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Build a Better School Web Site

School Web sites are a lot like anything else in that there are a handful of truly great ones, and a whole lot of average ones. Given that the technology for creating, hosting and maintaining a Web site has become both easy and cost effective, the only hurdles standing between a school and a great site are time and imagination.

EducationWorld has compiled the following five tips for turning a stale school site into an online destination where staff, students, parents and the community at large can maintain the lines of communication and get the latest news.

#5 Maximize the Opportunity –Too often, schools will put up a site that is little more than a glorified business card. These sites provide the school’s address and phone numbers along with a picture of the building and sometimes a brief message from the principal. Sites like this are not doing anything to engage the audience or build ties to the community because they don’t have any content.

Avon Lake High School (OH) uses a professional-looking, uncluttered design.













Also, the site’s appearance is just as important as its content. Look around at professional sites to get a feel for a look you like, or browse free templates. It’s worth investing in some professional design help to bring your site into the 21stcentury.

Once the site looks its best, begin adding as much content as you can, and update it as often as you can. An easy way to get fresh content up on a daily basis is to post the morning announcements. They’re written out anyway, so pasting them onto the site would only take a few minutes. But don’t stop there. Put up athletic and lunch schedules, the goings-on of extracurricular groups, PTA minutes, important dates and literally everything else you can think of that someone might want to know about the school.

Also, don’t miss the opportunity to do a little bragging. In addition to practical information, share success stories and highlight innovative projects and strategies your school is using. Did you just receive a new grant that will help fund technology upgrades, or did students just complete a great service learning project? Why not use the opportunity to enhance public relations? Also, make sure to highlight the contributions of staff members and noteworthy achievements of students, including kind deeds that help maintain a positive school climate.

#4 Pictures, Please –One shot of the building is not enough, and clip art is so 1990s. Your readers want to see people’s faces, so post pictures of students and staff instead. Grab an action shot from the football game and make that the main image on Monday. Swap it out with a picture of the chemistry teacher explaining an experiment on Tuesday. You don’t need a professional photographer, or even a fancy SLR camera. A simple point-and-shoot will get the job done. Lean on the yearbook staff, as they are running around shooting everything anyway.

North Hills High School (PA) posts lots of pictures of student activities.














#3 Organization is Key –Some school sites have tons of content that is poorly organized. Clean it all up and group it logically. A simple navigation bar at the top of the homepage can direct visitors to areas of interest. Create one for athletics, extracurricular groups, academics and calendars. Each of these main content areas can have as many subsidiaries as you like or need.

#2 Provide a Means of Communication– Offer a staff directory, complete with school-based email addresses. This creates a bridge to the community and encourages communication. Busy parents are more likely to reach out to their child’s teacher via email, and having easy access to the address is key. If you’re concerned about spam, you may want to use an email form rather than displaying the actual address.

#1 Keep it Up –Sure, it will be a project to get your site looking and working the way you want it, but the real work comes in posting the announcements every morning, getting new pictures uploaded on a regular basis, and making sure that everything from the basketball teams’ records to the bus schedules are up to date.

This is a great opportunity to delegate, so make sure your site host offers online content management access to multiple users. Give staff a role in site upkeep. Since Web design and maintenance are real-world, marketable skills, it also would benefit students to get involved. Perhaps a new extracurricular club can be created for this purpose, or try existing yearbook and computer classes. If students are too young for this type of work, consider an intern from a local community college that offers Web design classes. In addition, this is the perfect task for tech-savvy working parents who are willing to volunteer but are unable to be physically present at the school.

Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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