• International Schools
School Spotlight: International School of Beijing
Debbie Eisenach

As an American living in Germany, with strong German heritage, AND the last name Eisenach (home of Bach) — I know a bit about German composers.  Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, and Strauss were all world-class, and possessed the keen ability to compose complex pieces of work. When listening to their compositions, you marvel at how they had the vision to produce something so complex and enjoyable.

I get the same sort of feeling when I see an international school launching a new website. International schools have so many variables: typically preK-12, with upwards of 50 nationalities, a multitude of languages, varied curriculums, extensive extra-curricular-activities, global service and travel — just to name a few. It can be difficult to successfully create a truly seamless experience for every family, and it is equally challenging with the website.  

Composer, Finalsite’s content management system enabled the International School of Beijing (ISB) to craft such a masterpiece. 

ISB is home to a vibrant and diverse community of approximately 1,800 students representing around 50 countries. Their research-based programs, high-quality teaching, and outstanding and ever-improving facilities enable students at ISB to be prepared for success in a world that keeps changing at a breathtaking pace.

international school of beijing homepage screenshot


Deciding to Redesign

After an evaluation of their mission and vision, ISB realized they needed to re-articulate what they were, be more clear and succinct in their messaging and make it easily understandable. We spoke with their team to learn more about their comprehensive and impressive website redesign.

Communications and Marketing Director Joanna Cole summarizes, “it’s hard to keep up with trends as styles are changing all the time. We wanted our new site to be clean and therefore remain more timeless. Our old site was more corporate, and we wanted this site to be fun — we are a school, so we wanted to show colorful photos of joyful children and the joy of being at ISB.  And finally, we also wanted to focus on making our internal site pages equally clean and engaging as the homepage.”  She concluded with, “we wanted the transition to be fairly seamless so our community wasn’t surprised, so although the design got a fresh new look, we wanted people to still be able to find things easily.”

international school of beijing co curricular page screenshot

The result — a stunning homepage that incorporates best-practice throughout. A scrolling homepage with fabulous photography, videos, curriculum overviews, great site navigation, testimonials, interactive elements, campus map and calls-to-action that drive visitors deeper into the site.

Beauty and Strategy Beyond the Homepage

Joanna continues, “Our website is important not just for prospective families but our current community as well. We are unique in that our curriculum utilizes  best practices across different curriculums, and our team realized we needed to do a better job explaining this.”

An important part of their redesign included input from admissions.  “Prospective families were asking about our curriculum and our old site was more edu-speak and no one really understood it.  Parents wanted to know what their students would be learning on a daily basis in plain English.” 

The team worked closely with the Office of Learning to map out their curriculum content using Finalsite Posts, with extensive use of categories and tags, to achieve something remarkable.  It’s no small feat but in the end, their online curriculum guide is its own mini masterpiece. 

screenshot of curriculum page from isb website

“This has greatly reduced questions about our curriculum and allowed parents to move on to learn about the other great services we provide.”

World language offerings page from isb website


Keeping International Families Engaged and Informed

ISB is busy!  One peak at their colorful and comprehensive school calendar made up of 11 sub-calendars, you quickly realize the importance of staying organized and communicating with your community.  “EVERYTHING has to be on the calendar or it just does not exist!  Parents know that this is the place to go — and they know they can filter the calendar based on categories and sync to their personal calendars.”

international school of beijing calendar page

She continues, “It’s really an advantage to have real-time updates instead of .pdf’s.  Our admin staff can quickly update the calendar and those updates get pushed out to the parents instantaneously.”  This is another wow element of their website redesign.  Finalsite Calendar Manager is a powerful, but not always fully-utilized feature of Finalsite, so it’s great to see ISB using Finalsite’s full capabilities.  

The Importance of a Parent Portal

 “Our portal, Dragons’ Gate, is critical for our communication, and we invested a huge amount of time and resources into it,”  says Joanna. This portal is essentially another website, deep and information-rich for parents and students and includes announcements, news, forms, the faculty directory, food services, ICT and so much more. 

portals screenshot from international school of beijing website


Families with multiple children are confronted with several handbooks that basically collect dust and hopefully go into paper recycling at the end of each year.  ISB tackled the task of digitizing their school handbooks — not as a .pdf requiring version control, but as live portal web pages that can easily be updated instantly.  If the phone policy or the bullying policy change mid-year, with a few clicks they can be updated in real time. Not only does this save trees — it saves time, and most importantly, parents can easily query and access the information on demand. Happy parents are critical for retention! Finalsite Portals, a critical component of this website masterpiece, are well worth the time and effort.

screenshot of elementary school handbook from isb website


Summary

If you want to see more of the hard work that went into this site, check out the ISB News which utilizes Finalsite Posts.  News, filterable by categories, is also sprinkled throughout the site on relevant pages, further engaging visitors on their journeys.  ISB also has a social media mashup page, powered by Finalsite Feeds, to keep parents updated on all the events happening on their busy campus.

Joanna summarizes, “We found moving to Composer such a bonus. It’s so much easier to use.  It’s quite intuitive so didn’t require a lot of re-training for our staff in different divisions who maintain their sections of the site.  Feedback from our community has been that they like the fresh look and photos, but also the fact that the structure is fairly consistent with the previous site. This has meant people were able to easily navigate without too much training.”

I had the great pleasure of experiencing Beethoven’s Ode To Joy performed by the Berlin Philharmonic on the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Completed in 1824, it remains a masterpiece that uplifts and inspires. ISB is an amazing school that uplifts and inspires, and their team took great care to ensure this was reflected in their new website truly capturing the joy in the children and the fulfillment of being a member of the ISB community.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Debbie Eisenach

As part of Finalsite's marketing team, Debbie has worked with international schools for the past nine years while living in both Asia and Europe. From conference planning and presentations to association events and client success stories, she helps schools understand how they can maximize their web presence while partnering with Finalsite. As a parent of three children who attended and graduated from IB World Schools, she has keen insights into the marketing and communication operations and needs of international schools.

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