Magazine article District Administration

Maximum Web Management: Consider Homegrown, Open Source or Commercial Websites to Engage Your Community

Magazine article District Administration

Maximum Web Management: Consider Homegrown, Open Source or Commercial Websites to Engage Your Community

Article excerpt

A district's website presents contrasting demands. It needs to be a constant digital presence: always up and always available. Yet its content and functionality are ever changing.

District leaders nationwide solve this two-pronged challenge with commercial, locally-developed or open source software that lets them add new functions and content to keep their communities informed and engaged.

A district's choice of software depends largely on the IT resources. "It's a classic technology decision-making process," says Greg DeYoung, chief information officer and executive director for information technology at Blue Valley Schools in Kansas. "All paths can get you to the same goal, but it's a matter of how much flexibility you want and what resources are available to properly support it."

About 48 percent of districts rely on commercial software for their websites, according to Christiane Crawford, vice president of K12 community engagement solutions with Blackboard. (Earlier this year, Blackboard acquired Schoolwires, which provides website, hosting and content management to K12 schools.) The remaining 52 percent have websites that are either homegrown, open source or developed by local boutique providers.

Design for multiple devices, channels

An effective school website should incorporate social media and other popular online tools. For example, the home page should provide one-click access to the district's Facebook page and Twitter feed. Conversely, links on Twitter and Facebook often take visitors back to a district website for more information. This seamless integration makes it easy for visitors to connect with the district through multiple channels.

It's also crucial to ensure that calendars, annual reports and any content display well on any mobile device. "Doing mobile well takes a lot of coding, and coding takes time," says Blackboard's Crawford. "The content needs to be delivered so that it is responsive to any device. People shouldn't have to pinch and zoom to see something."

Additionally, content pushed out through a website also should be transmitted by text message, voicemail and other methods so constituents get the information through the channel of their choice. Districts must also ensure they or their vendors keep up with changing regulatory demands for accessibility and privacy, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and FERPA.

No tech support needed

Mariemont City Schools in Ohio chose to license a commercial website solution from Campus Suite because it made sense to find someone outside the district, says Josephine McKenrick, district spokesperson. "It's easier and more cost-effective to have someone else manage the technical aspects of it," she adds.

The software comes with a template for navigation and design--a big plus, says McKenrick. It helped the district determine what content to post and to create a streamlined, easy-to-navigate site.

Vendors also handle updates and maintenance of the software. For example, new versions of browsers sometimes require updates to website software so content continues to be presented well. Missing updates can result in images being cut off, along with other issues.

Another advantage of commercial software is that websites can be launched more quickly--it takes about eight weeks for districts to create a website, to migrate content from a previous site, and to go live, says Rob O'Leary, co-founder of eSchoolView, a provider of websites for K12.

Commercial software is also more secure than websites built on open source, which can be compromised, says O'Leary. He notes that some internet videos explain how to hack the code.

Most vendors also host the website, which means a district doesn't have to maintain its own servers.

Take control with custom software

District leaders who take the custom software approach say it gives them more control, better functionality and saves money. …

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