Fall is here, and so are dozens of new site launches out of Finalsite Deployment. Best course of action? Hot mulled cider, a pumpkin to bring in October, and a small pile of warm apple cider donuts. Then, sit back and click your way through some fabulous school websites from around the world.
It takes exactly one nanosecond to figure out just what Kent Place School is about, which is to say, immediately. “Empower Girls. Advance the World,” is quite literally all that faces you at first, five words that silhouette a video montage underneath, packed with girls and young women living that mission. The website is at once attentive, too, with a site translation on the bottom right, a handy CTA to watch the full video bottom left, and a convenient tab that unveils a full slate of news and events, with large thumbnails and big type that presents itself like an online magazine. The hamburger menu is strategically designed, with an overlay featuring a primary navigation lining the left-hand side; external programs grouped together; and links to portals for family and alumnae. Likewise, the search icon doubles as a home for a free text query as well as a group of curated quick links that anticipate just what you might need.
All this and you haven’t even had to scroll, which is where the story really begins to unfold, each panel a compendium of large simple words that set the tone and frame the message, such as a highly interactive and engaging “5 Things That Make Kent Place Kent Place.” Just below, video interviews launch on hover: teachers, parents, and students of different ages bursting to life in high-energy monologues about what makes the school so special.
An amazingly clever tour, newly imagined, follows, with key spaces on campus pinned up with hot spots to interact and understand, a perfect way for prospective students to explore the school before they arrive. If you haven’t already gotten roped in at this point, a carousel of alumnae falls into place, a testament to the important outcomes of a Kent Place education. And as a final handshake, the website nudges the user to that important next step to begin the KPS Journey. Within the site, all sorts of pages set the bar, such as the faculty/staff directory using Finalsite’s Constituent Manager with unique profile views; a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion landing page, which showcases just how flexible the layout and element designs can be on a single page within Composer; a customized curriculum guide using Finalsite Posts; and an at-a-glance page that is interactive, compelling and easy to digest, all at the same time. And just when you wrapped your head around the primary website, three microsites are worth noting, one for the Ethics Institute, Girls Leadership Institute, and Kent Place Summer Camp. While each of these is independently implemented designs using Finalsite’s theme library, they are all managed using the same instance of the Finalsite platform, creating enormous efficiencies administratively. In addition to the significant work of the school marketing team, this major project - and the resulting stunning site - was planned and guided using Finalsite Advantage, our strategic marketing consultancy.
Seeing how Woodward Academy is the biggest independent school in the continental United States, their high expectations for the education they provide come with a big website that has high expectations, too. Nevertheless, the site opens with a large photograph of just one, occasionally two, students, tightly outlined duotones that swell for the occasion, as if the site were breathing. The decision is quite intentional: by zeroing in on a violinist, a photographer, or a football player, the school is emphasizing its ability to transcend its own size to provide an education that’s right for each and every child. Inquire, visit, and apply are uniquely tied in with the message and homepage image, as is the search — making it plainly obvious what the site expects you to do next, or at least making it as easy as possible. Because of the range of options at Woodward, the opening salvo is “Find Your Way,” with literal pathways that visually explain where a parent should start, and at what grade.
The value proposition panel follows, a combination of “What makes Woodward Different?” and infographics to drive the specific distinction home. Woodward’s “Inclusive Community” for example, is impressively backed by a few key stats, including 58% students of color, 10 Upper School affinity groups, and six religious faiths and traditions represented. The duotone slowly evolves into a broader palette of blues and pinks, until full-color images become fully integrated — as if the site were expanding its scope as users expand their own understanding of what Woodward is all about. With two campus locations, a full panel helps parents understand which is which, and with an army of faculty and staff to both recruit and retain, it’s no wonder that a panel just about Atlanta is fully developed. Beautiful landing pages, like Admissions, leverage Finalsite Composer to the maximum, with varied and flexible layouts deployed carefully to suit the content, be it rows of images for the admissions staff, or a two-column panel that covers the key topics of transportation and financial aid. Speaking of transportation, you’d have a tough time not getting to school at Woodward; in fact, they say, “Your journey can begin anywhere.”
