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Strategies for Improving Parent Communications with Portals
Debbie Eisenach

How satisfied are your parents with your school's communications? While it seems schools have always tried to find the right mix of timing, frequency, and the perfect method for sending out important announcements, parent satisfaction with school-to-home communications seems to have hit an all-time low, especially during the pandemic.

It’s no surprise—parents are overwhelmed with information being sent via email, social media, apps, and the school website. And if they have children in multiple divisions, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the school events, lunch menus, permission slips and forms, and the latest guidance on safety precautions. The list goes on and on… According to a recent study, more than three-quarters of educators reported that parent-school communication increased during the pandemic, while 37% said it increased “a lot.”

Often these overwhelmed parents are calling the school, venting to social media, and sharing their frustrations with whoever will listen. Therefore, it’s critical schools explore an effective strategy for parent communications — portals to the rescue! But first...

What is a Portal?

Portals are web-based pages that collect and display information from a variety of sources into a single user interface, making it one of the most effective platforms for keeping parents informed and connected.

Some schools call them hubs, dashboards, or an intranet — here at Finalsite we call them Portals— password-protected areas on your school website made specifically for your students, alumni, board members, or faculty, and yes—parents, too. Finalsite’s Portals are built and managed on the Composer platform so they have the same branding, colors, fonts, and layout as your external website, making it a seamless experience for your parents once they’ve logged in. 

So now that you know what they are, how can you leverage portals to improve your communications with parents? Here are some effective strategies:

Personalize and Target Your Portal’s Content

From lunch menus and permission slips to important news updates, directories, and private resources, Portals make it easy to personalize information for easy access. By congregating the information specific to a family’s grade level or division, parents can see the information that’s relevant to them, like athletic calendars, school news, and campus updates.

You can continue to send emails and newsletters, post on social media, and send app notifications, but that information should all be accessible within your parent portal, eliminating the need for parents to sift through their emails, scroll through Facebook, or call the school trying to find that message you sent last week. Instead, they can access your portal and get the information they need, anytime, anywhere— at their convenience. 

Charterhouse’s Parent Area is an excellent example of a portal with its intuitive navigation, engaging photography, up-to-date news, and information branded to match the public website.

a gif of Charterhouse's Portal

Centralize Important Communications

Whether you opt to password protect your portal is a choice schools make and does not have to be binary. Some schools have a community portal that is open to the public, while other schools require parents to log in with their credentials to access their portal. For schools that choose to require a login, administrators can customize the parent experience even further. For example, if parents have a child in a certain school or division, content like calendars, athletics schedules, and news and updates specific to their student’s grade level will be segmented for that parent, automatically eliminating parents seeing irrelevant information.

a screenshot of Hotchkiss Parent portal

Hotchkiss is a good example in that they have both public and private content which offers convenient access to everyday information and the flexibility to group private communications.

Spring Lake Park Schools has a full top navigational menu for quick access to lunch menus, calendars, handbooks, and more, making it easy for parents to find and return to as often as they need.

a screenshot of Spring Lake Park Schools parent portal

Repurpose Your Content

One big advantage of portals is Finalsite’s Create Once, Publish Everywhere (C.O.P.E.) capabilities. This allows schools to create a piece of content one time, and then publish it in many places. For example, a district might publish a news article that updates all the school websites and the district site. Then they might publish another article that only updates the middle school websites. 
Content can also be tagged based on who should see it so portals can automatically pull up-to-date content from your calendars, news, blogs, directories, and personalize it for the user. It’s like magic to parents.

Edina's Family Resources

Edina Public Schools has a great resource page with news and other pertinent information showing content from various sources so parents can find information in one central place.

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Engage a Larger Audience

Language barriers add another layer of complexity since over 20% of the US population speaks a language other than English at home — international schools often accommodate upwards of 60+ nationalities. 

Translating your website and parent portal is imperative. Using automated translation tools like Weglot is the best way to ensure your portal is accessible to multilingual audiences.

Kansas City Public School's parent portal

Kansas City Public Schools uses Weglot to translate its family resources into nine different languages to welcome and engage its entire community.

Integrate Your Systems

Your community often needs access to a whole host of other systems, including attendance, grades, and learning management systems, to name a few. Consolidate access to these systems so that parents can have a single-sign-on directly to the portal without a need for another username or password. Finalsite integrates with the biggest systems out there, so data from your school's student information system can be used for not just portal access, but email contact lists, online directories, athletics data, calendars, and more.
St. Ursula Academy’s portal is a gateway to other resources making it easy for parents to quickly access additional resources.

St. Ursula Academy parent portal

And St. Bernard Academy offers a fun and colorful portal that’s full of content parents frequently access.

St. Bernard's Parent Portal

While it may seem like a large undertaking, other schools have successfully incorporated portals into their communications strategies. Jakarta Intercultural School shared tips from their portal revamp. Advancement and communication advisor Nicholas Biblis shared, “Much of the success of the portal also relied on our collaboration with the community. We wanted every division and parent organization to feel a sense of ownership over their part of the portal, and we worked very closely with them to make sure it presented the information that they wanted. Without this collaboration, the portal would not have been the success that we feel it is.”

Key Takeaway

Like so many families today, if your parent community is overwhelmed by the number of communications they receive, invest in a parent portal so you can streamline school-to-home communication while consolidating relevant content into one secure place. 

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Debbie Eisenach

As part of Finalsite's marketing team, Debbie has worked with international schools for the past 8 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. In her free time she enjoys traveling and attending events at her children's school in Berlin, Germany.

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