Wired for engagement – the Schoolwires blog

Getting it right: Custom design should mean “unique” and “from scratch”

Posted by Debbora Woods on 9/18/14 9:00 AM


Guest Bloggers: Gina Beisel, Sr. Manager of Creative Services and Meghan Hawk, Creative Design Team Lead

Lately we’ve seen some website providers tout “customized” websites by claiming they offer custom templates and dedicated designers for their clients. It may sound enticing, but it is important to define these terms so district leaders evaluating content management systems can make an informed decision.

Schoolwires has over 14 years of experience with K-12 districts, and we’ve always viewed ourselves similar to an independent design agency that provides unique website designs, created from scratch. And, it’s not just the website that’s unique, but we offer a total experience that goes beyond picking out colors, logos, and design elements.

There’s a big difference between being able to personalize your K-12 school websites with the school’s colors, logo, and pictures in a carousel compared to a truly unique design built from the ground up. The Schoolwires Creative Design Team is commited to delivering the template design that meets each district's needs - from pre-designed templates that provide a uniform look across the district, to a truly unique design that no other district can claim. Let’s explore the Schoolwires difference:

  • We start the process by assigning you a dedicated Project Manager / Designer that works with you from beginning to end.
  • The Designer listens to learn your overall goals for the website, discusses usability, and works with you to make the most of your content layout.
  • Your dedicated Designer takes your vision, goals, and ideas to create a unique design all your own – no one else will have a website that looks like your district's.
  • You can monitor progress at every step of the design and provide input to changes you want made – your design is not complete until you’re 100% satisfied.
  • Functionality is always considered so that the website is easy to maintain and fun to interact with.

With a satisfaction rating higher than 98% and more than 14 years of success, including several award winning designs, Schoolwires is the right choice for your district's website design!

So, if you’re interested in a truly unique website all your own, Schoolwires is the partner for you! Take a look at our Custom Design Gallery and then Schedule A Demo

Topics: School Websites, Custom Design

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

How to build the worst K-12 website in 6 easy steps

Posted by Debbora Woods on 7/10/14 9:00 AM


Guest bloggers: Chris Buecksler, Cari Rhoades, and Kristi Gottwalt

Our Marketing Operations Team got together to brainstorm for this post, and we feel it’s a pretty great list! Enjoy…

  1. Make the content on your website hard to find. Bury it if you have to -- everyone loves a challenge! Who doesn't want to spend countless hours searching for updates from the board meeting, finding the school lunch menu, or learning where sporting events are located? Site search, bologna. Why would you want to add site search? It's just going to take the fun out of finding the content you've worked so hard to bury.
  2. Make sure it's hard to update content on it. After all, the fewer people in your district that know how to make changes, the more job security for you!
  3. Absolutely do not pay attention to enhancements that surrounding districts, charter schools, private schools, or online academies are making to their websites. It’s not like you are competing with them for anything.
  4. Just have one person update your whole district's content. Nothing builds character like going it on your own, and your website visitors will hardly notice the lack of updates or frustrating user experience.
  5. Don’t consider mobile users. Assume everyone will be viewing your site from a desktop computer. If by chance someone stops by your site from their phone or tablet, they’ll still be able to find what they need -- eventually. Even if more than 60% of Americans own a smart phone, and smart phone traffic is expected to grow by 50% in 2014, it’s probably just a fad. No need to worry about that!
  6. Ignore your audience. This is YOUR website. Make sure you only post about what you care about. If you are interested in the arts, focus on that! Make sure you keep everyone up-to-date on the latest performances and exhibits. Who really cares about student achievement, outstanding teachers, curriculum updates, or athletic events?

Okay, let's not really go to those extremes! We want to ensure your K-12 district and school websites are informing and engaging your stakeholders with content that's easy to find, when they need it. So, we asked some of our clients to give us tips to help your K-12 community tap into the vast potential of your district's website.

Download Your Copy

P.S. If you're attending the CGCS Annual Public Relations Executives Meeting this weekend, check out the Schoolwires-sponsored Closing Keynote on 7/13 at 10:00 AM with Ann Handley of MarketingProfs. Get a copy of "Content Rules" and meet Ann at her book signing afterward!

Topics: K-12, School Websites, Website Best Practices, Community Engagement

TAKE ACTION to Save E-rate Funding for Your School Websites

Posted by Debbora Woods on 6/26/14 9:00 AM


As you may already know, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is working to develop new regulations for modernizing the E-rate program that is used by schools to help subsidize 21st century technology and Internet connectivity. While the new regulations are intended to expand broadband and digital learning, they may also eliminate funding for school and district websites nationwide.

School websites are the mainstay of modern school communication -- vital to parent engagement, online learning, and emergency communication.

If the FCC eliminates E-rate funding for websites, thousands of districts will be forced to cut already tight budgets in technology, staffing, or other educational programs. This would hurt schools, students and families.

Together with school districts and national associations, we are asking the FCC to maintain funding for school websites and to classify Web hosting at the same level of priority as broadband so it continues to receive priority funding support.

Congress needs to hear from YOU directly so that they know your views and can stand up for continued E-rate support for school websites.

Every individual voice matters – Please go to www.erate4schoolwebsites.org and click on the TAKE ACTION NOW button. Sample letters have already been drafted. Just enter your email address and zip code and the letters will be sent to your representatives.

Thank you.

Topics: School Websites, E-rate Funding

A Checklist for Your K-12 Website Success

Posted by Debbora Woods on 6/24/14 10:00 AM


Last month I was reading a great MarketingProfs article entitled "Is Your Website Dead or Just Sleeping? A Vital Six-Point Checklist for Your Site." Although it was written with B2B marketers in mind, it provided some great tips that educators can use to ensure your K-12 websites are informing, engaging, and communicating with your community the way you need them to. Here are the six tips to follow:

  1. Is it usable? Here’s an obvious point – if your students, parents, staff, and community can’t navigate to the information they need, they won’t use your website! So, use headings, bullet points, a search function, keywords, and readable font sizes, just to name a few.
  2. Is it responsive? The majority of people access your website on a mobile device. Does your website give them a great user experience, eliminating the need for pinching and zooming? Or is it causing frustration?
  3. Is it focused? Students want to know when assignments are due and when the next test is scheduled. Parents want to know about district news and events. Give them what they want in a concise, clear manner.
  4. Is it sociable? People typically would rather look at photos or watch a video over reading a bunch of text on your website. Show off your student graduation with a video. Post photos of students enjoying a field trip.
  5. Is it direct? Ask your website visitors to interact with you. Need to know their support on a bond issue? Have them take a survey. Want parents to enroll their kindergartners early rather than waiting last minute? Encourage them to enroll online.
  6. Is it fast? Parents need to know critical info in a short amount of time as they run from music lessons to sporting events to the grocery store. They are in a hurry. Make sure your website pages load quickly – compress your page assets as much as possible, use a reliable hosting site, and ensure the platform is a solid content delivery network.

Is this a lot to consider? Yes! And Schoolwires is here to help, from designing easy-to-navigate responsive websites, to ensuring integration with your technology tools already in place, to creating a downloadable school district mobile app, to providing reliable hosting – we’ve got you covered!

Topics: K-12, School-to-Home Communication, School Websites, Website Best Practices

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