It’s all about purple in the new best-in-class website for Kinkaid School, a large, premier PreK-12th grade independent school of 1,465 in Houston, TX. A spinning purple and gold beach ball of sorts helps wind up the anticipation for what’s ahead, which starts with an inline video that is a crisp, high-definition montage, where each clip is barely two seconds long and as a result covers a lot of ground. If you’re not sure just what the days might feel like at Kinkaid, Campus Life is one place to start, with a variety of interactive content elements to understand all the components, be it Extended Day, Community Service, or Student Organizations. Other interior pages, like History, allow for a toggle between past campuses and past Heads of School, providing two perspectives on the past 120-plus years. Kinkaid is also making the most of the broad set of functionality within the Finalsite platform.
The Calendars area allows users to navigate by month and day, subscribe, set up alerts, print, and filter across seven different categories as well as by a single athletic team. Likewise, the Athletics Manager provides quick access to team pages, results, schedules, and rosters. Kinkaid’s homepage feature is powered by Finalsite Posts, allowing for a simple sequential navigation with masked photos around a circle. Food is always a hot topic, which is why Dining is worth checking out, a nice implementation of uniquely styled elements, accordions, and columns that put all the information a parent might need in one place, including and most importantly, “Falcon Fuel.”
Beautiful pictures make beautiful sites, but the opening image of two young children with a teacher, one looking apprehensive as the other smiles at a large tarantula on the palm of his hand — makes for a bigger story, too. Showing, in other words, is always better than telling, where students “flourish in an inclusive, innovative, experiential environment.” The design is calming, too, with passive shades of yellow and sage, enhanced with darker leaf greens to hold the inverted copy. Content elements fade, slide and lock into place in a way that feels like you’re being welcomed in, like the front door being opened by the superintendent at the beginning of the day. Social media posts, powered by Finalsite Feeds, glide across the screen in semi-random patterns, as if children outside of the screen’s view are busily posting them in real time. A well-organized navigation opens from the top right, complete with a search, three big collapsible sections (District, Parents and strategically, Employment), and quick links to the five schools in the district and other common starting points.
Speaking of schools within the district, each one brings its own personality, brand, and content to the table, such as Greeley School, which swaps in a big leafy “G” for a logo, passive and deep blues in place of the district greens, different content, and pictures that are geared toward younger students. Each school has its navigational scheme allowing administrators to make edits just to their school while providing the efficiencies of “Create Once, Publish Everywhere” to the district for shared content like calendars, news stories, and pages. The AudioEye toolbar is pinned bottom right throughout, ensuring an accessible website that is being scanned and updated to ensure compliance. Finally, the employment page features (at the time of this blog writing) a great example of a Page Pop to announce a need for short-term substitutes; with this technology, the district can set the message on one or more pages as well as publish and expire at a specific time. This page is also worth a peek for its comprehensive approach to providing everything one might need to understand about working at the district, including contact information, job opportunities, licensing information, and a badge of honor for being a top place to work by The Chicago Tribune.
If you’re going to put a school online, like Cambridge International School is doing with My Online Schooling, you better launch a great website. This best-in-class design makes the case for remote learning through a very intentional series of panels on the homepage that spell out their value proposition in almost every way possible, vis-a-vis global stories of students around the world, a varied curriculum guide, and compelling stats, such as 1,000 pupils from over 80 countries and 800 live interactive sessions per week. Together, with an innovative design that has broad and wide curves defined by slight differences in shade, and uneven circular shapes to hold colorful images, there’s a sense of place, even if it’s virtual. A page pop immediately opens a call-to-action to download a prospectus, an embedded chat is waiting for action, and an enquire now button is always somewhere nearby. The main navigation drops in over a third of the screen, with big heavy type for the primary navigation and a clean, curated sub-navigation. Landing pages for the divisions, such as for Junior School, are filled to the brim with information, organized in a way that’s accessible and interesting. Updated content on the blog and an active podcast section keeps things current, in addition to the embedded social media on the homepage. Still need more and want to get a taste of what it’s like, the Open Event page is there for you.
