In recent years, Forest Park District 91 school board members and administrators have discussed and debated ways to better communicate with the public.
So D91, at the urging of some parents and members of the public, has taken steps to revamp its aging website. Officials claim, the district will roll out a new site that is easier to navigate, sleeker, and with more features and information than the current site. According to D91 Assistant Superintendent Ed Brophy, the goal is to have the new site ready by the Dec. 8 school board meeting.
In an email, Brophy said the catalyst was born of “the need for a more functional site with rich and thorough content.”
The new site will “improve how the district communicates with users, and [inform] people of district news and activities … making it easier to find information,” he explained.
Parents, and some board members, have been critical of the district’s site for a long time. The complaints varied: the calendar should be more pronounced; there should be more information about school events and programs, students’ achievement and behavior, and the curriculum; the salaries of officials should be front and center, as is required by state law. Currently it is only available in the minutes of board meetings when salaries were approved, according to Brophy. Board member John Tricoci said recently, “It should be one of the first things that pops up.” In addition, critics say, documents containing D91’s budget and annual standardized test scores need to be updated in a more timely fashion.
Some have also complained that the district has been complacent in making the site a primary source of communication.
Hiral Patel, president of the South Forest Park PTO, said she wants the D91 website to be more substantive. She has regularly attended D91 Citizens Advisory Council meetings for the last year, and said she was told more than once that improvements were being made.
Patel, whose son is a second-grader at Betsy Ross Elementary, said she grew frustrated because the site’s content was limited and some of the information was outdated (the state’s annual report cards, for instance; the district has since updated that information).
“We are paying a vendor. … Why don’t we see updates?” she asked.
Patel conceded that D91 has done a better job over all this year in keeping the district information up to date.
Mishawn O’Neal, the parent of two D91 students, is not as concerned with D91’s Web presence mostly because her sons’ schools and the district provide her ample information through email, and flyers that her kids’ bring home.
“I’m very satisfied with the communication. … It’s great for the parents and the district,” O’Neal said.
Another D91 parent, Rachel Entler said that she is often able to find what she’s looking for on the current website, but conceded, “It would be nice to have it more streamlined.”
D91 maintains it is taking the necessary steps to create a site that will be the go-to place for any and all information about the district. The board recently decided it would mail its printed newsletters out less frequently.
“This [new website] is a possible solution for many, many of the things we’ve been talking about,” said D91 board President Frank Mott.
Brophy described some of the functional changes that visitors to the new website can expect: “Major differences include how recent news and upcoming events are posted, dynamic scrolling graphics on the home page, jump-to dropdown menus that communicate quick answers to frequently asked questions, social media notifications, and classroom pages for both primary schools [Garfield and Betsy Ross].”
Brophy gave a Powerpoint presentation on the new site, which is still a work in progress, to board members and three attendees at D91’s monthly meeting, on Nov. 10, to point out the progress that’s been made.
Those in attendance saw a blue-hued, cleaner, more user-friendly site. This was only a rough draft, but many of the structural concepts will likely remain intact, officials said.
In his email, Brophy said Shorewood-based tech company Anttix, Inc. was selected to redesign the site, at a base cost of $5,000. D91 also intends to feature a handful of supplemental pages, which could cost an additional $4,000.
As part of the project, a webmaster will eventually be hired to maintain the site and its social media accounts (likely including Twitter and Facebook accounts), Brophy said.
As the website nears completion, Supt. Lou Cavallo said D91 might ask students to participate in redesigning the district’s logo (officials jokingly refer to the current cartoon-like logo as “Gumby”). Kids would submit graphics or drawings to school officials, and one design might be passed on to professionals who would apply it to the site, thus making it D91’s official logo.
As discussion of the site neared an end, Cavallo conceded he was a little nervous about the site’s maintenance.
“There’s a lot to keep up with,” he said.