While completing our research for our most recent EdTech Playbook installment, we took a virtual tour of district websites around the country. What we found was a glimmer of hope and ten districts that clearly understand the value of user experience.
A quick note: Some of the subjects below are small, while others boast enrollment numbers in the high five-figures. Some are located in wealthy pockets of their respective states, while others are right in the thick of urban poverty. The one thing these districts (and their leaders) have in common is that they chose to prioritize their web presence.
Now, for the ten district websites that get it right (in alphabetical order):
There's a lot to like about Alpine's website, from the simple, clean menu, to the above-the-fold call-to-action items for popular destinations. Drill down into any of the persona-based links and you'll find some nifty curation (see the example for staff login portals above) and an easy-to-find search area. My favorite part of this site is the rotating testimonial block on the homepage. In the age of school choice, district communication leaders need to be become marketers, and Alpine's website does a great job of making the district feel like a place I would want my children to attend.
Speaking of testimonials, take a look at the above section from Arrowhead Union HSD's mobile site. This website's responsive design, beautiful cover image, and well-organized menu structure is just the beginning. The homepage features several varied and fun uses for icons, including a slider of college logos displaying frequent destinations of Arrowhead grads, interactive statistics, and quick links at the top of the menu. The district's LaunchPad Portals for parents, students, and staff offer easy access to resources with no scrolling necessary.
CCSD59 may very well have the best digital media team in the country. The district makes this list not only because of their strong website design, but because of the beauty and value of their visual content. Their cinema-quality video has made its mark on the national stage already (if you haven't seen the Future Ready video yet, check it out here), while the "59 in :59" series celebrates the people that make up CCSD59's heart and soul. The natural integration of photography, video, and interactive design elements throughout the website make for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Derby Public Schools stood out as one of the few districts to include a direct acknowledgement of the "Future Families" audience segment. While other districts provide a basic "About Us" page, Derby's simple act of personalizing the experience makes a difference in how it's perceived. The quick links stuck to the right side of the screen are a unique element that allows this district to save space in its menu while providing one-click access to key destinations.
We have previously featured Garland ISD's outstanding work in the realm of parent engagement, and their website is a testament to the commitment they've made in that area. In fact, the very first link a visitor sees in the district's menu is titled "For Parents." You can tell a lot about an organization's priorities by looking at their home page. A diverse selection of quick links and a slick, card-based design for content delivery make it easy for any of GISD's web visitors to find what they're looking for.
For a non-traditional school system, messaging and awareness are even more important than they are for a typical public school district. LCTI blends some strong navigational elements for its community with a multimedia promotional section for those doing their research before enrollment. This website clearly demonstrates the benefits of CTE while incorporating LCTI's culture and personality in a branding effort that works.
Little Falls makes white space look good. This elegant website is free of the clutter most districts get when trying to present too much information. Little Falls avoids that trap by keeping things simple and above the fold wherever possible. It was nice to see the announcement of Little Falls' top workplace award featured in the rotating banner at the top of the home page. This is yet another example of how your organization's culture and priorities should be reflected on your home page. Little Falls already looks like a fun place to work, before I've even clicked on anything.
Oak Ridge was the only district I stumbled upon that used a looping video in place of a static image or rotating banner at the top of its home page. The effect is brilliant. After we've had a chance to take in the moving combination of arts and science at the very top, we scroll down to find a short text paragraph that supplements what we've just seen with a clear, concise, and unique picture of the district's mission. It's a classic elevator pitch with a healthy dose of culture, and it sets the tone for everything that follows.
The SCPS website is a marvel on any device, but its intuitive design makes for an especially pleasant experience at the mobile level. The "I Want To" menu option is an indicator that the webmaster understands the district's audience and has done the research to identify the most popular destinations.
Instead of the traditional drop-down menus for granular links, SCPS offers landing pages by persona, then presents relevant content in an engaging and orderly fashion. In terms of pure navigation experience, Seminole County Public Schools is the gold standard.
Vancouver Public Schools rounds out our list on the strength of its content and superintendent's corner. Dr. Steven Webb, a finalist for National Superintendent of the Year in 2016, does more than just talk about engaging with his district community. From a 53-episode podcast series called "Webb eNews," to an engaging "On the Job with Steve" video (with 55,000 views!) that follows Dr. Webb's journey through a day of teaching kindergarten, it's clear that this is a district where culture is driven from the very highest levels of leadership.
Your superintendent is the face of your district - if transparency and communication are a priority, he or she should carve out a prominent corner of your website and keep it updated with new content on a regular basis.
The benefits of a website redesign are many, the risks small. No matter what your site looks like now, all it takes is a little commitment to transform your web presence from one that turns people away to one that offers a more accurate reflection of what your district really stands for. Build your brand and show your community that you're committed to delivering a better experience.