More custom designs
Congratulations to these schools for launching a great custom website design.
A great charter school website for a great charter school. A unique topographic outline adds texture to this new website launch for CIS, creating a visual illusion of foreground and background. This allows the content elements to pop -- testimonials, fast facts, and the mission statement alike. Site translation using Weglot, Finalsite’s partner, is an important feature for an international school, providing stronger translation than Google’s existing tools, while a sticky button to inquire and a short form make it even easier for prospective families to learn more.
A combination of illustrations, big pictures, outlined headers, and animated heptagons make for an energetic website design for this international school with campuses in Jerusalem and Even Yehuda in Israel. Hallmark Programs, under “Experience” is as good a way as any to understand just what makes WBAIS unique, with all sorts of cool programs and options for students to engage in every division. The footer is worth a look for its clever presentation of both locations, making sure users new to the school understand its bifurcated campus.
A deep ocean blue sets the tone for Tanglin’s new homepage, with a convenient sticky nav on the left to inquire, visit, and apply in case you’re ready to take the next step. Thumbnail calls-to-action for key entry points from Infant School to Sixth Form make it clear to prospective families, and testimonials toward the bottom, with an animated and colorful fan of circles, help firm up the point that Tanglin will show your child a bright future, with “Generations of Excellence.” And if you’re not a parent, but a prospective employee, Tanglin has some nice starting points to get you started.
A beautiful boarding school, full of history, on a beautiful campus in a beautiful part of Maryland: that’s Saint James, and the new website presents just that in more ways than one. Clean layouts for practical pages, like Contact, which has phone numbers on one side and a form on the other, combined with more robust pages like College Counseling, make for a website that has depth but is easy to use, a tenuous balance that’s challenging to get right. The Departments and Courses shows a clever implementation of Finalsite Posts to help users navigate a broad curriculum, with lots of filters to zero in on your interest.
As one might expect when you have “Maine Coast” in your school’s name, a rolling wave of a paint stroke forms the logo, but also drives the color scheme — shades of ocean and sea blue spotted with muted spot colors to enhance the effect. The new site is right-sized for a small school, with a small but manageable Instagram feed using Finalsite Feeds, a refreshingly quick contact form, and a campus page to give you inside and outside views.
Likewise, if you’re in Portland, Maine, you’ve got some boats in your world, so it’s not surprising the boat in the logo for PPS, where kids are “prepared and empowered” is a particularly well-developed illustration of one. Many features are worth checking out on this website, but this may be the first district that has truly invested in its history page, a fascinating evolution of a school system that’s been around since 1733. Nearly four hundred years later, the Portland Promise is very much alive, with ambitious building plans and a solid academic program area to explain just what they strive to do every day.
A two-thirds, one-third split differentiates the new homepage for AIS right out of the gate, bringing a magazine feel to the website that is only made more inviting by the mixed-column layouts as you move down. Few schools have a full interactive panel exclusively set up to feature its languages, including French, Chinese, and Spanish, but not to be missed: Arabic, Dutch, and Hindi. A large twelve-square grid showcases Instagram posts, which is well curated, colorful, and very intentional with hover states to show the description. Big open landing pages, like About do the trick in keeping users engaged, too.
Not unlike the City of Brotherly Love itself, things are bustling on the new website for The Philadelphia School, an urban campus serving preschool through eighth grade with a progressive education. The website is full of red and big pictures, but the periodic bits of line art not only are an unexpected surprise in the design but are not out of place, a nice resonance with the logo, which itself is a clever illustration that marries the leaf of a tree with tall skyscrapers. Centered on the homepage is one large graphic that lets users interact with the art, sharing the progression from Country, Classroom, and City, all packed into one landscape.
Since we’re in Philadelphia, the new archdiocese website is worth a stop, if not for the beautiful full-screen video that starts with a stunning panoramic of the city. For such a large network of schools, the Find a School page is an indispensable resource for parents, but this is one of many places where the website delivers a wealth of information. The site is neatly laid out with accessible pages, including everything from Scholarships to Careers, a nice example in and of itself of how Finalsite Posts can be used to filter and segment content conveniently.
