Why Not WordPress?
Many things have changed since Woodland School was established in the heart of Silicon Valley in the early 1980s. Shoulder pads, for instance, have thankfully vanished from people's wardrobes. Technology is a little different too — Inter-what? Teeny tiny handheld computers?
Besides celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, the small, independent school outside of Stanford is making some updates too. It's taking another look at its mission and vision, for one. Another big change is how the school views and uses its website. This particular shift is being guided in large part by Bethany Silvestri. She is Woodland's Director of Marketing and Communications and joined the staff in 2015. From the start, Bethany's one overarching goal for the website was to incorporate dynamic content.
At A Glance
Located just west of 280 at Alpine Road, Woodland is an independent day school that offers a joyful approach to learning in a diverse and inclusive environment for students in early childhood through eighth grade. Woodland School specializes in education that empowers students by nurturing each individual’s voice, intellect, and character.
The Problem: The Hidden Costs of Wordpress.
Her assessment was simple: "Woodland hadn't really been thinking about the website as one of its primary marketing tools. The website wasn't an accurate representation of the school—it was static, but the school is dynamic. It was missing out on a valuable outlet for communicating this."
Woodland had been relying on WordPress to meet its digital needs. WordPress is a free, open-source content management system (CMS) used to create and maintain websites. Its structure relies on custom HTML. Other "free" CMSs include Joomla or Drupal.
The previous site was beautiful. And, did I mention it was free? Complimentary? Gratis?
Or was it?
Bethany's predecessor hired third-parties who spent hours coding to develop and maintain the website. Therein lies the rub. Those long hours meant that WordPress's "free" web tool was in fact pricey when it came to labor and opportunity costs.
Custom HTML can work if a school has lots of resources to spare. But it is far less than ideal for a one-woman marketing and communications department: "We were losing time with the website," says Bethany. "I was spending too much time just updating the site because much of it was in custom HTML. And site visitors were spending too much time trying to find the necessary information that just wasn't making it online in a timely enough manner."
Another hidden expense of WordPress was its cost in terms of other projects, like communications planning, writing newsletters, blog posts, and curating social media. When it came to amping up the school's marketing efforts, it became apparent that WordPress was more of a liability than an asset.
The Solution: Finding a New Partner.
Bethany, thanks to her experience with other schools, had a digital partner already in mind: Finalsite. She was confident its design staff, project managers and software could meet her needs with a website that effectively and efficiently showcased the school's many fine qualities.
According to Bethany, one of Finalsite's biggest assets is Composer. Composer is a school content management system that allows everyone from webmasters to novices and people in between to build and edit web pages easily. Its drag and drop elements and "What You See is What You Get" (WYSIWYG) editor meant that people see the changes they're making as they go. No more fun HTML surprises.
"It's a tool that is easy to use, flexible and powerful," says Bethany. Woodland's vibrant, beautiful new website was up and running within a few months of signing the contract with Finalsite. Its looks incorporate many of the old site's design elements, helping to make sure the site "feels" like Woodland.
The new site has some big fans in the school's Admissions Office. They like that it more accurately represents the school—one full of life. It features lots of dynamic content: news stories and social media feeds, calendar events, a faculty directory, blogs, content on teaching and learning and more. The Admissions Office also appreciates how simple it is to use the new system. Admissions staff can now update the admission pages or calendar events independently.For now though, Bethany still does most of the website maintenance. Composer makes that manageable. And she has trained a coworker from Woodland's front office to help update pictures and build the faculty/staff directory.
"It's a testament to the ease of using Composer that someone with little or even no web experience can learn it quickly.”
DIRECTOR OF MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS
The Results: Change is Good.
"It's a testament to the ease of using Composer that someone with little or even no web experience can learn it quickly," she says. A few gaps do remain, says Bethany. For example, Woodland is still working to acclimate current families to the new, more powerful site—to trust it as a hub of communications.
"It's a process," says Bethany, "For so long, families didn't use the website because it didn't house any information they needed."
Thanks to Finalsite and Composer the school is enlivening the website with more and more content relevant to those families. Woodland's next phase is to add a parent portal that meshes with some of its other on-line tools such as Schoology (the middle school's Learning Management System) and Vidigami (the school's photo management system).
The frosting on Woodland's technology cake, says Bethany, will be when the school can provide single sign-on access to many of these other systems. The school, with help from Finalsite, plans to collapse four logins into one by funneling site visitors through the portal.
"What's great about that," says Bethany, "Is that we'll now have that 'hub' where we can direct our parents' attention and create a repository of the resources they might need throughout the school year."
Better for school staff and better for families — current and future. Change is good.
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