A district on a mission for academic excellence
Due west of Lincoln Park and a short cab ride from O’Hare International lies Elmwood Park, a cozy Chicagoland village that’s home to District 401. One of 852 public school districts operating in Illinois, District 401, or D401 as its commonly referred to, serves 2,800 students spread out over one high school, one middle school, two elementary schools and an early childhood center.
When Dave Porreca, the district’s new web/media specialist came on board in 2016, one of his first assignments was to evaluate and audit the district’s web communications. No stranger to innovation, he had taught communications at the University Laboratory High School, a selective school sanctioned by the State of Illinois and affiliated with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recognized as a "public elite" school by Newsweek.
Along with his new job – a newly created position in the district – came a fresh perspective and a realization that major changes and a new communications direction were in store for the D401 school community.
Lack of content and disparate website management
With no single person ultimately responsible for the district’s six websites, D401 needed a full assessment of the existing sites before moving forward with the likely solution of a new website provider and content management system (CMS).
Working with the D401’s technology director Tom Kinane, and superintendent Dr. Kevin Anderson, Porreca’s evaluation found, besides no one person assuming leadership for the websites, the six sites were woefully absent of content.
So, besides implementing a new process for managing the district’s web presence, Porreca was convinced that someone needed to take charge of the websites.
“We all agreed that the old website was not in good shape,” said Porreca, a former journalist and educator. “It was unwieldy and not very intuitive,” he said. Porreca “Spent an entire afternoon writing a series of questions” to help ascertain what was lacking and what was needed in their new website.
“Being so thin on content, we knew we needed to beef up the amount of information on the site,” said Porreca. Finding content and organizing the content soon proved to be two additional major challenges for the district.”
“Being so thin on content, we know we needed to beef up the amount of information on the site,” said Porreca. Finding content and organizing the content soon proved to be two additional major challenges for the district.”
New online communication strategy
The D401 team looked at what some of the area’s top districts were doing with their websites. After about a month of research, they learned what was good about their fellow schools’ websites, who the website providers were for those schools, and quickly narrowed the list to three possible vendors – one of which being Campus Suite.
Drawing on the expertise and guidance of Campus Suite co-founder and operations director Steve Williams, the search team at D401 selected Campus Suite to help them transform the district’s web presence. “We found Steve and Campus Suite to be pretty much the authority on web technology, so the choice was clear.”
Starting in March, the school embarked on the monumental task of organizing and creating content for the new site. Working closely with Campus Suite project manager Robert Robertson, the team from D401 also utilized Slickplan to help with sitemapping and exporting content.
The timing for D401’s new website coincided with the launch of Campus Suite’s newest platform, which includes dozens of customizable themes to choose from and a mobile-first approach that ensures a school’s website looks great and is easy to navigate on phones and tablets. The Campus Suite solution features easy editing tools that any authorized school personnel can use to quickly create, edit and publish web pages.
“After choosing the theme we wanted to modify it to suit our needs. We tapped Campus Suite to help us with a new district logo,” said Porreca. “A website is so critical to a school’s identity. It’s so visual,” he added. “Our website serves as a branding foundation for all our online communications.”
Porreca said his team was looking for – and found in Campus Suite – an “Intuitive CMS and a company that provided good tech support, was reachable, and had a really solid knowledge base (FAQs, tutorials).”
Navigate compliance and improve engagements
Following a thorough examination of where their website needed to be and a diligent assessment of the solutions available, the District 401 Elmwood Park School district partnered with Campus Suite to help achieve:
- A web communications foundation in the form of six well-organized, and easy-to-navigate websites that were planned, designed and launched in a matter of months;
- ADA-compliant, mobile-friendly websites that are fully accessible to D401’s school community members with physical and cognitive disabilities;
- A new brand that reflects the culture and excellence of the school district, providing an easy-to-manage vehicle to tell the stories that define D401;
- An employee intranet that speeds and facilitates information and services for the district’s staff and faculty