For many parents and students, www.clinton.k12.nc.us is a major link between themselves and educational matters within Clinton City Schools.
With a revamped website, school leaders are looking forward to improving that connection. John Lowe, HomeBase Coordinator, and other school officials are currently putting the final touches on it. The website went live Thursday, June 25, and was built using Google technology. Last fall, CCS became a Google Apps for Education system, which provided them the next platform. Initial conversations for the endeavor began in October for establishing focus groups and researching other sites.
Stakeholders were concerned about not having easy access to forms or a teacher’s contact information. Therefore, Lowe and other schools made a decision to make changes. Faith Jackson, community liaison, added that the website was not user-friendly.
“It’s definitely a different look,” Jackson said.
“We looked at several avenues and we could have gone to other web hosting clients,” Lowe said regarding a focus group. “We had some teachers who looked at some school websites and made some suggestions.”
But one of benefits of using the Google system is not having to pay for it. Another factor was the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) changing funding for the Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries, or E-rate for short. Its purpose is to help make telecommunications and information services more affordable. Lowe noted how schools are going to have to pay full price for web hosting in 2017 instead of having a 70 or 80 percent discount.
“We chose the free option,” Lowe said about using Google. “It’s going to be a cost savings over the next few years.”
Previously, it cost the district about $3,000 per year. To begin with a new vendor, it would have cost a little more due to the implementation of a new system. Beyond 2016, it may have cost the district $12,000 annually for web hosting because of the new E-rate regulations.
“That can go back to the classroom,” Jackson said.
Lowe said it was a deciding factor, although the Google platform may not satisfy every user.
“With any web hosting platform, you are restricted to what they allow you to do in their platform,” he said. “So there were some small elements we weren’t able to completely accomplish, but because of the cost savings and the updated features the Google sites were very appealing.”
With the new interface, the site has a built-in search feature. The calendar is also a major upgrade. Previously, Lowe said it was a challenge to post and mix postings from other schools and the district’s central office. At one point, someone from the office had to enter postings from every school so it would show up on the district’s homepage.
“It’s much easier to share,” Lowe said about using the Google Calendars system. “Now if a user at the school puts an event on the school calendar, it automatically populates on the homepage.”
The color-coded calendars are also available for patrons with Google accounts and may be printed.
Lowe said visitors should have an easier navigation experience, with everything being posted on the left side of the screen on all sites. Jackson said a goal of the change is to make sure a website has everything a parent or student needs. It also has a “Connect with Us!” section with links to social media sites. Another improvement is a section that includes links to news articles about Clinton City Schools.
“We’re listening to our stakeholders as well,” she said. “Things they want to see, we’re trying to make happen on this site.”
In the past, Lowe said there was a vision for every teacher to have a webpage. But he also noticed how a lot of educators are busy and have limited time when it comes to updating pages. With the new format, a teacher can easily produce a Google page or other learning management systems.
“They’re encouraged to do so, but they are no longer required to host a class or teacher page,” Lowe said. “They have so many other avenues to communicate with their parents and students to see grades and attendance.”
One challenge is transferring the data, which comes with an additional cost. Lowe said it took a lot of manhours and required a contract through SkyBound Marketing in Raleigh, which was completed using a bid process.
“Now, it’s going to take some time to tweak, clean and adjust to get it exactly where we want,” Lowe said about making adjustments before school begins. “We’re definitely on our way.”