is full of all the RGB you could ask for. The logo pops, too, not just for the size, color and shape, but because it’s just … fun.
You can’t help but imagine it turning to you to start talking, with the two circles doubling as eyes, and the accent a hat. This is not to say that the site lacks depth -- in fact, the light approach to this color-heavy first impression is something of a tease to a site that is serious about intent as much as it is comprehensive in content. “Moving the World” is just one theme, and there are real stories to support it, while “Flourishing Personalities” is a gradient-filled nine-square grid of impressive stats (80 after school activities! 1150 students from 65 nationalities!). Sold enough to want to work there? The Careers page is an excellent example of how to engage prospective employees and give them all the information they need to reel them in.
Frankfurt International School | Germany
Even if you won’t find yourself in Frankfurt anytime soon, at least you view the drone footage of FIS when the site first loads—there’s something mesmerizing about a checkered walkway, students moving at different speeds and the octagons of the umbrellas.
There’s also not much else to look at, which is nice. The three calls to action are icons to start, popping out with their label on rollover, and the hamburger navigation is a lovely example of a full screen approach to pointing users in the right direction. The homepage messaging is big and bold, taking up a sizable percentage of real estate, but it makes the entire value proposition of FIS loud and clear, concluding with a simple next step: “Begin Your Journey.” This then leads to the admissions landing page, which further reinforces how special this international school is, with inline video, buttons to discover the campus and more. The library of big hero images is impressive on this site, which helps set up critical pages like Working at FIS, a particularly well done page for the ever-high priority of recruiting faculty.
University Prep Public Schools | New York
University Prep is an impressive place. Founded in 2008, it is the highest performing charter school in the South Bronx, according to its new website, and the numbers support that claim: 98% graduation rate, 100% college acceptance rate, and a 99% parent approval rating. If that doesn’t scream A+, I’m not sure what does. The diversity of the student body is evidenced through great pictures throughout the website. For the navigationally challenged, one notable feature on the interior is how the second-tier menu is executed: they are anchored bookmarks for the full page, allowing the user either to scroll and learn or click straight to the right section -- which means there isn’t a lot of hunting around a deep hierarchy of pages. The Weglot translation feature on the homepage is a nice option for the end user, and the combination of the Voices from Our School Community and the integrated Twitter feed below adds a welcome authenticity.
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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.