In many respects, October is when schools and districts are at their finest: the academic engine is fully revved up, the classes in high gear; athletic teams are fighting for their best season; lengthy holidays that might disrupt the flow are not yet in sight; and the cooler days facilitate a natural migration indoors where teachers have hit their stride.
The leaves are falling, parents are raking, and the gardens are put to bed. And, so, a new website just keeps this fall sense of progress moving along when everyone is marching ahead.
Let’s see what we have this time around.
For a large, high-profile private school outside of Washington, DC, the new website for the Potomac School is like a big bag of Halloween candy, where you reach in and anything that comes out is a nice surprise; or a fashion show where every outfit you see is a work of art; or a binge-worthy series like Ted Lasso where things just get better and better.
Potomac School, in McLean, VA, launched a school website with a broad palette of offerings across four divisions, where “We Shine Together” in more ways than one. The homepage alone — bathed in blue, highlighted in orange, and filled with one beautiful image after another — unfolds effortlessly, with interactivity tucked in every corner and just when you need it, a toy chest of content and information that all encourages you to try something else. And it’ll keep you busy and immersed: “Distinctly Potomac” drives broader themes of learning, character, and skills; “Space To Grow” captures not simply the scale of the campus (a significant advantage to its peer schools) but the trajectory of education; and “We’ll get you there” solves the core puzzle that ties DC parents in knots — transportation, an area that Potomac has solved and then some, with a “bus fleet” to get students from 101 zip codes. Not to mention “Headlines and #Hashtags,” a homepage panel that provides a tease of a social hubbub of news stories, Instagram posts, and more.
“Did You Know” cleverly lays out a grid of infographics that are both parent-centric (“5 years of being ranked top speech/debate schools in the country”) and student-centric (“3 llamas on campus”.) None of this is by accident. The looping video of a stream, overlaid by an artistic rendering of kids with nets on the pier, both call out to parents who long for their children to have more of the natural habitat in their largely urban world. Interior pages are full and well developed, like the About page, which leverages a parallax effect to toss in a high-energy shot of kids, with varied columns and layouts to enhance the content, finished with appropriate next steps that a user would likely need. Potomac’s 100 years are highlighted with alternating dates and archival shots, while information-rich areas like Athletics are powered with scores, schedules, social media, news, and the like for a slew of sports. It’s also nice that Meet Our Faculty is so easily accessed from the top, a clear point of pride for such an ambitious institution. And you know you’ve got a handle on things when even your 404 page is fun (“We have a prob-llama”.)
For a client that has been with Finalsite for nearly 15 years since its first redesign in 2008, it’s always exciting to see what’s next in the digital world for this New England boarding school. Founded in 1874, the tagline almost belies its coming sesquicentennial, simple and direct: “Make today matter,” which is a preface of sorts, because, at Loomis, “No one journeys alone.” An intensely beautiful aerial shot of the campus concludes panels full of high-impact content, which then subtly fades out to ask: “Are you ready to become a Pelican?” At a place like Loomis, who wouldn’t?
Academics alone are college-level and broad, easily navigated on a handy grid of nine boxes on the department page, where landing pages for subjects like Mathematics combine frequently asked questions, featured courses, and a full directory of faculty. These sorts of pages are critical for prospective families who have shortlisted Loomis as a top choice and want to dig in more to really understand the level of education the school provides. Student Journeys uniquely captures the variety and depth of student paths, titled by adjective, not person (“Multi-faceted”, “Creative”, “Balanced”, “Connected” and many more). In this way, Loomis identifies and focuses on the essence of the journey, not just the journey itself, one that is an internal deep dive as much as it is a four-year academic one.
As a boarding school, the website has work to do to convey life on campus, which for Loomis means dormitory tours, FAQs, and links to dig into more, such as Student Activities, of which there are dozens. And if you want to “play like a Pelican,” you’re not going to go wrong in the Athletic program, filled with video, news, and integrated social media using Finalsite Feeds, alongside many interactive content elements to drive engagement. Just want to see what’s happening today? The Daily Bulletin has you covered.
