November Website Launch Wrap-Up
Angelo Otterbein

The days are darker. The nights are chilly. But lights are going up. The ovens are staying warm. And Finalsite keeps the pixels hopping off the screen. We have some really beautiful designs to look at this month from schools all over the world. So, heat up that mug of cocoa and let’s get rolling.

November Custom Website Designs

The King's Academy | Florida

When you first try to scroll down on the new homepage for The King’s Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida you’re taken aback: things move from right to left, instead of up to down. The effect draws you in — it’s almost more interesting to see what comes from the side then what might appear below, and one by one, the clear messaging of a Christian school with a broad offering around arts, athletics and innovation in a tight-knit community becomes clearer and clearer. The lateral movement also mimics its own mini journey, with each step taken bringing a new awareness to what the school is all about. 

The King's Academy homepage screenshot

Breaking another design convention is a hamburger menu that is centered in the header, opening a navigational overlay that offers a visually simple set of primary links, a site search, social media links and key contact information. 

The Alumni Spotlight is a very good example of how to share the successful outcomes of graduates in a simple layout with alternating background colors, big pictures and short stories. Pages deeper into the site, like Student Clubs and Societies, show how to pack a lot of content into one page without being overwhelming, in this case with a clever use of nested accordions to steer the user to more descriptive information about student activities.

St. James’ Episcopal School | California

While The King’s Academy takes users sideways, the new website for St. James’ demonstrates that a long vertical homepage isn’t the only way to approach telling a story. In their case, the header and footer are next door neighbors, with just a video that leads to divisional starting points and large, full-screen testimonials in between.

St James Episcopal Day School homepage screenshot

Outside of the homepage, it’s nice to see a school in action vis-a-vis the school calendar, which is full of events and alerts in a compact monthly grid, easily implemented and updated with Finalsite’s Calendar Manager and subscription options. On almost every level, a well-functioning calendar is a sign of a healthy school. And in the spirit of best practices, there’s also a good example of a very simple pledge and gift form, with just enough fields to collect what the school needs while also not creating an imposing wall of boxes to complete and dissuade donors. Finally, in the footer, you can’t help but feel a sense of hope: the sun peeks over the building, a beam of light that seems spiritually inspired, signalling a fresh start to a new day.

Providence Christian School of Texas | Texas

The homepage video for the new Providence Christian School website in Dallas is downright stunning - high definition, perfectly framed, vibrant clips of scenes spanning all parts of the day; you almost feel like one of the students is going to turn to you and start a conversation. And because there are no words -- other than the school name and a big “Welcome” -- the hamburger navigation carries a big load: its overlay reveals a conveniently-organized set of four primary buckets and a search, symmetrically organized around the PCS logo and bannered with the motto “Esso Quam Videri”, to be, rather than to seem. That’s pretty much how this website rolls, impressively so for a School that’s just a little over 20 years old. A compelling message from the headmaster joins substantive blocks of content, paired with images that jump off the page, each playing an effective role explaining its deeply Christian mission and its call for service. As far as website footers are concerned, this one is worth checking out.

Providence Christian School of Texas homepage screenshot

Grouped navigational areas map out the site in a way that simplifies things for parents and provides quick access for every user, bordered with a strip of artwork that is, perhaps, reminiscent of a prayer book. The breadth of the design continues throughout: Our Philosophy could almost double as the homepage, while divisional landing pages, such as for the Lower School, maximize Composer’s layouts and elements to provide visually and content-rich pages that are one-stop-shops for busy prospective families. And for those who aren’t reading every word, the quality of photography does half the job.

Chicago City Day School | Illinois

What is it about a little red schoolhouse that sends us all bouncing back to our imagination of what grade school is supposed to look like? In the 25 years I’ve been visiting and working with schools all over the world, I can’t say I’ve even seen a little red schoolhouse, except in picture books that I read to my children when they were young... and now here, in the new website for Chicago City Day. It sits unassuming in the corner, steadied by a thin line that holds the rest of the header bar in place, alongside three colorful admissions-centric calls-to-action. In the archetype of how we imagine it, a little red schoolhouse -- with its clapboard walls forming a classroom where you can see all four corners, full of young children learning with a teacher who loves teaching -- certainly seems fitting for this school; images of teachers and kids in all environments all seem to love being there.