There’s a lot of Fay at the Fay School, in Houston, TXl: Fay Farm, Fay Forest, and most importantly: Fay Family. This makes sense considering Fay is a school for grades K-5, emphasizing the importance of community and speaking directly to the parents of the children who want to know they’ll be taken care of. Despite the young age, the Fay School sees its mission in guiding kids to be leaders, with an established Leadership Development program that includes many lots outdoors. If it seems like Fay has been doing this for a century like many other independent schools, think again: the school opened in 1991.
Tucked bottom left, is a tiny directive: Discover. This does nothing more than scroll for you, but it sets the tone for a homepage where that’s all you’re doing, which is to say discovering what a unique place Hyde is, where “Everybody does everything.” This Week in Photos (TWIP) is a reminder that a simple approach to organizing photography is sometimes the best one, a nice compendium of great shots to capture life on campus and one of many examples of Finalsite Resources in action.
A homepage with a full black background can be a risky bet, but Mater Dei’s new custom design makes it work just fine, with its four cornerstones weaving back and forth on the page, and the red and yellow popping even more. Cleverly, the navigation at the top flips to white, allowing the user to easily get to their next step either through calls to action or through a clean and simplified site architecture. Speaking of which, an excellent implementation of Page Pops makes quick work of inviting parents to an open house.
A sonar’s worth of circles spread outward from Hillbrook’s tree when you first arrive at their newly-designed website, a case study in, among many things, how to use serif fonts and mixed cases to create variety in design as well as snappy animation to emphasize a point. The “Bear’s Lair” is a tempting click away, top right, along with search, but if you get all the way down to the bottom a few quick links guide the user. One button, “Message” is the simplest of forms, and a reminder that we want to make life as easy as possible for the user. Core Values is the largest panel on the homepage, and it leads with something we all should remember to do: “Be Kind.”
Pretty sure this is the only school that calls its students, parents, faculty, and staff “Geckos.” Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? The gecko finds a home in lots of places, including being coiled around the hamburger navigation, turning like a dial on hover. Big colorful hero images greet the user and a semi-transparent beach-lined oceanscape sets the background for the footer. And in between are even more reasons to attend this international school in Battaramulla.
Always nice to see a new custom design for a charter school on the board. IICS, “serving students from all four corners of the Las Vegas Valley,” is a school on a mission, with a mission, and its website, while simple in navigation and scale, does a thorough job explaining itself. Beautiful and oversized hero images are placed throughout, nicely designed content elements serve as next steps, and a well-organized utility navigation provides access to portals, a search overlay with quicklinks, a site translation feature, and other key components. Schedule a Tour is a good example of a short form to draw in an inquiry, too.
- Barren County School District
- Bishop Shanahan High School
- Brewster (Madrid)
- Brooks County Independent School District
- California Montessori Project
- Chequamegon School District
- Concordia International School Shanghai
- Crockett County Schools
- Canadian International School of Hong Kong Limited
- Carroll Independent School District
- City Knoll Middle School
- Coachella Valley Unified School District
- DePaul Catholic High School
- Dunklin R-V School District
- Elida Local School District
- Fairfield County ESC
- Forbes Road School District
- Greater Ohio Virtual School
- Hazard Independent Schools
- Henry County Public Schools
- Hillsboro Independent School District
- International School of Tanganyika
- Johnson County Board of Education
- Lakewood City School District
- Learning Prep School
- Longwood Central School District
- Marshall County Board of Education
- Moon Area School District
- Metro Deaf School
- The Montessori School
- Norton City Schools
- North Shore School District 112
- Oakland County Intermediate School District
- Old Redford Academy
- Neston High School
- North Valley Academy
- The Ramaz School
- Selma City School District
- Social Circle City School District
- Southpointe Academy
- Springfield Local School District
- Stark County Educational Service Center
- St. Paul's School
- Synapse School
- Thomas More School
- Vancouver College
- Wayne County School District
- Western Buckeye Educational Service Center
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.