For Westbury Union Free School District, it’s all about #ONEWESTBURY, first visualized with an enormous illustration of a dragon, then through a formation of students in the shape of a heart, and finally with a student giving the thumbs up. There are acute triangles of kelly green that straighten up as you scroll, and along the way, each panel is designed to share a big story about the district’s mission and vision. “Dragon Pride,” for example, triggers student testimonial videos that play on hover as well as a series of tabs that lets visitors toggle among a series of quick facts, among them a 92% graduation rate, 90% college acceptance rate, and 88% college attendance.
This site is notable as well for its navigation: two buttons top right for district-wide navigation and the schools, while social media links line the bottom right for quick access. Site translation, via Weglot, is readily available top left, as is the search. Each of the six schools within the district follows the same aesthetic and structure but are set up to allow autonomy within each. Finalsite’s “Create Once, Publish Everywhere” approach to content management creates enormous efficiencies for the district in which, for instance, a site administrator can post every school site at once or allow each individual school the opportunity to manage its own.
Westbury High School, for instance, can showcase its own video, post a welcome from the principal, and share news and events that are just for the high school’s community. Practical, but important pages, like Employment, leverage Composer’s ease of use, with simple layouts that can be easily changed, and content elements like the accordion to contain a lot of information that is accessed on demand.
“Think Big, and Grow Slow.” Now, those are some words to live by. And in some respects, that’s sort of how the website rolls — big story, delivered in bite-sized chunks. For instance, the particular panel with this headline focuses on just three categories: skilled learners, empathetic classmates, and self-empowered thinkers, each of which is embellished with content on hover and a new picture to explain just what that means.
“The Inside Line” is another example of a panel that grows on you, a simply designed grid of Instagram posts, powered by Finalsite Feeds. It’s also nice to see an inquiry form that can be completed in under a minute, a best practice most agree on, and which as many ignore — admissions offices are so eager to collect every last bit of information when, for an inquiry form like this, just gathering a little bit of information upfront is really all that matters. Props, CHS!
The value proposition page, Why CHS, stands on its own as a comprehensive explanation of everything that makes this elementary school special, leveraging opposing images and content blocks, infographics, and full-column testimonials to show, not tell. Likewise, the Academics section leverages a slew of nicely designed elements, including accordions, call-outs, image-based divisional buttons, and an awfully cute picture of a row of children leaning forward in their neon-colored stools.
Let’s face it, if you can get a homonym working for you, then why not? “Live it. Learn it. Lovett.” And if a design could be a play on words, surely their new homepage would qualify, with blue waviness top to bottom, a forested tree line that comes and goes, and all sorts of shapes and lines that come and go as you scroll. But all of this is with intent, telling a big story for one of the largest K-12 independent schools in Atlanta and, with 1,640 children, among the largest in the country.
There’s plenty to grab your attention just on the homepage alone. For example, a simple rollover action on the Voices of Lovett panel triggers inline videos from students and teachers alike, cleverly driven by a drop-down menu of questions that are salient and direct, such as “How would you describe Lovett?” and “Why did you choose Lovett?” To that end, a robust landing page differentiating the school in a competitive market is a great example of how to tie core values, a short narrative, key talking points, and cognitive, social, and emotional skills into a single storyline that sets Lovett apart.
Needless to say, for a school of Lovett’s size and history, athletics is a huge component, with 70 all-American players in 10 sports, 133 state championships, and even 6 full-time trainers and strength coaches. Finalste’s Athletic Manager is well-equipped for the purpose, providing efficient and dynamic mechanisms to show current games, past scores, and full team pages that contain rosters, schedules, and updates.
On a different front, the Faith Identity page is a strong example of how to communicate inclusivity while also describing the specifics of the school’s Christian foundation, including frequently asked questions and pictures of the chaplains. Just want to cruise around campus before driving over there? This lovely interactive campus map will surely do the trick.
