New Web site receives mixed reviews

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By: Min Qiao <[email protected]>

In this new age of technology, the emphasis on a school’s “online look” is greater than ever. A recent study by the National School Public Relations Association showed that 10 years ago, most people’s impression of a school was its physical appearance. Now, the research shows that the first impression of a school is its Web site. With this new perception of the school, comes the responsibility of a better Web site, and Carmel Schools, including the high school, have updated their sites to reflect a more unified look.

According to Christi Cloud, the district manager for this project, the web has become a powerful public relations tool and is quickly becoming the first choice for users to find information.

“We have users from all over the world visiting our site to make decisions about where they wish to move and have their students attend school.” Cloud said. Carmel Clay Schools is a first class institution and we needed to update our Web site to reflect the excellence and opportunities that we have to offer. Our administration asked to investigate other K-12 Web sites and consider upgrading our capabilities,” she said.

Tony Willis, district communications coordinator for Carmel Clay Schools, all of the Carmel Clay Schools Web sites have been changed into a more cohesive look. In a way, Willis said the district has branded its Web sites with a uniformed look, a look that everyone will soon come to associate with Carmel Clay Schools.

“It was important for the quality of the school district to be represented by its 15 Web sites,” Willis said. “(The Web site) is the first place that people new to this school would interact with us.”

In addition to a physical appearance of uniformity in Web sites, Willis said another reason for this change was because of some communication problems that parents were having. Willis said that a common complaint that parents had was that there was no consistency among the Web sites. Parents had to learn different way of navigation on different Web sites.

“What really precipitated (the change of Web sites) were the lack of branding and the lack of ease of navigation,” Willis said.
Superintendent of schools Barbara Underwood made the call to change the sites four years ago. Since then, it has been a long process to conform all the schools’ Web sites into one look.

According to John Shearin, advisor of the Web team and a media specialist here, the school district hired a company called LightSky to design a template that satisfied Underwood. From there, the district first changed all of the elementary school Web sites, and then moved on to middle schools and eventually the high school, which officially went online on Feb. 5.

In addition to designing the Web sites, LightSky has also arranged for all the files to be hosted off site. That way, with all the traffic going through the new Web sites, the site’s bandwidth would not get clogged up, according to Shearin.

Shearin said that traditionally, the high school Web team, which consists of several students, has been in charge of designing the Web site, maintaining the server and updating its contents. Now that Web sites have been modified by LightSky, their jobs have changed a little.

“With the new Web site, (the Web team) has been in a period of transition,” Shearin said. “We still maintain the Web site, we have some files on our server here, but the importance of that server has immensely de-emphasized. The design feature is entirely out of the Web team’s hands. The design has been mandated by the central office, so the Web team will no longer have any input in the design. So they are doing less with the server, nothing with the design, but it still falls on the Web team to input all of the content.”

Responses to this change have run the gamut. William Zhang, Web team member and senior, said he does not see this as a positive change.

“The new Web site sucks,” he said. “Right now, since we just changed, we have to transition everything over. A lot of links were broken during the change, and they have shrunk a lot of stuff and gotten rid of a lot of the sections. We don’t have direct access to the files anymore. We can still edit the Web site, but it’s just not as convenient anymore,” he said.

“It has basically made our lives a lot harder, and we have a lot more stuff to do,” Zhang said. “I’ll be glad next year; it will be the underclassmen’s problem.”

Zhang said that the district can change all the other schools’ Web sites because they can’t really have elementary school kids working on their Web site, but high school students are knowledgeable. He feels that high school students have the skills to do everything, so the district should just let them maintain their own Web site, which Zhang said was a lot better than the new one.

Willis said that initial responses from his students were negative due to the adjustments to the navigation of the Web site. But, since students have learned how to find links on the new Web site, there haven’t been many strong opinions on it.

Cloud said that change is always difficult, but overall, she has heard wonderful comments regarding the new sites.

“Parents like being able to find the information in the same places on all of our schools’ Web sites. It is my understanding that when the new site was shared at Coffee with the Principal, for staff, that their reviews were very positive,” Cloud said.

Willis shares the same opinion. “I think that with anything new, there is always an adjustment period,” he said. “I am confident that after a few weeks, people will see that this design is an improvement on the previous design, especially as we address consistency.”