The school district unveils a new website, built with WordPress

About a year ago, Northfield Public Schools superintendent Chris Richardson accepted my offer to meet with him so I could explain why the District’s website sucked big time.  He took copious notes, and his eyes did not seem to glaze over. But I seriously doubted anything would come of it.

Heather Kuchinka and Matt HillmanImagine my delighted surprise when two District staffers, Administrative Support Assistant Heather Kuchinka and Matt Hillman, Director of Human Resources and Technology, signed up for my online WordPress for Noobs course. They then revealed that they were about to unveil a new District website, based on WordPress, constructed by Daniel Edwins, WordPress guru at Neuger Communications Group.

Last week,  gave Heather and Matt gave me a preview and during the meeting, Chris stopped by to toss around some lingo, something to the effect of "We’ve got a boatload of RSS feeds and our permalinks are the prettiest around." You rock, Chris!

Northfield School District websiteToday, the District portion of the revamped site is up, and according to this news item (note that pretty permalink), "In the coming months, we will be rolling out new individual school sites in an effort to mirror the updates made at the district level."

They’ve set up a feedback page with a form on it, but I hate that.  I can’t learn from the feedback from anyone else, nor can I read their reaction to the feedback. So if you’re a fan of public feedback and conversation-as-a-path-to-public engagement, post your feedback in a comment here and I’ll see if I can twist their arms to join us.

7 thoughts on “The school district unveils a new website, built with WordPress”

  1. Super! Does this mean that all teachers will now be required to keep their page updated? As parents, we’re told that the District has a “great website that we use to keep parents updated. Teachers also have homework assignments and important information on their pages.” We’ve discovered that not all teachers have information on their pages, and when they do list homework, it often gets behind and then no longer current. I understand teachers are busy, but how are we supposed to be a cohesive team (primarily at the elementary and MS levels…HS is supposed to be more independent, I get that)if communication is broken?

    It can be done. My MIL is a Prinicpal and teacher of 30+ years. In her school, her teachers are required to keep their webpages current. If they don’t, it’s an offense that can be written up and placed in their file.

    1. Betsy–

      In my experience, many elementary teachers are good about keeping parents updated, although not always through web sites. Some email parents several times a week, some send home weekly newsletters. Like you, my preference would be for more consistency about this, but for me, the important thing is having regular and timely communication.

      Teachers at the middle and high school are much less good about this (with some exceptions). Important feedback (like whether or not your kid is failing a class) do not always get communicated, because teachers apparently don’t feel like posting grades or making phone calls or emails. Again, some are really good about this, but they seem to be a minority.

      The larger point is that there is NO district consequence for any teacher that chooses NOT to communicate with families. I’ve pointed out problems to both the (former) middle school principal and the (current) high school principal–they smile and nod, write something down on a yellow lined pad of paper, and then…..nothing. At the elementary school, I’ve now worked with three very effective principals (and one just okay one), and they at least respond and do what they can.

      So, it’s as much on the principals as it is on the teachers. If the principals don’t care about good communication, it isn’t going to happen.

  2. Kathie,

    That’s been our experience as well. We had mostly great teachers at the elementary level, and one great team at the Middle School, but our youngest is in MS right now and am less than thrilled with his team’s communication. The High School seems to be the same…full of disappointment. I’ve had the same conversations with principals too (our elementary school principal was wonderful, however) and also get the smile and nod.

    When will communication home to the parents become a priority for our district? There’s a big song and dance the schools like to put on which I’m sure is entitled “We’re a Team, Teachers and Parents, Let’s All Get Along”…but they don’t practice what they preach. Oy.

    1. Betsy

      You asked, “When will communication home to the parents become a priority for our district? ” and it’s a great question.

      Again, although I think there’s always room for improvement, this isn’t so big an issue at the elementary level–my kids have been in 3 of the 4 buildings over the years, and for the most part, I thought communication with parents was great (well, last year the building communication at Bridgewater fell off a lot, but otherwise, I don’t see a major issue with elementary.

      And, I think the new middle school principal is making a sincere effort to communicate more with parents–I don’t have a child there now, so this is all second-hand, but my friends who’ve interacted with him have all reported him to listen well, be concerned, and follow through.

      But things are much more variable with teachers at both the middle and high schools. The lack of communication in both places is shoicking. Concrete examples: My son is a senior in high school, and has received 14 report cards. I can count on ONE HAND the number of teacher comments that have been received. And, mind you, the teachers take five seconds to press a button to have canned comments appear. So, even if they made comments on each of there (approx 150 students let’s say), it would take about 12 minutes.

      Even worse: we never know when, or how, report cards are coming out. My daughter brought her third-grade report card home Fri–there’d been a few emails from the principal about it–silence from NHS. Which also does not do more than 1-2 newsletters a year (and even then doesn’t provide this information).

      And, teachers are very variable about posting grades to Skyward. Apparently there’s a policy that teachers are supposed to post something at least every two weeks, but more don’t than do. And yet, my son’s 9th grade guidance counselor told me when I asked that his expectation was that parents would check Skyward 2x a week, and follow up with their kid about missing assignments.

      One of my son’s teachers one time posted two grades the first week of a quarter, then NOTHING until the end of the quarter–when she posted like 20 grades per student. Obviously, no chance to notice or catch or talk about developing problems.

      It’s not that hard to do parent communication. Elementary teachers do it all the time. The elementary art teacher at Sibley apparently found the time to make multiple comments on 550 students this report card!

      But, until it is a priority, and until we have administrators who are willing to risk their popularity with staff to insist on it as an important component of education, things will not change. Which is so sad. Communication could make a real difference, and it doesn’t cost very much. And, it should already be part of everyone’s job.

  3. Nfld News: School district launches newly designed website

    Hillmann said that since the new site launched last week, he has received many comments ranging from “looks good” to “not a traditional website” to “very easy to navigate.” Along with this feedback and future feedback, Hillmann said he and his staff would continue to improve the site.

    “Once a week we’ll go through the comments we receive and consider the changes,” he said. “We all know we can’t make everybody happy, but we want to be responsive to the community.”

    1. I like the new website, and I like the fact that they are soliciting input and pledging to go through it weekly. I just wish the district would do this more generally–e.g., for issues other than the website itself!

  4. Just a comment that I was pleased to see the district post the budget cutting recommendations so quickly, and in advance of the public meeting. This should give folks who have strong feelings a real chance to share their thoughts. I also like the new single-email address that gets a message to each board member. Seems like maybe they are starting to get the idea that communication is a good thing!

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