Alvin Independent School District looks to Schoolwires® to support growth
|Alvin Independent School District looks to Schoolwires® to support growth|
Alvin Independent School District has growing pains. The 250-square-mile district, located in suburban Houston, Texas, was known for its small town appeal. But development of a planned community in the 1990s triggered a population explosion. As a result, the Alvin district has experienced 33 percent growth since 1999 and projects its current enrollment of 18,200 could soon reach 25,000.
With the growth in enrollment came the need for additional staff, facilities, and IT support. Alvin’s leadership soon realized that the district’s website needed to be its welcome mat to the district. Unfortunately, the six-year-old website didn’t reflect the image the district wished to project.
“The website is the first impression many people get of the district,” said Daniel Combs, Alvin’s Director of Communications. “But ours lacked design creativity and functionality. It wasn’t synonymous with who we are or our brand. We needed to market ourselves, especially for recruitment of staff and teachers. It also needed to guide dialogue about the great things happening in our classrooms to improve community perceptions.”
From a usability standpoint, the website’s navigation was cumbersome and the in-house CMS capability was limited. With no dedicated website manager, the district had just one person who could make content updates. The provider had to change photos and graphics, and the district was charged for each update. The website also didn’t integrate with Web 2.0 tools.
Wanted: A website to grow with the district
Facing escalating technology and branding needs, the Alvin district knew it was time for a new website and a new provider. A committee of representatives from communications, information technology and human resources determined the “must-haves” for a website that could sustain the district’s growth:
A review of websites and providers narrowed the list down to three. Schoolwires emerged as the front-runner. The district had researched Schoolwires previously and knew it was considered the best. It also fulfilled Alvin’s list of “must-haves.” Using the RFP process, the Alvin district selected the Schoolwires Centricity2 product. The district signed the contract in March 2012 and development of a new website began in earnest.
Extreme Makeover – Website Edition
After the website foundation had been built by Schoolwires, the first step in migrating to the new site was a trip to Schoolwires’ headquarters in Pennsylvania for site launch consultation and training. Combs accompanied Jeff Burke, Alvin’s HR Director for Secondary Schools, and Laura Perez, Executive Director of Technology Services, and all found it to be a positive and worthwhile experience.
Combs, who was new to the Alvin district, admits he was hesitant to go. “I was worried about being away from the office for a week. But our Schoolwires trainers were exceptional, and they did an unbelievable job both with training and building the site. It was worth the time and the trip,” he said.
As the site developed, the Alvin team noted very few issues. But one area of concern had been working with the existing logo. “The colors—copper and burnt orange—can be hard to match. We were pleasantly surprised with the color match that Schoolwires came up with,” Combs said. “The new website has a very aesthetic appearance that complements our branding.”
Burke seconds Combs sentiments. “The design is phenomenal; more than we expected. It’s got a customized, scholarly look to it and really stands out.”
CMS quick to learn, easy to use
Alvin chose Schoolwires primarily for its ease of use. “We had some staff with limited content management knowledge and experience, so we needed something they could learn quickly that would make it easy for them to keep their pages updated,” said Combs.
Sure enough, staff discovered the CMS was quick to learn. “Our Web graphic designer had it down in just forty-five minutes,” he said.Teacher training began in the summer so they could create their pages in time for the new school year. Centricity2 integrates with Web 2.0 tools, so they look forward to using videos and podcasts, which weren’t available with the old website.
The district also recognized the need to bulk up the parents section. “People think parents know everything about the school, but that’s not always true,” Burke said. “The parent section on the old site was just text, but now we can build it out with more information that’s easy for parents, the community and other stakeholders to navigate. It’s visually attractive, and simple to use.”
In light of the district’s growth projections, Alvin keeps an eye on the future. Leadership is particularly interested in leveraging the website to integrate other database and intranet technology tools to create a unified experience.
The Human Resources department is interested in plug-in applications to help recruit employees. “We currently use an external HR technology provider, but we look forward to working with Schoolwires on an employee tracking app that integrates with the website,” Burke said.
As staff and faculty continue to add content, they understand that the site is an ongoing, evolving project and that there will always be ways to enhance it. “Our Schoolwires trainer told us we need to see the website from a plant perspective,” Burke said. “It needs to be watered so it can grow.”
By partnering with Schoolwires, the Alvin staff is confident in the growth and sustainability of its website, and as a result, is prepared for the growth and sustainability of the district, too.
How to make an easier transition
To ease the district’s transition to the new website, Alvin focused on these key components:
About Alvin Independent School District
Located outside Houston, Texas, Alvin enrolls 18,200 students in grades K-12, has 23 schools (two high schools, one academic alternative school, one behavior alternative school, five junior high schools and 14 elementary schools) and employs 2,500 people. The new Alvin website went live in July 2012. Check it out at www.alvinisd.net
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