Wired for engagement – the Schoolwires blog

When K-12 website outsourcing really means webmaster empowerment

Posted by Debbora Woods on 3/17/15 9:00 AM


K-12 district webmasters lead a busy intersection of information that serves a cross-section of important needs: school board minutes and superintendent messages, weather and emergency alerts, school calendars and lunch menus for families, and information for prospective community members. Your audience is a populace of parents, students, education advocates, and educators alike who are savvy and expect to be informed.

If you ask any parent, the information at their fingertips is the most valuable information on the planet. How can you not only maintain and keep pace with the growing workload demands, but also lead the branding and voice of your community?

Check out our new article hot off the press: When website outsourcing really means webmaster empowerment.

You will discover:

  • Using CMS tools and functionality to share responsibilities of content publishing and editing
  • Catering to your needs, such as website design, implementation, hosting, staff training, and mobile communications
  • Delivering reliable solutions that allow you to share real-time, credible information with your K-12 community
  • And much more!

Download your copy today!

Topics: District Websites, Centricity2

Communications mix meets K-12 parents' expectations for information 'here and now'

Posted by Debbora Woods on 9/25/14 9:30 AM


Today’s digital parents have a common expectation. “It’s all about getting communications here and now. We’ve evolved from a culture of being patient to one of expecting information to reach us where we are right now and when we need it,” said Steven Anderson, former director of instructional technology at Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

However, the form of K-12 communications that parents want is varied. Some parents prefer videos; others gravitate to article postings, and others opt in for automated phone or text messages. That’s why Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools uses the many digital tools within its Schoolwires® Centricity2™ website and CMS to communicate with parents and engage them more in their child’s education. These include:

  • Teacher Web pages – every one of the district’s 4,000 teachers has a Web page to give parents a look inside the classroom walls.
  • District website – provides access to a broad range of information and resources to deepen parents’ understanding of school and district challenges and successes, and demonstrates transparency
  • Mobile access –the Schoolwires Web app lets parents view information and resources on the district website from their smartphones

“Winston-Salem/Forsyth county schools delivers information in different formats to meet the preferences of its large and varied parent base. We live in an information consumption culture, and the Schoolwires platform makes it easy for us to deliver information in a way that meets the expectations of our digital parents" – Steven Anderson

Read the entire article to learn the details of their success.

Topics: K-12, Teacher Web Pages, District Websites, Centricity2

A K-12 student’s perspective: Website user experience

Posted by Debbora Woods on 9/16/14 9:00 AM


Guest Blogger: Destiny W., High School Junior

My mom and I were chatting last weekend about how my high school has really improved their teachers' school-to-home communications. Then she asked me if I would write a short blog post from a student's perspective about my experiences. So, here goes...

As a junior in high school, I’ve come to the realization that the "easy way" does not always mean better outcomes, but it sure does when you're talking about user friendliness on websites.

From personal experience, I can attest to the statement that one website that has everything we students – and our parents - need, including teacher lecture videos, planbooks, assignments, and homework submission is the best route to travel (and the easier way). This is for a couple of logical reasons:

  1. Having everything needed by teachers, students, and parents on one website avoids the frustration of trying to memorize multiple URLs, multiple logins and passwords, and posting to multiple sites. Talk about a fractured and frustrating user experience. Been there, done that last year – and hated it! I had seven classes with seven different websites to check each night. Sometimes I missed assignments, which didn't go over well. And my mom had to write down seven different URLs and logins on a sheet of paper she kept next to our keyboard. I know, it wasn't safe at all, but it was better than forgetting all of them!
  2. Accessing everything needed in one central location, from lecture videos to homework assignments and the class calendar of events is a huge convenience factor. This year, my school's one-stop-hub makes everyone’s lives much easier! My classes each have their own teacher web pages linked to our school website. They provide critical information families need, such as links to grades, forms needing signed, dates for upcoming tests, and resources for studying. Now, I don’t miss any assignments or updates, and my mom can stay in the loop with what's happening in my classes. How easy is that?

We’re all busy and it feels like life is pulling us in multiple directions all at one time. When our schools provide one-stop websites to access the information we need, when we need it, then we all win!

Want to learn how Schoolwires provides one-stop communication hubs for your K-12 districts?

Learn About Centricity2

Topics: School-to-Home Communication, School Websites, Teacher Web Pages, District Websites

Dreams in the K-12 cloud: Part 1

Posted by Peter Weyandt on 8/26/14 9:00 AM


Guest Blogger: Peter Weyandt, Sr. Manager of Hosting and IT

Dreams are a wonderful thing. Especially when you can set goals and make plans that can bring those dreams to fruition.

As this summer winds down and our client K-12 districts and schools start ramping up for the new school year, I can only envision the amount of preparation that happens in order to successfully reach their dreams and goals. I imagine those goals start off with a successful "Back to School" program that engages parents, students, and teachers to get them excited for the new year.

About two years ago, I sat down with my technical management colleagues here at Schoolwires to do some dreaming of our own. I was new in my position managing our Hosting Operations team and was wondering how I could really have a positive impact and bring some innovation to an already highly functioning hosting operation. One area we identified for improvement was our uptime for start of school. My dream was to have 100% uptime for our clients' K-12 district websites and school websites during this hectic time of year. This is the time when K-12 districts and schools need reliable hosting for their websites in order to roll out the enormous amount of communications to parents, student, teachers, staff, and their community. And, it's no coincidence that as a result, our servers and network get a marathon-like workout at the start of the school year!

