If You Build It Right, They Will Come: Easy-to-Use Content Management Systems Are Helping Schools and Districts Create Websites That Appeal to the Eye-And to Users

Article excerpt

YOU'RE RELAXING AT HOME on a Thursday evening, but the phone call means trouble. Local favorite Flopsy the Clown can't host tomorrow night's annual Aaron Burr High School dance-a-thon after all. However, he can show up to introduce Saturday afternoon's performance of the Alexander Hamilton Middle School jazz quintet. You're the events coordinator for the school district--what can you do to notify people in time? The last two things you want are a dissatisfied mob at the dance and low turnout at the concert. But you don't have time to call 7,521 families, even with speed dial. Is there any way to save the community from chaos and yourself from humiliation?

There is if you have a good content management system--if your school community uses a website that can not only publicize events but also send out timely alerts. From the comfy chair of your home office, you log on to the district's site, navigate to the appropriate page, calmly type out the clever 32-point headline "Flopsy Drops Hop, Opts for Pops," and provide the necessary details. With an authoritative click, you send the message to everyone who's anyone, confident that by the weekend personal schedules will be rearranged accordingly. Once again, you're the hero.

New and Improved

It wasn't always like this. Listen to Bob Asselin. He's the technology integration specialist at the Windham School Department in Maine. Windham is a bedroom community outside Portland--two elementary schools, one middle school, one high school, and one alternative high school. Asselin spent 29 years teaching high school biology, then decided to get a master's degree in computer education. In 2002 he moved into his current position, and in 2004 he determined that the district needed a content management system.

Why? "Our web pages were abominable," Asselin says. Each school had its own website, with one person per school designated to enter data. There was no consistency among the sites; the district had no signature look or feel. People in the community were constantly complaining about not getting enough information in a timely manner. "We just didn't have the time or resources to keep everything updated and consistent," says Asselin. "We were in bad shape." What Windham needed was the help of a professional.

Enter Savvy Software (www.besavvy.com), out of Portsmouth, NH. Bill Savoie, company president, says the company's content management system doesn't have "bells and whistles, but most schools don't need bells and whistles." The interface of Savvy's text editor looks like Microsoft Word. You can update your content, construct and use calendars, and put up PDFs. The entire system can be set up in three weeks. Users know which events are happening, where, and when, even in cases of last-minute scheduling changes.

Asselin began incorporating Savvy into the Windham school system in July 2004. By the beginning of the school year, the changes were in place and the site was ready. What's different? Before, there were five people entering data; at last count, there are now 234. Secretaries are empowered to put newsletters online. High school clubs manage their own section of the site. Last year's state conference on "Technology and the Law" featured a seminar on school technology that used Windham's website as an example of what kind of content to publish. Now, says Asselin, everyone wants a web page; he gets constant requests from groups such as the Boy Scouts and the PTA to set up their own pages on the system. Asselin remembers when the Windham community members were unaware of upcoming events. He says that now "they can click on when an event is taking place and even find out how to get there. People are relying on it. The parents love it."

Elaine Herzig, a parent of three children in two Windham schools as well as a PTA board member, says she uses the site to check school calendars, information on bus routes, staff listings, updates on school issues, the new transportation policy, teachers' classroom reports, and links to the community. …