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October School Website Launch Round-Up
Angelo Otterbein

The days keep getting shorter, but the monthly launch blog sure doesn’t — another busy 31 days as schools roll out their best to prep for the new admissions season in front of them and to leave the tenuous back-to-school behind, bracing for a winter that will no doubt have the continuous highs and lows of managing through the coronavirus. And for me, these great launches are a global constellation of bright reminders that life is certainly carrying on, and schools have all the more reason to celebrate every day for the education they bring to their students. Here goes!

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District Website Launches

Rockford Public Schools | Illinois

Look closely to appreciate the graphic intricacies of the “O” in Rockford, strung at the top in the header — the O is the world, with hands stretching up from the bottom, as if ready to catch the country if it slips off; then there are stars are bursting off, a celebratory fireworks that together communicate that students here matter and that’s something to warrant some sparkle in the skies. 

The Illinois district website as a whole is certainly worth getting excited about — a large, successful district spanning 42 schools. This fact alone makes the “Schools” navigation notable, presented with a white overlay that’s both accessible and easy to scan. 

rockford public schools homepage screenshot

The social media mashup, branded as “205 Vibe”, further down the homepage, is a creative montage of most every type of media asset, punctuated by an expressive graphic that represents the collective voice. This website design is also an excellent example of using accent colors, which in the case of Rockford translates to about half a dozen or so hues of green, purple, red and orange, all used as subtle touches to counter the dark blue, nearly black blocks that sit behind the reverse type. 

An often forgotten page on district websites, Careers, sets a high bar for recruiting faculty and staff, a fully-developed interior page that shows not just job openings, but a whole slew of compelling content, testimonials and quick facts to attract the best and the brightest.

Longview Public Schools | Washington

It’s nice to see a website that skips the big images and video and goes straight to news, which is exactly what Longview Public Schools does with its new website. As a district composed of 14 schools and a learning center, content management is critical, which is why Finalsite Composer is such a good option to empower the district to make updates from the district level through to each individual school, sharing content as needed, or providing autonomy as appropriate. 

Longview Public Schools Package 2

The effect of all the news is to put the here and now directly up front, an impression that what’s going on is what defines the district, which makes sense. 

The hamburger menu provides all the necessary access to traverse to the schools or learn more about the district, leading to pages that are largely text-based but still drive their point home.

Osseo Area Schools | Minnesota

The new district website for ISD 279 is pleasantly simple and conveniently practical: simple in that the design is uniformly laid out with predictable boxes and lines making it friendly to the eye; and practical in that the navigation is intuitive and also because the homepage content features news, calendar items and integrated social media. Calls-to-action are boxy and blue, and that works well — you can’t miss them, which is the point. And features like the Weglot translation, hanging bottom right, make for an effective solution to ensuring native speakers in many languages can understand the website. 

ISD 279 Osseo Area Schools homepage screenshot

The Schools navigation is also excellent: a multi-column, categorized grouping of links out to the individual schools, maps, and even a strategically placed “Enroll” button right up top. Likewise, the “Get In Touch” utility is spot on in terms of what a visitor would want. In this way, the site really considers what the user needs, and what the district is hoping to achieve. Individual school pages, like Maple Group Senior High School, show how the design easily accommodates unique logo, colors and content, making for a coherent district-wide site, while also allowing for autonomy, an important consideration in sustainability and maintenance. 

Eastern Carver County Schools | Minnesota

“Exceptional, personalized learning” is the prerogative Eastern Carver, and the new district homepage provides more than one example of just how. Perhaps it starts with the Audio Eye toolbar, which sits conveniently in the bottom right of the screen, providing an accessibility Swiss army knife that not only certifies WCAG 2.0 compliance, remediates on the fly, but also gives users an assortment of assistive technology to navigate and use the website. 

eastern carver county schools homepage screenshot

Speaking of Swiss army knives, the utility of the website goes far and wide, with pages like the Enrollment Information serving as excellent examples of how to provide parents with a comprehensive one-stop-shop for enrolling your child or Specialized Services, which explains the district’s broad range of offerings. 

With 14 schools under its wing, the District embraces the power of Composer, Finalsite’s CMS, to leverage the existing design of the district but empower individual schools to post their own content and images, such as Bluff Creek Elementary, which features lots of great pictures of kids on its own homepage from the elementary school.

