Issaquah School District & Finalsite Advantage
Having served as Issaquah School District’s career and technical education director, Lesha Engels’ background in curriculum programming had served the district well. But when the former communications director left and she was asked to step into the role, she knew she had her work cut out— one of her first priorities would be to redesign and launch the district's new website.
Their old website had been a “homegrown effort,” — much of the content and design were decades old. “It was the first website our school district ever had,” remembered Engels. “There were definitely parts of it that were outdated, especially from a design standpoint.”
A text-heavy site, bogged down with excess information and a poor user experience left the district with visions of a modern design, focused on the user experience.
The Challenge — Where to start?
Recognizing the need to respond to rising parent expectations, the school board sought a new website provider that offered a long list of features, including the ability to present important announcements and content in an accessible and mobile-friendly design, streamline the district’s messaging capabilities, and collect powerful data and analytics. The team also wanted to develop a consistent visual identity and branding that could be used across the district, as well as on the schools’ individual websites.
At a Glance
Founded in 1893, Issaquah School District prepares nearly 20,000 students to become the innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders of tomorrow. Located just 15 miles east of Seattle, the district’s 27 schools create passionate, lifelong learners from kindergarten through 12th grade who regularly score within the top five percent on state and national standardized tests.
“We wanted a more tech-savvy, strategic way of messaging our content,” said Engels, now the executive director of communications and digital strategy for Issaquah School District. “We wanted to empower our families to find the content they wanted, as opposed to us just always pushing information to them in the bulletins.”
The idea of a district website redesign seemed daunting — personalized communications, engaging experiences, accessibility, and consistent branding…the problem was, “where do we begin?”
“I needed an expert in marketing who works with the Finalsite product over and over; someone who knows how to optimize the features. We knew we wanted to use Finalsite Advantage right from the beginning. If we were going to do it, we may as well do it right — and do it well!”
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS AND DIGITAL STRATEGY
The Solution — A strategic partner in Finalsite Advantage
While Engels understood the district’s institutional knowledge, she needed assistance to execute all of Issaquah’s goals. Seeking a strategic partner to assist in the redesign and help implement best practices, Issaquah’s team of six partnered with Finalsite Advantage's Senior Marketing Consultant, Tracy Tigchelaar, to guide Issaquah’s small team every step of the way through the district’s redesign.
“As a leader, I have a ton of institutional knowledge within the district, but I needed an expert in marketing who works with the Finalsite product over and over; someone who knows how to optimize the features,” Engels shared.
“We knew we wanted to use the Finalsite Advantage right from the beginning. If we were going to do it, we may as well do it right — and do it well!”
Tracy Tigchelaar met regularly with Engels and her staff during the redesign and deployment process, helping to round out Issaquah’s team. “Tracy was such a good thought partner, not just for developing a plan, but she was also willing to jump right in,” Engels said. “She wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty, which was helpful because we were all busy on other projects."
From branding and logo illustrations to website design, from implementing best practices and new communication strategies to upgrading the user experience, Engels and her team, with guidance from Tigchelaar, carefully thought everything through.
"As soon as I started working with them, it was clear that the Issaquah team saw the value of taking a marketing-driven approach for their district’s website," Tigchelaar added. "But at the same time, they understood it didn't need to focus on the interests of prospective parents at the expense of current families. So we developed a homepage plan that gave them the flexibility to develop panels that met everyone's needs. The map, in particular, is a useful feature for current and future parents alike — and the way the calendars group individual school events is really quite unique."
"Tracy's expertise was extremely important to round out our team and provide another perspective,” Engels said. “It was great to have someone to bounce ideas off — someone who's done website after website, and they know what works and what doesn't work."
The Result — An award-winning website with a lasting impact
Issaquah School District’s best-in-class website redesign is a beautiful and functional new website that has captured the hearts of the Issaquah community, as well as the attention of some of the leading international communicator programs — the website recently won a Gold Award from the NYX Awards, an Award of Excellence from the Communicator Awards, and an Award of Excellence from National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA).
With guidance from Finalsite Advantage, Issaquah School District has created a new site that reflects a cohesive design and prioritizes the most important content to current families.
Serving as an inspiration for future schools, the district’s site features everything Issaqauh wanted and more: searchable announcement boards with tags for families to filter personalized news and content; a “Happening Now” section, which consolidates the latest news, social media, and announcements into one central location; and intuitive navigation across the individual school pages, which have their own look and feel.
Providing schools with their color palette, navigation, and content gives them a unique look, but a cohesive visual identity within the district’s network, all easily managed through the Finalsite platform by Engels and her team.
"This was such a great team to work with — they were very collaborative and open-minded, and that really helped them get the most out of the Advantage service." Tigchelaar reflected. "They hadn't considered, for example, the option or the necessity of aligning the individual schools' branding with the district's visual identity. The thought of adding a project like that while tackling all the preparatory work needed for a website redesign didn't phase them. We managed to keep the momentum, develop the new logos, and move successfully into the school site design with a completely new look that matched the district beautifully."
The staff at the schools are celebrating the school’s improved visual identity, as well. “The PTSA was super excited about the new branding!” shared Engels. “There's definitely been that energy as far as people getting on board who are strong supporters of the school. Everything looks professional and consistent between the website, our messaging, and new print pieces.”
Engels is excited about the possibilities the redesigned site and new communication strategies will bring, such as the ability to better track and analyze school communications. "To see that a communication from the principal had 200 clicks, considering it's an elementary school of 300 families! It is great to know that the software is working for us and working for our building leaders as well."
Her team has also been able to be more efficient with their time. Utilizing Finalsite’s Content Management System, Composer, the team has found making updates and edits to content much easier than before. “It’s definitely lightened the load,” Engels said, adding that it’s even allowed one of their team members to focus on video content creation for the district.
Additionally, adopting Finalsite’s Create Once Publish Everywhere (C.O.P.E) functionality has made it easier for school staff to more cohesively execute their 27 weekly school bulletins. Using dynamic content in Messages, staff members can automatically pull in relevant district-wide content from one source without having to copy and paste information. Engels sees the difference this is making, “It’s saved a ton of time at the individual school level.”
But beyond the stunning new website, logos, accolades, and awards, Engels has learned a lot. “I learned what kind of content to lead with on a webpage; I learned about writing more concisely, about writing for the web versus writing for other platforms. Having the right information that's accessible is the most important thing because that's what our community and our families need.”
“I learned that my team would step up because I was new in this leadership role, and seeing the whole team get excited about this project— that was pretty awesome.”
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