Chicago City Day School homepage screenshot

The value proposition comes to life vis-a-vis a carousel of icons that includes the school house as well as similarly iconic education artwork: a tree, a podium, a teacher at a blackboard; these form the basis for the “City Day Difference”. This collection of unique qualities make up a large part of the identity of this JK-8 school, tucked in a tree-lined nook with a Chicago horizon of high rises on one side and Lake Michigan on the other. Pages like the ones on Public Speaking or Service Learning are effective examples of “showing not telling” with a large collage of pictures to scan through that drive the point home, punctuated by a testimonial toward the bottom. Also of note is the Inquire page, with a short, manageable form for busy parents who want something quick to start a conversation.

Drew School Admissions | California

The benefits of taking advantage of Finalsite’s Digital Campus design assets are far and wide, particularly for admissions offices under the gun as they approach high season and try to dust every last virtual corner to welcome prospective families near and far. A private high school in San Francisco, Drew School did just that with a lovely admissions microsite that rolled out quickly and efficiently. The landing page is an enrollment concierge of sorts, offering events, a tour, talking points that resonate, student testimonials, and next steps -- as if a tour guide were with you all the time. You really don’t need much more than this one page to get both excited about the school and started in the process. Some additional features help too: there’s a Spanish equivalent of the page, which will always be better than an auto-translation drop down menu; large, friendly pictures of the admissions staff; and a decked-out admissions events page that offers a menu of options to experience the school.  

Drew School Admissions microsite

Keystone Academy | Beijing, China

It’s hard to believe that this K-12 boarding and day school in Beijing is only six years old - with approximately 450 employees, 1,500 students on a campus of 20 acres, this large institution has already made its mark in the international school community. Self-proclaimed as a “New World School” all students graduate fluent in both Chinese and English, following a path of  three keystones (bilingual immersion, character and community building, and the Chinese Thread) and five Confucian values (compassion, justice, respect, wisdom and honesty). The website launch was an upgrade from Finalsite’s legacy CMS, Page Manager, to its robust platform, Composer, providing the school a significantly improved toolset for creating layouts, publishing content and matching the school’s online presence to its continued success.

Keystone Academy homepage screenshot

In The Spotlight is a nice gallery of videos to learn about the school, while the Leadership page is a simple but effective design that takes advantage of profile pictures to bring a human connection to those running the school. The bilingual toggle at the top is a great example of making sure the website works well for native speakers of both languages, a convenience that is seamlessly integrated.

Christian Brothers High School | Tennessee

Men for Tomorrow, Brothers for Life. That’s the camaraderie you feel when you first visit the new website for Christian Brothers High School, a Lasallian all-boys school in Memphis established in 1871, just shy of 150. Purple is everywhere on the design, making its own statement that feels both masculine and confident, but not overly so. The operative word on the site is “brotherhood”, which as their homepage declares, “You know it when you see it, you know it when you feel it.” The website provides many ways to help you do that: the Virtual Tour features a long page rich with 360 degree videos; Discover CBHS provides numerous video and downloadable resources for prospective families; and interior pages like Counseling showcase a well-established support program, far more than just a few paragraphs of content. Once you’re hooked, the Admissions Process page is a very nice use of Composer’s accordion element to make the step-by-step application simple.  One last note: if you hang around with homepage video and photo montage long enough you’ll see a building getting demolished from drone footage - transposed with the architectural rendering of its replacement, the combination is a vivid communique about a future field house worth checking out.

Christian Brothers High School homepage screenshot

November Theme Websites

Carden Arbor View School | California

Fenton Charter Public Schools | California

Rogersville City Schools | Tennessee

Lycée International de Londres | London, England

St. Anne Catholic School | South Carolina

St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church | Kentucky

St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic School | Kentucky

The Academy of Music at Saint Gabriel | Kentucky


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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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