Charter School Website Launches

Hogan Preparatory Academy | Missouri

You can’t help but get motivated when a website tells you to “Do Amazing”. The unconventional grammar is almost a meta-messaging strategy: it’s not that you are amazing, it is that you will do amazing things. One is passive, the other is active. 

Charter Hogan Preparatory Academy homepage screenshot

No surprise, then, that the design stops you, in a similar fashion — outlined silhouettes of students against a mixed color palette of brick reds and sunset oranges maintains an assertive sensibility — you see young leaders ready to move and shake, about to jump off the homepage. This is all telling the story of Hogan Prep, an accomplished tuition-free charter school founded nearly 70 years ago serving grades K-12 in Kansas City. 

Further down the homepage, the pattern of powerful images continue, with directional calls-to-action for divisions and programs. The variety and breadth of images — students with backpacks and easels, football gear and textbooks — is as diverse as it is inspiring. 

As a footnote: behind the scenes, this design is one of Finalsite’s themes, customized to “Do Amazing”, but still at an affordable price point and launched in just about three months. 

Independent School Website Launches

Magen David Yeshivah | New York

You have to be quick to enjoy the opening video of the new website for Magen David Yeshiva, a premier NYC Jewish day school for grades PK-12 — the sequence takes you through both the serious commitment to and joys of a deeply religious institution, then ends with a choice for selecting a division. To that end, the interactive history timeline is worth checking out, a decade-by-decade review of the last 80 years and another example of how Finalsite’s content management system provides so much flexibility to both enable unique treatments but also make it easy to edit. 

Magen David Yeshivah BIC

The divisional access points that swap out for the introductory homepage video lead to strong examples of landing pages that deliver closer views into the school’s programs, building the case for their anchoring tenant: “Get The Education You Deserve.”  It’s also nice to see such a robust calendar, a month full of events, making it plain to the casual observer just how much is happening here, even amidst a pandemic.

The Branch School | Texas

 “Where does love lead?” That’s the top question posed by the new website for the Branch School, a Preschool-8 private school in Houston, and answers are far and wide throughout the site: through personal testimonials, strong academic programs, community service opportunities, and more. The tree branches are everywhere, a versatile element as varied as the students, and which play both a symbolic and practical role in the design. Some are big and wide, dividing up the homepage, while others, intricately detailed, stand as handy separators between content blocks. Two of them intersect within the school name, and a pattern of them fills the teal and purple header, a friendly wallpaper that feels both age-appropriate for young kids but also professional for the parents; and with the addition of the large block of orange on the homepage, the palette alone makes for a pleasant user experience. 

the branch school homepage screenshot

Well-developed page layouts, like the Leadership page, divide the screen to show the board and key leaders, an efficient approach that’s easy to implement and update with Finaliste’s content management system, Composer.  Also notable: a simple inquiry form that’s quick to fill out.

Saint Brendan High School | Florida 

Now that’s a fine group of kids welcoming you to Saint Brandan High! And beyond their welcome, this Catholic high school in Miami offers plenty more to look at and read on their new homepage: lots of impressive facts and figures, videos, and  news items tucked together in a nice collage of stories. All together, you could stay just on the homepage and leave with a pretty good sense of what Saint Brendan’s is all about. 

st brendan high school homepage screenshot

But the Academies page is worth noting for the unique set of self-contained programs offered here: Medical Sciences, Law and Global Business, Visual and Performing Arts, and a robust STEM Academy, all of which help distinguish the school in its innovative approach to providing a college-level curriculum.

St Joseph Notre Dame High School | California

The tree leaves are wistfully swaying behind two students looking straight at you, as if it’s the tree, not them, beckoning you to walk into this peaceful scene with them. But of course it’s both on the new site for SJND, a school in Alameda, CA that’s nearly 140 years old. If you’re lucky, you’ll be prompted by an excellent example of a timed page pop, which encourages the user to register for a virtual open house as you start to scroll down and is exactly the appropriate next step we hope a family will take.

saint joseph notre dame high school homepage screenshot

Important content-heavy pages like College Counseling, are well laid out, leveraging Finalsite Composer to mix up the layouts and elements for visual interest, while also fitting the content into the space appropriately. Likewise, there’s a good page on Virtual Learning, which explains how the school is handling teaching during the coronavirus, an important topic for any parent or student looking around.

