Father Ryan High School
As a co-educational, college preparatory Catholic high school in Nashville, Tennessee, Father Ryan High School has built a rich tradition of faith, knowledge, and service for nearly a century.
Since their last website launched seven years ago, Communications Director Cara Hunter knew the site was due for a makeover, and was determined to launch a successful redesign. But as many other schools experienced, the pandemic had other plans and forced Father Ryan to change priorities and postpone its website redesign.
Flash-forward and now, Father Ryan is welcoming families with its newly redesigned website, continuing its mission of providing a superior Catholic high school and providing excellence in religious and moral formation.
From aesthetics and functionality to content and the community's response, Cara Hunter retells the story of a total redesign that is now engaging its school community in a digital, post-COVID world — just in time for Father Ryan’s centennial celebration.
At a Glance
Founded in 1925, Father Ryan High School is a co-educational, college preparatory, Catholic high school located in Nashville, Tennessee with the strong traditions of faith, knowledge, and service.
What led you and your colleagues to know it was time to redesign?
“The last Father Ryan web redesign took place in 2015, and the team planned to redesign in 2020 but delayed this project due to COVID. By the time this web project was revisited, our website was over seven years old, and almost all its content was outdated. This allowed us to build a website with a clean slate and rethink the entire structure of our site.”
How important was the balance of design aesthetics vs. functionality?
“We prioritized both aesthetics and functionality in our design. We knew we wanted to build a website that looked different from our competitors because Nashville is a saturated market for private schools. However, due to our large alumni network of 13,000+ graduates of all ages over the past 100 years, we knew we needed a site that was intuitive and user-friendly.”
What were the ways you ensured the content on each page was focused?
“Because we had not redesigned the website in seven years, we decided to start from scratch instead of reusing content. This began with rethinking our entire sitemap and evaluating what pages currently had the most views and best engagement analytics.
We conducted audits among departments of what information they wanted to present on their pages from a recruitment perspective. And finally, we wrote all new copy and gathered visual assets for our pages, all with new page layouts.
“Prospective families can find the information they are looking for on the website, which has led to more meaningful conversations about the Father Ryan experience."
What’s been the response from your community about the new site?
"The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive due to the functionality of the site compared to our previous design and because content continues to stay relevant and updated.
In addition, we’ve received feedback that visually our site gives an authentic
insight into what it is like to be a part of our school community. Finally, we’ve received positive feedback from our alumni because the site is built to keep them informed and engaged with Father Ryan.”
How has the new website helped admissions,
fundraising, or relationships with your constituents?
“Our admissions team has reported receiving fewer phone calls about specific questions because prospective families can find the information they are looking for on the website, which has led to more meaningful conversations about the Father Ryan experience.
We’ve received donor feedback that our new giving pages make it a more user-friendly experience to make a gift to the specific initiative they are interested in, such as annual fund, scholarships, gifts in memory, planned giving, etc. Our parents and alumni have communicated that they can find athletic and art event information easily compared to the previous site, and current students have communicated that our new website truly represents their high school experience.”
How did a microsite help support your centennial celebration?
“After we launched the new full website, we transitioned to planning for our school’s 100th celebration. Due to our robust and engaged alumni network, we knew we wanted to create a microsite that could truly celebrate the 100th through in-depth reflection on our history, recognition of alumni and their experiences, awareness of all 100th events that will occur throughout the year, and information on how to join our 100th celebrations.
In addition, we wanted to create an adaptable microsite so that during this celebration, it can transition into a platform for a capital campaign. We knew a Finalsite microsite would help us achieve these goals.”
What suggestions would you give a school
considering starting a website project?
“Do as much research as possible on the front end to fully understand what
style you want to achieve in your design so you can effectively communicate
with your Finalsite team. Be open to new ideas from your Finalsite designer,
and look outside the education industry for innovative ideas for presenting
Always consider the functionality of your pages on desktop vs mobile. Bring
in outsiders to give a new perspective on design and content. Block out time
on your calendar weekly that is nonnegotiable to dedicate to this project.
Host round table website reviews with current students, administration, alumni,
and parents to get different perspectives on what is missing or is not presented in the best way before launch.”
What else should schools should keep in mind with their redesigns?
“Buy-in from faculty and staff helped a lot with the success of our launch. Taking time to meet with departments and learn what they liked/disliked about our current site gave us an interesting perspective, and by allowing them to review their new pages before the launch and provide feedback, we had the support of our internal community before it went live.
In addition, we created a mini-campaign to launch the site to the public through email newsletters explaining new features on the site and the overall layout and filmed short video tours of the site on social media, which helped gain community attention.
Finally, there is never an “ideal” time to conduct a website redesign. Don’t let specific expectations of when you want your site to go live, such as during the beginning of the school year or at the beginning of your admissions cycle, hold you back from launching your new website.”
For Father Ryan, the project was well worth the wait, earning Gold in the Vega Digital Awards for its design. And now, Father Ryan is ready to begin its next 100 years with a modern web design and a renewed digital presence.
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