Published: Friday, 26 February 2016 23:00
Written by Brian Jaeger
I've seen a lot of websites used by hundreds of school districts. Most of them are large and cumbersome, but they mostly get the job done. Large school districts that want student logins tied to grading systems, attendance reports, and even online learning tools into a website that is often also the front-facing website for your customers to see. You don't have customers, you're thinking, right? Wrong. Whether you run a private school or a public school, you have paying customers, and if they knew how much you spend each year on all your online tools, they'd be very surprised, and probably a bit disappointed. Your school district needs a top-of-the line website, regardless of the other tools you might need to make your schools run efficiently.
Why are so many websites so bad? The companies that cater to schools want to provide every tool, but they can usually only provide one that does any one thing well, which means you buy an attendance and grading program from one company, then a website and online learning system from another. Both programs offer a version of what the other does, but you've found nothing that does all of it well. The companies that sell you these systems are fine with that, since they still get thousands of dollars for the one part they can provide, even if you have to go elsewhere for the rest, even if that system costs thousands more. You might even be purchasing a separate, dedicated website run by school website development company, and your site will look just like hundreds of other school sites, with someone in your school left to make it look pretty. However, that's a fairly impossible task, based on the older systems being used by these companies.
My advice would be to get a great website, pure and simple. Yes, you still have to buy some of the other programs, but don't skimp on the website by trying to make one of the other programs do the job. I've seen way too many Google Sites or other cheap ways to nearly get the job done. I've also seen too many old business or even calendar systems reconstituted as school websites because of the ability to add users and maybe have a forum. Google Sites can be great for a purpose, it's just not really to be the main place people see when visiting your website.
The truth is that a decent freelance web designer can handle what most school districts would need, at least for what the public will see. Use Moodle or Google Classroom for the rest, if that's your thing, but just hire a pro to build something nice to look at for all those taxpayers or paying parents. Use the savings to buy some Chromebooks or even real books. Take a look at what I can do at Luthernet or Passive Ninja.