Delphian School | Oregon

There’s a moment in the video montage on the new Delphian School website when kids are roasting marshmallows around a campfire — a scene that brings us all back to our youth -- when, not soon after, a similar lakeside shot starts rising toward a wooded skyline where words bring it home: “Start here. Go anywhere.” The sky, metaphorically and literally, appears to be the limit here. 

Delphian School homepage P3

Messaging aside, green is everywhere — in the leaves, on the jerseys, throughout the site; the school color is interchangeable with its environment and student life -- how many kids smile when they’re running uphill? It is Oregon, after all and that’s the spirit of the site, at least. As a day and boarding school, the site needs to cover a lot of ground, but it waxes philosophical, too. For one: “Reason,” the homepage defines, “is only as valuable as it contributes to the solutions to problems in life.” This is one of many values, nested in a design -- much like the campus -- that empowers the language and content.  There are lots of notables (beyond multiple ways to use a treeline), such as the uniquely designed navigation overlay triggered by the hamburger menu, the embedded chat tool, and inspiring pages like Dephian Voices. Lots to check out here.

Carolina Friends School | North Carolina

It’s not often these days to stumble upon a school website and do a double take on whether you’ve arrived at the right site. That’s how different the new homepage is for Carolina Friends School, a prek-12 Quaker school dating back to 1962 and founded on the principles of equity and justice. There is color everywhere, beginning with the logo, which is pieced together like a quilt, with no two letters alike. The central graphic feature “On Purpose” is both a message and a calling, but operates as an invitation to explore, further teasing the user with hidden pictures of student life peeking behind large letters that take up the entire screen. The colors continue to shape the design -- it’s an uncommon palette of light and dark hues of greens and blues set with deep oranges, a fresh example of how to differentiate from safer and more traditional color combinations, made even simpler with big circle and square shapes throughout.

Carolina Friends School homepage P2

There’s not a lot of content on the site, but pages like Quaker Values say a lot with a little, which is in keeping with their own philosophy in the first place.The site -- like the school -- is built “on purpose”, with the “value of simplicity”.

Little Rock Christian Academy |  Arkansas

Lots of things glide smoothly in and out, up and down on the new Little Rock Christian Academy website, a K3-12 school in Arkansas; it’s like the elements are easing you into the story, motioning you to important aspects of the school, not unlike a head of school would proudly do while giving you a tour. The school’s blues aren’t quite black, but they’re dark, and that makes for high-contrast opportunities that make the color imagery and videos pop.

Little Rock Christian Academy BIC

In total, the user experience is one of polish and finesse, not to mention easy. Inside the site, divisional landing pages, like the one for Elementary, open up with a stunning hero image, then layer in content blocks that cover everything from curriculum to dress code, leveraging the CMS toolbox that is Composer. Current parents have access to a nice landing page to bring together key divisional links, calendars and other information. And if you don’t live nearby in Arkansas, the Campus Tour provides a great way to see the campus, and the Leadership page brings a personal touch to the people who guide the school. 

Lamplighter School | Texas

No question, one of the funnest aspects of Lamplighter’s new website is the bouncing, animating telescope-turned-microscope, sitting within a large grid of images that’s all about discovery. The playful icon isn’t the only place where this theme plays out — it’s also there in the choice of words for the primary navigation: Discover, Learn, Create, Wonder (and of course Apply), which for a PK-4 school is what really matters. 

The Lamplighter School P3

What’s more, you can’t help but be pulled into pages like Barn and Animals or Gardening, which, while sparse in content, give you just enough to satisfy your curiosity. And there’s Senior Operas, which is more impressive knowing that those Seniors are actually 4th Graders. The At a Glance page is noteworthy, not just a list of facts but a graphical montage that captures key aspects of the school, and the Our Story page does a nice job sharing seven decades of history.

International School Website Launches

St. George’s International School | Luxembourg

With the vast proliferation of HD vignettes populating school websites far and wide, there’s something very authentic and appealing — and for the (slightly) older parents among us, even nostalgic — about the video they use. And the typography — particularly the O’s and G’s in the school name — are amply wide and round, a semi-modern version of a classic British equivalent you might find for a boarding school in England.  

st george's international school homepage screenshot

These are just some of the elements that bring a uniqueness to the design, not to mention generous use of white space as you scroll down, large testimonials centered in circles, and a thoughtful red map in the footer, placing the school geographically on a map, while conveniently next to important admissions links on the page. 

Can’t visit in person? The virtual tour provides a nice, interactive aerial survey of the school, while there are a number of 360 views of the interior.  

