Dexter Community Schools launched new website this week

Parents and students visiting the Dexter Community Schools website in search of information during the final days and weeks of summer leading up to the new school year might notice something a tad different about what they’re seeing on their screens.

Earlier this week, the district deployed its new website, created by Glasbury, Connecticut-based FinalSite School Website Software & Solutions in cooperation with DCS Director of Communications and Office Management Hope Vestergaard and the Board of Education’s Communications Committee.

The site has a shallow page and file hierarchy structure so visitors don’t have to click more than two or three times to get to the information they’re looking for, and the site navigation is contextually adaptable so that the sections and pages that are pertinent to the user are front-and-center in the site’s navigation based on what portion of the site is loaded onto their browser at any given time.

“One of the goals was getting back to best practices for best website design thinking,” Vestergaard said. “There’s also a tab for students and a tab for staff to create clearing houses of the most often used site areas for those two different groups of visitors.”

FinalSite not only designed the website, but will provide maintenance services, web-hosting and other support services for a five-year period at a rate of $15,500 per year, with a subsequent five-year contract period costing the district $10,500 per year after the first term expires. (see the resolution hiring FinalSite passed in March of 2014 at the end of this article)

Board of Education member and also member of the board’s Communications Committee Barbara Read has been vocal on the district’s need for a modern, quality web presence since her election to the board in 2012.

Read’s position is that the district needs to compete with Michigan charter schools online in order to attract and retain students. Her argument has been that just attracting or retaining one or two students per year because of a more attractive web presence can more than pay for the yearly costs of hiring a professional web development company for the task.

“The website is the face of the district,” Read said in previous reports in The Dexter Leader in 2013. “I feel that we have an ordinary website. It has your color banner across the top and the drop down menus … it’s something that you might expect to see when you go to a (typical) school district. What I’ve understood in the short time that I’ve been on the board is that you’re really looking for something more and bigger.

“We are competing with local charter and private schools for students … we want something that stands out and says, ‘Come to Dexter … we have something extraordinary to offer you.'”

Vestergaard echoed Read and her fellow committee-member Ron Darr’s desire to communicate more often and effectively with the public through the website, as evidenced in the site structure.

“From a user point of view the platform that we have is really adaptable there being different information for different areas, and each school building has their own area, but each department also has their own, so the most useful information is there for the people who use pages specific to them all of the time,” Vestergaard explained.

The public can also subscribe to building, program and event specific alerts, so folks with high school students aren’t getting updates on buildings and departments that may not pertain to them.

The bulk of the data importing and page building has been taking place since March, according to Vestergaard, who has been simultaneously handling those duties and transitioning into her new role after the retirement of longtime DCS Superintendent’s Office Administrative Director Mona Auerbach.

The end result is a website that made mention in the FinalSite’s email roundup, particularly for the district’s use of high quality embedded video on its pages.

“I think you get a different feeling when you see people in spaces (in the videos), rather than just a still photo which doesn’t give you as much of an emotional reaction,” Vestergaard explained. “It makes what’s going on in the district look engaging. When people see the video, I see them reacting to different things. I think when people see kids moving in a space they think, ‘I can picture my student there.'”

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