Developing a School District Web Presence
What's All the Hype?
School districts across the country are rushing to get a web site "up and running." It seems that this rush is leading to the development of web sites that seem to serve no function other than to provide a 'presence' in cyberspace.
The true goal behind any school-based website should be to increase communication between a community and its schools. The success of a school web presence is all based on the delivery of content, not pretty colors, or neat downloads.
In this tutorial we'll walk you through the organizational process of creating a district web presence. This process is very time consuming and requires a dedicated staff.
Organizing the Project
By looking at most district websites, it's clear to see that "organization" is the fundamental variable that separates a good site from a great site. Consider the following:
1. The entire process should be overseen and orchestrated by the central administration of the school district.
2. The central administration should elect a committee to oversee the project. The committee members should be computer literate and have a basic understanding of the how to surf the Internet. The committee should represent members from all the groups that have the ability to benefit from the website.
3. The commiteee should have an adequate number of brain storming sessions to decide what should be offered on the site. In addition, the committe members should investigate what other schools have produced.
4. Once a conceptual design is considered, members should identify ten or less catergories to be represented on the site. The catergories represent the main subsections of the website.
5. Decide what will be offered within each subsection. Make sure it will consist of information that is of public interest.
6. The committee should then begin to develop a district policy for posting information on the web site, i.e., who can post information, when can information be posted, and what can be posted.
7. Make sure not to allow staff to post student names or pictures on your site without the consent of the students and their parents. Get it in writing! If it can be avoided, do not allow student information to be posted.
What Does it Cost?
If your district plans to hire an outside party to fully develop your site, expect to pay anywhere for $7,000 to $35,000, depending on the size of the site. A lot of web firms will also make a template (basic layout) design for your school for about $800 to $2500 dollars. Using this method, allows you to start off with a professional looking site.
Of course if you design the site in house there are still some associated costs you should consider including:
1. Domain Names-
This gives the school web site an address (i.e. www.yourschoolname.org). Many schools purchase domain names which run about $30 per year.
2. Web Space-
This is where the actual web pages, pictures, and sounds are physically located so that they can be accessed via the Internet. Many web hosts offer reduced shared hosting rates, but the average rate is $20 per month.
3. Web Design Software-
There are a great deal of programs that help you develop web pages, pictures, and sounds. They vary in cost and educators do usually receive discounts on these programs. Expect to spend about $200 for a nice package of software for this aspect. We will cover this software in great detail in an upcoming tutorial.
Grabbing a Domain Name
Domain names are easy to get. You just need $30 and a name that's not taken. To register a name, try a reputable company like "network solutions." They allow you to register your domain. You basically search to see if the name you would like is taken. Then if it's available, you lease the name for a period of time through companies like "network solutions."
Deciding on a Web Designer
If money is not an issue, you should definitely hire a reputable web design firm to handle the site for you. Make sure to see a portfolio of their work and contact a few of their clients by e-mail. Hiring an outside firm takes a great deal of responsibilty off the district hands. The going rate is about $70-100 per hour for a pro designer, or about $10,000 to $15,000 for a site consisting of 100 pages.
If you hire an in-house person, make sure he or she is highly motivated. Most teachers or subordinates that are hired for such projects will fizzle out in a couple of months when they see the amount of work it takes. Gauge potential success by success in the classroom. We find that highly-skilled teachers would be good at what ever job they choose.
You can also consider hiring a web firm to kick off the project and then just hire an in-house person to maintain and update the site.
Securing Web Space
In order for people to view a web site, the site must be stored on a web server. You go about securing web space by either purchasing or leasing space on a web server.
Don't buy a web server just to save your web page. Districts that own a web server also have the ability to provide their schools Internet access through the server. Servers are great to have, but they also require trained staff to maintain them. Some schools are hiring staff to take charge of this, but the most cost-effective and logical method is hiring an outside firm to do it for you.
If you just want web space and don't want to deal with the headaches of maintaining a server, leasing web space is the best option. It is best to go with a very large company that has some history. These types of outfits are more reliable and usually provide better customer support.
What Should You Include on a District Web Site?
- Alumni Information
- District Policies, School Policies, Internet Use Policies, Safety Policies
- PTA Information, Committee Information
- Fun Links, Links for Teachers (we suggest www.teach-nology.com )
- Parenting Information
- Education News
- School Schedueles
- Student Projects
- After School Activities List
- Grade-level, Teacher, and Department Pages
- Homework Assignments
- Teachers' Class Calendars
- Cafeteria Menus, School Calendar
- Biographies of Staff and e-mail Addresses (not personal)
- Sports Schedule, Scores, Try-out Information.
- School Announcements and Events
- Administartive and School Board News
- State and National Standards
- General Community Information
- School Motto, Vision, and Mission.
Remember, no personal information about anybody!
The Bottom Line
Is it all worth the effort? If it done right, you bet! Imagine the degree of communication between a school and its community.
Let's get beyond "school" sprit and extend into "community spirit." This a perfect medium for residents to understand more about the district in their area. It may even help you sway the budget vote in your favor. The web creates a level playing field. Your web presentation could be just as great, if not better, than the largest in the country. Good-bye inequality!
One thing that we have seen a great deal over the years is the creation of pages and sites that serve no purpose and can sometimes actually lower the perception of a district. Make sure your page is "functional," otherwise don't bother!