School districts are forever trying to trim their budgets. Teacher’s salaries are frozen. Music and arts programs get cut. Paper reams are rationed like bread in pre-Soviet Russia. One line item that is often cut or neglected—but shouldn’t be—is school technology and the school or district Web site.
When looking to tighten the budget purse straps, many administrators feel that creating and maintaining the school Web site would be a perfect project for the computer classes. Perhaps a knowledgeable computer teacher could do it on his or her prep time. Or the job makes the to-do list of the district IT department. While delegating an in-house employee to the project may seem like an immediate savings, there are many hidden costs that can end up costing your district more than you imagined.
Time away from mission critical tasks
Placing the responsibility of the district’s Web site onto employees, keeps them away from the jobs they were originally hired to do. An effective school Web site takes time to build, write, and do layout, which are only a few of the actions necessary for the site to be functional. For teachers who may be delegated this responsibility, it means time away from lesson planning and preparation, and time away from their class. Teachers are hired to teach our students, a time consuming responsibility in itself. Likewise, IT directors have more important things to do for a district. Making sure the computer systems are operating properly and software is running efficiently, installing programs and firewalls to keep students in safe places on the internet, and handling technology emergencies are just some of the daily responsibilities. Many of these tasks are on each school site, which requires extensive travel time. Let’s be honest, when overworked teachers and IT directors get saddled with the school or district Web site, it’s going to be placed at the bottom of the to-do list. Many times it will never even make the radar.
Computer experts are not necessarily Web design experts
There’s a lot that goes into creating and managing a fabulous Web site. It’s not just about knowing how to get a Web site live on the internet. While many people within your school or district may be computer experts, chances are good they do not have all the skill sets required to do the job effectively. School Webmasters employs experts in each area. Our graphic designers create sites that are not just pleasing to look at, but help the user find things easily on the site. The placement of graphics, sidebars, images, and other text effects on a Web site is actually a science. Balancing visual elements so they help the user find information rather than distracting them, is something our designers do flawlessly.
In addition to design, the content of a Web site it one of the most important. It’s not simply about putting information onto a Web site; if parents and the community can’t access or understand the information, your school or district Web site is useless. Our content writers make sure the information on your Web site is not only informative, but is also conversational in tone and easy to read. We can pare down wordy information so that it includes just what the public needs to know. We take the “education-ese” out, and rewrite it to appeal to a larger audience. While volunteers may be great at scanning in documents and newsletters to put on your site, very often your audience is not taken into consideration.
As if this wasn’t enough, a good Web site requires knowledge of layout philosophy, public relations, branding, proofing, and editing. Your volunteers may be good at one or two of these tasks, but are they experts in every area?
Good Web sites require constant maintenance
For the sake of argument, let’s say someone at your school or district does create a fabulous Web site. It’s beautiful. Easy to read. Easy to navigate. Now the question is, does that person have the time to keep your Web site current? In order for a Web site to continue to be effective, it must be updated regularly. Information at school gets old quickly; meeting dates pass, school fundraisers end, new events have been added to the school calendar. Principals retire, teachers transfer, clubs are canceled, new sports find coaches. Many times that volunteer who so graciously got your Web site up and running, doesn’t have time to continue weekly maintenance on your site, especially if the work he or she is performing is pro bono. If parents log on to your school or district Web site a few times and see the same old information, they will quit using your Web site as a resource. They will start calling the school to get the information they need which is now a double whammy—it wastes school and district personnel’s time, and now that great Web site some person volunteered to create, is no longer being used by the public. School Webmasters makes it easy to update your school Web site. We have a staff of updaters who focus solely on keeping your site up-to-date. A fax or e-mail with recent newsletters, or a simple call with updates keeps your site current and encourages parents to continue using it as a first resource for information. Our staff made 864 updates to graphics and content in the month of February alone. Do your volunteers have that much time?
Delegating to overworked staff = trouble
Those who have worked inside any school system will tell you, most people are overworked and underpaid. You hear people speak of public school as a “noble profession.” There are many requirements and not a lot of recognition, monetary or otherwise. Many times the goals of an administration are not understood by the faculty and staff, which are viewed as more requirements, more forms to fill out, more hoops to jump through, and no time in which to do them.
Delegating a sizable project—such as a Web site—to an already overworked (probably underpaid) employee, is likely to lead to employee discontent. Maintaining a positive work environment for teachers and staff is key to having a highly performing school, and when employees feel used, the entire dynamics of the school environment suffers. If an unhappy employee is now responsible for the school or district Web site, it’s a pretty good bet that employee won’t devote his or her personal best to the project, leading to a less-than-effective Web site. Or the task may sit at the bottom of that person’s to-do list, and the Web site never gets off the ground.
Taking these factors into consideration, it’s easy to see that while it may appear to save your school or district money upfront, having your site created in-house has unforeseen costs. If your school or district really wants to make their Web site a priority, hiring School Webmasters is the easiest and best solution. We already have the experts. We already have the time. It’s what we do. It’s all we do. It's ALL we do.