Building Better School and District Websites with Katonah-Lewisboro S.D.
When Katonah-Lewisboro School District (KLSD) transitioned to their new eChalk site in 2016, they looked at it as an opportunity to reimagine the way they organized and presented information to their community. Their hard work shows in district and school websites that are visually appealing, easy to navigate and beautifully coordinated together. Lenore Person, the district Communications Specialist, shared some of their lessons learned and school website best practices with us.
Creating a Coordinated Online Family of School Websites
KLSD, located in Westchester County, New York, is home to three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. When they built their new eChalk websites, it was important to the district that the school and district websites all worked together as a coordinated whole, both visually and structurally.
They selected the eChalk Brochure theme for all of the websites, which allowed them to showcase some stunning photos of their schools and students. Using the same theme and colors across all of the schools provides visual continuity and a strong sense of shared community as website visitors move from site to site.
To make things easier for website visitors, navigation and page structure is also harmonized across all of the sites. For example:
Each site has a set of icons right under the school name and motto to provide fast navigation back to District Home, Our Schools, the Parent Portal and the Staff Directory.
Elementary schools share the same top navigation structure (School Info, Parents, Students, Staff, Contact Us and District Calendar). John Jay Middle School and John Jay High School also share a navigation structure (School Info, Athletics and Clubs, Departments, Students & Parents, Teacher Pages, More).
The home pages for the district and each school site have the same page layout and basic elements, including Announcements, Upcoming Events, a photo carousel, Newsworthy, Quick Links, and a message from the Superintendent or Principal.
Best Practices From KLSD
The district has continued to refine and improve their websites since the initial rollout. Lenore shared some of the lessons learned along the way and the best practices she recommends to other district website leaders.
Think of your homepage as a magazine cover. After living with their new site for several months, the district made some additional changes to the homepages that transformed them into the clean, appealing look they have today. Lenore says that the epiphany for her was realizing that the home pages need to function like a magazine cover: they just need to tease the content, not present all of it at once. Their redesigned homepages are much shorter and are designed to let people quickly find and link to other content.
Trust your architecture to guide people to content. Make sure navigation is simple and intuitive so people are guided to what they need. Use Quick Links on the homepage for the content they need the most, but don’t overdo it—everything does not have to be on the homepage. If the navigation structure is working, people will find what they need.
Keep page layout consistent so people know where they will find different types of information. All of the individual home pages have the same layout and types of content blocks. Upcoming Events can be found on the left-hand side right under the banner image on each home page. The district makes a clear distinction between the use of Emergency Alerts (for critical, time-sensitive information such as school closings), the top Announcement feed (for seasonal school and district information), and a “Newsworthy” section (for sharing stories about the people, programs and events in the district). Quick Links, in the lower left corner of each district or school home page, are reserved for links that remain permanent throughout the school year.
Take advantage of eChalk’s News Feeds. Lenore says this trick “changed her life!” She maintains six different news feeds: one for the district and one for each school. The news feeds tie back to content on the district or school website. They keep the home pages clean; instead of adding a new content block to the home page for an announcement, content appears in the news section with a link to “read more.” Using news feed also makes it much easier to share content across multiple websites. Instead of recreating the content on each school’s website, she simply copies and pastes the link to each news feed where she wants it to appear. Content blocks within eChalk can combine multiple news feeds, making it even easier to share content between district and school sites.
Take the time to properly size pictures for the content block where they will appear. Cropping and sizing pictures appropriately makes KLSD’s sites look much more polished and professional. Lenore uses a program called Canva to resize pictures for the website.
Keep photo carousels brief and seasonal. Lenore recommends using fewer pictures in the photo carousel (no more than 6-8) and changing them frequently to highlight seasonal activities and events at the schools.
Have clear roles and responsibilities for website contributors. eChalk makes it easy to share the work of maintaining school and district websites. However, Lenore recommends restricting access to some areas of the website to avoid potential confusion. For example, she manages the news feeds, and the Assistant to the Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction is the only person who touches the district calendar.
Set clear content policies and lines of communication. The school secretaries end up managing much of the website work for the individual schools. While eChalk is designed to be easy to use and does not require a technical or programming background, Lenore says it has been important to have point people at the district level who can answer questions. These may be questions about the application, but they are often questions about district policy for different types of content (e.g., “should this information go in a news feed or be added as a quick link?”). Setting clear policies and making sure people know where they can go if they have questions has helped them keep everything consistent across all of the district’s websites.
All of this thought and hard work shines through when visitors navigate across the district and school websites. Great work, Katonah-Lewisboro School District!