South St. Paul Public Schools
Shortly after joining the school district, Danette Childs was notified that their Blackboard website’s theme was going to be discontinued. Whether they liked it or not, South St. Paul Public Schools would need to transition to a new template or find a new website provider.
For SSPPS, a school system of about 3,200 students just outside Minneapolis, it was a chance to transition to a new platform entirely and seize an opportunity for meaningful change.
Backed by a small team of four that included an IT director and a digital learning coordinator, Childs was one of the few staff members coordinating the migration with experience in web design. With a full schedule, Childs needed a content management system (CMS) that would be easy to maintain once it was launched. Finalsite’s CMS, Composer, was the team’s first choice.
SSPPS’s mission is to ignite a passion in every learner to inquire, continuously improve, and engage in positively changing our world.
“With the new platform, we wanted an easier backend editing experience, one that would empower users to make edits themselves,” Childs said, noting that she is the only full-time communications person for the district and takes on other responsibilities such as social media, newsletters, and print materials.
“One of the biggest considerations was how we could make the site more modern and user friendly, but also that editors could manage and easily keep pages updated without my help.”
For South St. Paul, changing providers wasn’t seen as a directive, but more as an opportunity to upgrade a dated platform that felt restrictive. Childs knew there were documents and content on the old site that made the school look outdated.
“As things aged, they never were archived. The site aged and there wasn't much room for creative adjustments. We felt like there wasn't much control over what we were getting,” Childs added. “Our leadership understood that we needed to update the site, so people were excited about having a change.”
“I feel good knowing people are embracing something new with a positive attitude ... We had a really positive experience working with Finalsite and I'm happy we went in this direction.”
Streamlined content migration & user training
With the deployment process underway for the district’s new theme site, Childs began to rewrite content, going through each department and looking at what could be edited, consolidated, or removed altogether. She then shared the revisions with department heads for feedback before entering an optimized version into Composer, Finalsite’s drag-and-drop content management system.
“Now, instead of having 12 pages, a department might have only a few,” Childs said. “We made the information easier to find for people without having to go eight clicks in before they actually get what they wanted.”
“Having an organized system was very helpful in making sure that I was completing everything that needed to be done before our actual launch date — knowing where I put old and new items, what's been updated and what hasn't been updated,” Childs said. “Just having that system in place made updating the pages go a lot quicker.”
During the migration, regular check-ins with a project manager from the Finalsite Deployment team helped keep the project on track and provided creative guidance as Childs built out pages and entered content.
“Our project manager was really good about keeping us on schedule,” Childs said. “The whole migration process went really smoothly and worked out well.”
With a dozen editors across the district managing their own sites, the users easily completed the initial training and then referred to Finalsite’s Knowledge Base if any questions arose during the implementation and adding content. After users watched the training videos, Childs only had to spend about 30 minutes with users to get them up and running on Composer.
“I created a training document using most of the tools that Finalsite already had in place. I spent extra time on the specific tasks I knew users would have to do, like posting news items, and updating pictures and calendars so they have a little cheat sheet and step-by-step guides.”
And with multiple editors at the district’s schools, having a web style guide and permission-based user roles and constituent groups helped create a cohesive look and feel across the different pages while granting levels of permission based on user accounts.
“For user access, that helped limit what site editors could, and could not have access to. I like how I can restrict permission to areas that they're allowed to access and areas they aren’t,” Childs said. “I can be very specific on who gets to edit what, but I can still have a lot of collaborators.”
Since the site launch, Childs has received only positive feedback from the community, which has been impressed by the new site’s aesthetics.
“I was a little afraid of the change and that everyone was going to say, ‘I want the old thing back,’ but it hasn't been that way at all,” Childs admits. “People love how it looks and say it's more modern and easier to navigate.”
“With Blackboard we had a lot of pages and it seemed like every little thing needed a new page, whereas with Finalsite we can organize everything better through dropdowns, accordions, or tabs.”
And when it comes to page building and creating a mobile-friendly design, a lot of the “guesswork” has been eliminated. “I like that I can see what the page looks like on a mobile version before publishing. I couldn't do that before. Composer is more of a front-end editing system where I can see what changes I'm making before I hit publish, whereas before I'd have to make the edit, publish it, see what it looks like, then go back and change it.”
Easily integrating hero images and video in the site design helps share the stories of the schools and students of South St. Paul too, and with the site now launched, Childs now has more time to dedicate to other initiatives across the district.
“Composer definitely saves me time. It takes a lot of time off of the design-end of things when I'm trying to make things look how I want them to, and there really isn't much need to have to update it in multiple places. Just being able to let the website do some things itself or be able to make updates quickly is great. I have more time to complete other tasks.”
For SSPPS, what began as a high-stakes decision became an opportunity for change. “I feel good knowing people are embracing something new with a positive attitude,” Childs said. “We had a really positive experience working with Finalsite and I'm happy we went in this direction.”
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