American School of Madrid | Spain

If you can manage to include Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in your logo, you’re onto something. Of course, that’s just the beginning of what sets the new website for the American School of Madrid apart. The diagonal red and white pattern could evoke images of candy canes, or barber shop poles, but whatever the case, it’s fun, and different, and makes its way throughout the homepage design. There’s a corner-full of the pattern to stand up the quick facts, such as 3600 alumni living in thirty-seven countries or 98% of students accepted to at least one of their top three college choices. 

American School of Madrid homepage screenshot

The site is opened up by lots of white space, which helps the eye focus on the important text that is there, and seems to sharpen the high-quality images throughout.  Speaking of images, it’s one of the few sites in recent memory that presents itself so broadly “during the pandemic”, with pictures of students and teachers in masks, a persistent reality that can’t be avoided, and which many schools try to avoid in the online image they present. ASM does a nice job making the most of it, combining “normal” scenes with teachers who you can tell are smiling, even while masked.

Doha College | Qatar

Speaking of British International Schools, Doha College’s new website is a terrific example of understated excellence in design, layout and function. There are touches of gold in its logo and the typography, as well as for accents to pictures that complement the darker blues and moments of teal. But the subtlety belies what an impressive and enormous place Doha College is: nearly 2,500 students across 65 nationalities. 

doha college homepage screenshot

The nested map pinpointing the School’s location is cleverly interwoven into the layout, making it plainly obvious just how central they’re located in Doha, including close proximity to the water — which, if you stare at it for a moment — transitions to a background gradient that sits behind a description of just who Doha is, as if the website content were a very part of the ocean. Video testimonials follow, each a tribute to the quality and breadth of the experience there. 

On the interior, quality pages like In The Press show a nice layout using Finaliste Posts, while more intricate and comprehensive pages for the Primary and Secondary schools show how Composer enables the school to present well-written content in layouts that make it easy to consume using varied column widths, accordions, and nice image treatments. The footer on every page is worth checking out -- it’s a novel way to handle the large set of accreditations, while not crowding out important contact information and key utility links.

UK and Australia Private School Website Launches

All Saints’ College | Western Australia

It isn’t often that the navigation of a new site is the show stopper, but in the case of the recent launch for All Saints’ College, a preK-12 independent school in Australia, it’s certainly worth noting: just four large items (“Stages of the Journey”, for one) emerge, aside from a narrow bar at the bottom, and the animation locks them in one by one, like a knock on the door. If you skip past them and scroll, the same options show up, but this time in the form of big welcoming pictures. These same options play out yet again as separately designed panels on the homepage, teasing you to click though. This makes the user experience definitively guided no matter how you navigate toward these natural pathways, executed in a way that feels like the guiding hand of a teacher ushering you into a classroom. 

All Saints College homepage P3

The stages of the journey are divided up into pairs of years, such as the Years 11 and 12 page, which leverages a parallax effect to feature key elements of the educational experience, including an embedded video from a teacher and the assistant director. Outside of the programme, the Business Directory is interesting both in terms of content and a good example of using tags in the Posts Module, providing the broader community with a local view of products and services that are within the school’s network.

COBIS - Council of British International Schools

Really, the best place to start with the new COBIS website is the map, which aside from the practical application of its filters and search capabilities, does the best job of showing just how far and wide across the globe this association of British international schools spans. The homepage itself is straightforward — clean and to the point, with some nicely designed panels dividing up the experience to broaden a user’s understanding of the organisation. 

International COBIS homepage screenshot

The infographic, with icons set above a satellite picture of the earth is also impressive: 27,000 teachers, 166,000 students across 79 countries in 254 schools. 

The Professional Learning area shows what a terrific resource COBIS is for their members, with webinars, access to training,and other opportunities to grow and develop. 

More pragmatic pages, like How to Join, leverage Composer to create an inquiry page that has multiple columns, calls to action, and different content blocks, all easily edited and changed as the needs of the page evolve.

Theme Launches

Altus Public Schools | Oklahoma

Arborbrook Christian Academy | North Carolina

Bishop John J Snyder High School | Florida

Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School | Oklahoma

Carbon County School District | Wyoming

HAIS: Houston Area Independent Schools | Texas

Our Lady of Mercy Academy | New Jersey

Seven Hills School | Virginia

Sterne School | California

St. Pius X - St. Matthias Academy | California


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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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