Ames CSD Launches New Website
The Ames Community School District proudly launched a new website on August 10, 2022. Over the past two years, the Communications team has been working with Juicebox Interactive to develop this new website that better reflects the Ames CSD community and our program offerings. Highlights of the new website include a responsive site, updated navigation, new branding that aligns with District standards, a new custom site for Ames High activities, and easy access to the most used items.
The site update began in June 2020 with a pre-discovery phase in which two concurrent surveys were sent regarding the then-existing website. The first was for district staff, where feedback was sought on what users liked about the existing site, improvements they would suggest, and a current general overall rating. At the same time, a Thought Exchange was launched for district families and community members. The Thought Exchange gathered data regarding the primarily accessed areas of the website and what suggestions were had for improvements.
“From these surveys,” said Amy DeLashmutt, Communication Specialist and Web Designer for Ames CSD, “we learned the most used portions of the website are the calendar, school menu, directory, links to Infinite Campus, and general contact information for each school.”
The Ames CSD website sees, on average, 18,000 users monthly with half a million sessions annually. Therefore, it was a surprise that survey results did not vary widely among parents, community members, and staff. What did vary were the suggestions for improvement. These ranged from too many menus to a lack of meaningful content. Even information being out of date to having a responsive site. Results from these surveys were used as an initial guide for the development phase, the most lengthy part of the process.
“The Ames CSD website is one of the primary ways in which our system is able to communicate and provide information to students, staff, parents, and our community. As such, a website that provides clear, accurate, updated information is of the utmost importance,” said Jeff Hawkins, Associate Superintendent of Education. “One of the district priorities is ‘clear and consistent communication to support positive and proactive community relationships.’ Our new website is a crucial part of accomplishing this priority.”
Developing a site that addressed all of this critical feedback but was also streamlined and functional began in October 2020. Through a process called wireframing, District staff could get insight into the layout of content and functionality on a page, keeping in mind user needs and how they might navigate the site. Wireframes are often used early in the development process to establish a basic structure of pages, menus, and general design needs before any actual content is added.
Once wireframes were approved, Juicebox Interactive began coding the backend of the site, the portion that ensures everything on the user-side works as it should. During that time, the Communications Department did not want to sit idly by, so DeLashmutt did some wireframing and design work of her own.
“In the development portion, we knew the basics of how the site would look,” she said. “There was no reason we couldn’t start developing some of the page content so that when we moved into the design phase, this would go quickly.”
From December 2020 through July 2021, DeLashmutt met with District staff regarding their website page needs. Using data from Google Analytics and survey feedback, these discussions allowed time to determine what, if any, existing page content was relevant to carry forward and what information was simply missing altogether. From there, a menu structure and page designs were created. Finally, staff could view these pages and click through them like a regular website page. Each set of pages went through an extensive review process over multiple months. This process kept the project moving forward until development was complete. Then, the team could move into the design phase.
In the design phase, menu structures are built, content is entered for each page, images are placed, and the overall user experience is created. As sections of the site were completed, more evaluation occurred with staff, including directors and principals.
“Getting adequate feedback at every step of the process was really important,” said DeLashmutt. “Without thoughts about how the site looked and functioned, we would simply be operating in a bubble, and no website operates like that.”
On top of building not only new District and school sites, a brand new Ames High activities site was also a priority. Many extracurricular activities provide a channel for reinforcing lessons learned in the classroom, allowing students to apply their knowledge in a real-world context. Research conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics found that participation in extracurricular activities positively correlates to the students’ attendance, GPA, test scores, and expected educational goals.
“Participation in activities provides a student with lifelong experiences that they can utilize for the rest of their life,” said Lyle Fedders, Ames CSD Activities Director. “Students learn the skills of time management, teamwork, hard work, dedication, and collaboration. In addition, students have the ability to foster relationships with other students, staff and community members throughout their years of participation.”
This new site houses information regarding all activities, including athletics, fine arts, and clubs/organizations. Visitors can find upcoming events, camp and clinic information, contact information for coaches and sponsors, and individual pages for each sport and club/organization. Fedders calls it a one-stop shop for students and families looking for information on activities.
“Students are constantly using technology, specifically their phones, and this website is very mobile friendly,” says Fedders. “The website has an extensive coverage of all the activities we offer at Ames High and will allow us to highlight all of the events and accomplishments of our activities.”
In addition to all sites being truly mobile responsive, other highlights include:
Updated navigation. The menu structure has been updated into one mega menu where visitors can find what they need in a single click.
The most used items are right on the homepage. The items parents reported using most often have been placed right on the homepages of both the District and each school site. This includes the Infinite Campus Parent Portal, staff directory, and school menus.
Source of information. We also want the website to be a valuable source of news and information ranging from termly curriculum topics, important dates, the latest news, and up-to-date announcements.
Events calendar. While the previous website had an events calendar, we think visitors will find this one even easier to utilize. Filter to all events or only those at a particular school building. Important dates are listed right on the events landing page and the at-a-glance calendars for the entire school year.
Alignment to District standards and updated photography. With the new website, parents should notice a similar design to find things quickly when navigating between school and district websites. Logos and school colors and showcased on each page. You’ll even find photography by William Jenks and Derek Peng.
Improved accessibility. The new site uses up-to-date standards for creating accessible content which meets the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C’s) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA and the Web Accessibility Initiative Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (WAI-ARIA) 1.0 for web content.
“There are several aspects of the new website that I am excited about. It is very visually appealing and I have found it easy to navigate,” says Hawkins. “Being able to find updated and current information in an easily accessible way is important for all stakeholders as they come to our website for information.”
While the new site offers a much-improved experience for all users, the District will continue developing it further to suit future needs.