If you are a CTO or IT specialist, you know in the technology world that high utilization of systems can lead to downtime. And, server downtime - especially during the start of school - is a concern for districts. In order to ensure minimal to no downtime during the stressful, high-usage start of school period, we focus on our K-12 districts as our #1 goal.

I sketched out some dream ideas and turned to my Hosting Engineers, Cliff Moten and Michael Struble, to start identifying the critical goals we needed to make this happen, including:

  • Re-designing systems that had given us problems in the past
  • Recognizing ways to stabilize possible fail points
  • Ensuring we can quickly and effectively communicate issues - both internally and externally
  • Testing our new designs to ensure they meet the expected demand at the start of school

With our objectives lined up, we began to execute our plan. This may sound too technical for some of you, but IT types will love this...We replaced our existing world-class firewalls and load balancers with new state-of-the-art equipment that greatly increased our capacity. Then we replaced our existing Web clusters by creating them on new modular physical host pods. We also clustered virtual utility servers off of these physical host pods to isolate utility jobs away from our Web servers. Concurrently, we rewrote our communication processes and emergency procedures. Finally, we moved all our clients from the old environment to the new, while minimizing downtime. Here's the exciting news: when we conducted a computer simulation to load test our new creation at 140% of our expected start of school load, the results were successful!

A lot of hard work by my hosting team, combined with terrific guidance from my managers - and a little luck thrown in - resulted in a dream come true. 100% uptime for the start of the 2013 school year! As that school year came to a close, my team met again for our annual dreaming session, which of course included 100% uptime for this 2014 start of school season! Come back here on Thursday to read Part 2 and discover what we've been putting in place for our clients in 2014 to ensure we all have another successful start of school experience.

Updated 8/28/14: Check out Part 2 to this great story!

Want to learn more about our hosting operations? Visit our Services & Support Web pages today!

Topics: K-12, School Websites, Website Hosting, District Websites, Website Reliability

Homework assignment for you...sharing stories

Posted by Chris Buecksler on 8/14/14 9:00 AM


Guest Blogger: Christopher Buecksler, Schoolwires Director of Marketing Operations

Anyone who has ever had their written work edited has gotten the feedback: "Don't use three words when one will do." Easier said than done, right? Most times when we have an idea or thought we want to explain it in a way that everyone understands it. And, we tend to use more words than necessary trying to get our point across.

Last year, I had the good fortune to attend the MarketingProfs annual conference and was struck by one of the keynote presenters. Larry Smith presented on SixWordMemoirs.com, a method of writing about a topic and sharing stories using six words -- no more, no less. It's a fascinating exercise to force oneself to be not only concise, but very selective with the words chosen to tell the story.

So, I challenge you to employ this practice to tell the following story: In six words, tell us how your K-12 district website and/or school websites positively impact your K-12 community. Leave your six-word responses in the comments below. Visit the SixWordMemoirs website for inspiration, and check out why - in six words - we at Schoolwires do what we do:

  • Inspiring school districts to connect better
  • Driving better school to home connections
  • Engaging community better; higher student achievement
  • Supporting different K-12 connections; driving results
  • Achieving better parent engagement with websites
  • Driving inspired parent engagement, improved communication
  • Engaging community better so students succeed
  • Engaging K-12 community better; student thrive
  • Engaging parents differently so students achieve
  • Helping students achieve through community engagement

Topics: K-12, School Websites, District Websites, Storytelling

6 summer cleaning tips for your K-12 websites.

Posted by Debbora Woods on 7/31/14 9:00 AM


I can't believe the new 2014/15 school year is already upon us! As you clean your buildings, set up your teacher classrooms, and prepare for students' return, don't forget to update your district, school, and teacher websites too!

Here are a few tips we've heard from your peers about how they clean up their K-12 website and school websites that you might find helpful:

  1. Make it easy for families to find your location. Ensure your address, phone number, email address, map, and directions are all updated and accurate.
  2. Update your staff directory. Oftentimes, summer is when new staff members join the team and others retire or move to different opportunities. Make sure staff names, titles, locations, and contact information are up-to-date.
  3. Share important upcoming events. On your district calendar, make sure you have events such as first day of school, standardized testing, and board meetings listed. On your school calendars list orientation days, PTO meetings, Parent-Teacher-Student conferences, sporting events, and music performances. On your teacher page calendars, keep students and parents informed of field trips, volunteer opportunities, and curriculum test dates.
  4. Ensure links aren't broken. It can be frustrating to parents and students accessing resources on your pages if the links are broken. Make sure all links are working correctly.
  5. Update downloadable documents. The first part of the year seems to be the time that information home is at an all-time high! Make sure those student/parent handbooks, class curricula, sports physical forms, etc. are all up-to-date and can be easily downloaded.
  6. Venturing into the social space? Make sure your Twitter and Facebook feeds show up on your website. Afterall, your website should be your communities' one-stop hub for communication.

Of course, there are many more ideas that I could list, but I'd rather hear from you the best practices you use to update your district, school, and teacher web pages. Reply to this post with some other ideas for your peers - let's share!

To learn about other Schoolwires clients' successes with their websites, read their stories here>>

P.S. Happy cleaning!

Topics: K-12, School Websites, Teacher Web Pages, District Websites

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