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a group of students posed on rocks outside

Cedar Springs Public Schools

One little fire truck shows up at school for a false alarm and suddenly everyone online is spiraling out of control,  talking about how no one’s doing anything. But there’s no fire, there’s no lockdown, and of course, the students are safe.

Positive public relations is a goal for every district, and for Amy McCarthy, communications specialist at Cedar Springs Public Schools in Michigan, controlling the narrative and celebrating the district’s 3,500+ students has never been more important.

“If we really start sharing the positive impact and the amazing things that we're doing in our district, then we have to be able to share the good stories in a meaningful way — and that will be what our community is talking about.”

At a Glance

a hawk mascot greetings students


Twenty miles north of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Cedar Springs Public Schools offers a comprehensive educational program, developing all students to become educated, self-confident, responsible citizens in a changing world. 

As part of McCarthy’s five-year communications plan, storytelling was a priority, but that goal had hit a roadblock with the district's previous website provider, not to mention working to keep up with ADA-compliance. She was able to find workarounds and make some minor adjustments to the old website, but she knew the district needed a flexible site that provided more support than what was being offered. “I wanted to make sure if we are met with this situation again, we would have the support we need and that I would know who to reach out to, and that it would be resolved.”

The need for more control

“When I was hired, the district didn't have a communication role of any sort,” McCarthy remembered. She knew the first big challenge she was going to tackle was an overhaul of the district’s website. In fact, it was even one of the main talking points when she interviewed for the role.

“The website really became a top priority,” McCarthy said. “My biggest issue with what we were using was that it was very, very basic.” 

McCarthy knew the value of creating a more comprehensive and mobile-friendly website experience, but the former website design was locked into a one-page layout, provided limited options for content, and there wasn’t even a way to embed content on pages. 

McCarthy was also frustrated when their website provider offered updates and then couldn't access them. "I would get excited that we finally could do something like embed a video and find out later that we only had access for an additional cost or a full redesign. A few times we were told our product was outdated and wouldn't get the update." Their site was falling behind.

“I found that everything was really limited. We only had one template, so every single page looked exactly the same. I just wanted something that gave me more options for what I could do, and I wanted to user experience to be simplified.

McCarthy wanted more creative control and more options for design, content, and communications. She wanted to feel empowered to make positive changes with the district’s site: increase web traffic, simplify the user experience, cut back on content, and tell the story of the district.

Telling the district’s story

McCarthy and CSPS partnered with Finalsite to launch the district’s new website and quickly set their goals. By tapping into the site’s analytics, she set to work redefining the user experience and telling the story of the district to the extended community.

McCarthy knew that the site’s structure and map needed a full overhaul. She reviewed the content on her previous site’s pages and made a key observation. “Each of our elementary schools had its own page, but they had the exact same content on the page — it was word-for-word, just copied and pasted. There were some pages that just linked back to the same page, and I was finding duplicate pages  with outdated information.”

McCarthy worked with staff, teachers, and parents to improve the user experience and simplify the site's structure. She combined pages, consolidated content, and designed a more cohesive site map, adding, “We tried to keep it as consistent as possible for each school’s site because we didn't want them to look too different.”  The result is a more organized, and user-friendly experience with content and information in locations that make sense for users.

homepage panel of cedar spring high school

Since the launch with Finalsite, McCarthy has been tapping into the district’s web analytics to track what is working on the site and what still needs improvement. Now, when McCarthy presents information to district leadership, like how users are accessing the site, she’s ready with the data to back up her decision-making.

“While our district runs mainly on desktops and laptops, I like to show them just how many people are using their mobile devices to access information.”

Having the integrations to embed items like the weekly school newsletter, and using Finalsite's Post module has allowed their communications to live another life beyond just the inbox. “Before we were solely relying that students and parents were receiving and reading their emails. Now we have multiple ways to share our communications, that are also easy to find for everyone in our community.”

Sharing on social media has also gotten easier with the change. “We always highlight our honor roll students, but this can make for a very long post on Facebook. We now create a post that lives on our website and share it on Facebook where it pulls in the photo associated with the post, and makes it easy for people to click and see the information — and also drives people to our website. I can also see the analytics really clearly on the back end and see how many people actually went to that story, ” McCarthy added.

Since the launch with Finalsite


in bounce rate across the site


in site traffic to academic pages


in site traffic to athletic pages


By utilizing Finalsite’s intuitive content management system, McCarthy has been able to save time updating site pages using create one publish everywhere (COPE) approach and Finalsite’s Posts module for news stories, page content, and showcasing what's happening in the schools on a student and teacher level.

“I love how Finalsite offers a lot of options as far as layout and what components can be added to a page. It's easy to keep things organized and repurpose content throughout our entire website and individual school pages.”

The response from the school's leadership and community has been overwhelmingly positive, with feedback that content is easier to find, it’s better organized, and the search function works better.

Since launch, McCarthy has been thrilled with the district’s efforts and the new website. Bounce rates have decreased by nearly 20%, and the overall time on the district’s site has increased.

Key pages across the district’s site have benefited too: Visits to the directory pages increased by 26%; visits to the academic pages have increased by 27%;  and visits to the athletics pages have increased by more than 142%. Notably, traffic to the district’s enrollment page has by 16%, which tells McCarthy that the district’s vision and mission are finally reaching new families.

Utilizing Finalsite’s built-in features has made telling the positive stories of the district that much easier, but for CSPS, the story is never finished and McCarthy is just getting started.

“I'm presenting to our leadership about storytelling and how important it is,” she said.

“We are still working on rolling out more highlights of our staff,  students, and mental health resources using the Posts feature. We are also working on enhancements to our academic pages with hopes of increasing our enrollment even more.”

“The change has been great,” McCarthy said. “We’re excited to continue enhancing our website and see what additional features we can add."

McCarthy considers CSPC’s time with Finalsite a success. “Our bounce rate dropping and our traffic increasing has been encouraging to see. The support Finalsite offers to their clients through learning, examples, blogs, and quick responses to any questions has been nothing short of amazing. I am looking forward to using the tools we now have to share the story and success of our students, staff, and district!”

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