After over 200 years of educating students in eastern Maine, Hampden Academy, the oldest member of the seven-school RSU 22 school department, recently opened its doors to an all-new state-of-the-art facility. After years of planning and construction, one of the few remaining areas of improvement for the RSU 22 school district was its online presence.
Among the items in RSU 22’s Strategic Plan is “Goal #4 – Communications and Public Relations: to communicate with and engage residents of Hampden, Newburgh, Winterport, and Frankfort.”
The district’s original school websites, built on Google Sites, were not meeting that goal.
Additionally, RSU 22 had built a gorgeous new school, Hampden Academy, featuring a well-designed campus incorporating several of the system’s other schools. However, since so many people will walk through the digital doors before they open the physical ones, it seemed an injustice to not create an online environment as thoughtful and beautiful as the brick-and-mortar environment.
That’s why we were thrilled to launch a brand new network of websites for the RSU 22 school department.
Why is this part important?
Think about anywhere new you’ve gone lately — or anywhere you’re planning to go. That trip, now more than ever, likely starts online. You visit places digitally first before you venture to them physically. You do your research.
Your online identity must accurately represent the in-person experience your visitors will have. You need to convince people to come see you first. This is especially critical when a major part of your strategy is recruitment.
Creating a unique experience for RSU 22
RSU 22 had some major goals which we met by creating a custom theme unique to the RSU 22 school system. We integrated our new SchoolFlex suite of tools into a multi-site WordPress system. The resulting website helps RSU 22 meet its Strategic Plan goal as well as:
- Appeal to students and parents who are considering an RSU 22 school for their education
- Enable families to have a unified online experience as children move from school-to-school and offer a consistency which was lacking before
- React to a parent’s need to check tomorrow’s events while standing on the sideline of today’s soccer game by being fully mobile-responsive
- Create a central, online location for the community to quickly see what is happening throughout the district
- Empower schools to maintain and update their own sites, including the ability to feature and prioritize information relevant to each school’s community
- Allow the district the ability to share information throughout the sites
RainStorm’s custom design for RSU 22 was built to easily portray the diversity of each school and highlight the unique opportunities available to its students. It also gives RSU 22 a place to showcase its successes to the community at large in a way that builds community spirit and pride, celebrates student achievement, and illustrates the value of an RSU 22 education.
RainStorm began the process nearly two years ago, working carefully to understand the goals that RSU 22 had set. Working with Jeff Woodside, district technology coordinator, and Richard Lyons, superintendent of schools, this project held a special place in the hearts of RainStorm’s graphic designer Evan Habeeb and support specialist Suze Howe, both of whom are graduates of RSU 22.
Meetings, conversations, interviews, and multiple site visits established a real sense of place for the RainStorm team. The process was very conversational — the user experience was considered from many points of view, and the project was refined until it had concrete navigation and so we were confident that the site would be successful for visitors and content managers alike.
Because we wanted to be sure that the site delivered the same kind of visual impact that the schools do, RainStorm coordinated a photographer to take beautiful photos of each of the schools to feature on the website. Images were produced that would be inspiring to visitors and which could be used by RSU 22 in other marketing pieces.
Recognizing there would be a great need to organize content, a marketing consultant working with the district was tapped to help manage the content conversion. RainStorm provided in-person training to select staff members who would be managing content and then conducted additional in-depth technical training for information technology staff.
Many Schools, One District
RainStorm created a custom WordPress theme that gave RSU 22’s seven schools individuality while giving visitors a consistent visual experience from school to school. Because each school had unique needs and a distinct school culture, the theme had to be flexible enough to allow each school to assert its own identity and highlight its own critical content, while matching the other schools in the district.
For instance, some schools needed a backpack section that accessed a public Google Drive folder. Others knew that their most frequently asked questions were about bus times and lunch schedules. Everyone had events, news, and a calendar which were critically important to keeping everyone organized. A dual-menu setup let each schools organize content in a way that is respectful to their priorities.
And of course, the district had to be able to add information across the system and create alerts for things important to everyone — like snow days!
Building on WordPress’s core functionality, SchoolFlex is a suite of specialized tools crafted by RainStorm specifically to help schools present content quickly, consistently, and easily.
Because a school website experience needs to appeal to students as well as parents and the community, schools are tasked with an enormous responsibility when it comes to communication. The balance between too little and too much information is a slender one — and what was once a backpack filled with sheets of paper has now become a website that can be almost as chaotic as all that paper.
Information management is something we at RainStorm think about every day. During our 16 years of website development, we observed that many schools were on proprietary systems which were expensive, clunky, and quickly outpaced by technology.
At the same time, we’d come to recognize that WordPress had emerged as the top open-source content management system and it could be tuned to meet many of the unique needs of a school system. We knew we could give schools a better solution than had been available in the past.
We knew that school districts had to contend with input from many schools and that they needed to distribute information throughout school communities. The multi-site setup of SchoolFlex enables the administrators of a K-12 school district to control and update each of their school websites from one place. Convenient features such as network-wide aggregated news & events, a modern design, schedules, alerts, newsletters, and more, increase a school system’s ability to communicate with its communities.
The RSU 22 website reflects a school district’s understanding in the value of the fine education it provides students. Its dedication to providing solid communication for its communities, students, and their families, is both inspirational and practical.
We are so proud to have worked as their web development partner.