The new website for Prior Lake is all about the end-user: clear utility navigation at the top to search, access the calendar, translate the site, and more. And because there are also links to the family portal, the faculty/staff directory, and news, if you’re a current family, you really only need the first 75 pixels or so. This means that the rest of the homepage is about families and prospective employees who may not know about the district, starting with the four brightly tinted pillars that are “Uniquely” PLSAS.
One of these is Community Education, a nicely-developed page that leverages the same content elements of the homepage for quick next steps while incorporating a social media feed, as well as a layout that combines one, two, and four columns all on the same page. The district’s 14 schools can easily be found from the schools menu, each of which has its own content, images, and navigation while keeping with the overall design aesthetic. Glendale, for instance, showcases big images of a diverse young student body and uses the pillar element to provide quick buttons for enrichment programs, the directory, and, perhaps most importantly, menus.
The “Happening Now” panel pulls in data from Finalsite’s Calendar Manager specifically for the elementary school, which can then be repurposed for a district-wide calendar, or on lower-tier pages as needed. The time-savings are incalculable in terms of distributing content from a single administrative interface within the Finalsite platform, not to mention keeping staff and schools aligned in terms of what’s happening. The district is particularly attentive to accessibility by implementing the AudioEye Managed Service, which includes inline usability tools and behind-the-scenes checks and corrections.
While the opening video for the new Collingwood School custom-designed website is full of big smiles and youthful energy, it’s hard not to want to pause at the incredible cliff line of conifers settled into a misty morning. Located in West Vancouver, British Columbia, Collingswood lets the campus do its green pine thing while activating its buildings with 1260 students worth of education every day. The homepage is not a mile long, but rather compact and easy to digest, letting the landing pages, like Kindergarten, provide everything a prospective family needs, including an overview of the academic program, key elements of the experience (Who wouldn’t want a “Kindie Buddy”?), and a link to the application.
Similarly, the Visit page combines multiple options to connect with the school, a video gallery to see both campuses, and pictures of the team to help families put faces to their names. Site translation, top right, powered by Finalsite’s partner Weglot, is a user-friendly device for swapping English for French and Chinese, and allows administrators on the backend to preset and customize certain words and phrases to be translated in specific ways. A school like Collingwood has lots going on, and their implementation of Finalsite’s Calendar Manager is a great example of how a school can leverage color-coding, filtering, week and months, print version, and more, while also publishing events to other areas of the site. These conveniences are critical in allowing a small staff to think big with their website.
October was also a busy month for the launch of dozens of Theme websites. Congrats to these schools for getting their sites lives!
- Bandung Independent School
- Bishop Amat Memorial High School
- Bourbon County Schools
- The British School in Tokyo (Shibuya-ku campus)
- Buckeye Valley Local School District
- Casey County School District
- Chapin School
- Childpeace Montessori School
- Christel House Academy
- Common Ground Collaborative
- Darby School District 9
- Davinci Academy
- Eaton Community Schools
- Elm Street School
- Estacada School District
- Fountain-Fort Carson District 8
- Gayville-Volin School District 63
- The Geneva School
- Green Land International Schools
- Greeneview Local School District
- Hart County School District
- Harvest Christian Academy - Wilmington
- Hebron School
- Hitchcock Independent School District
- Hollidaysburg Area School District
- Kewaskum School District
- The Ivy School Karachi
- Lincoln Park School Public Schools
- Louisville City School District
- Ludlow School District
- Magoffin County Public Schools
- MSD of Pike Township
- Nelson County School District
- Norwich Public Schools
- Paulding Exempted Village
- Plummer-Worley School District 44
- Poolville ISD
- Propel Schools
- Regional School Unit 5
- Shelley Joint School District 60
- Silver Creek School Corporation
- STEAMspark Montessori Experience
- String Theory Schools
- Sumner Academy
- UWC Thailand International School
- Volusia County Public Schools
- Wallingford Public Schools
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.