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School system puts focus on new website
Officials hope change will make information much easier to find
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Gainesville City Schools parents can now find information with more ease.

The new school district website went up Thursday, boasting better navigation and a Red Elephant theme.

“We were one of the first school systems to have a website back in ’93 or ’94,” said Keith Palmer, director of technology.

“It was just something I threw together because I knew how, and our site grew from that. But then it became more than I could handle.”

Palmer wanted schools to post their own content, but the pages lacked a professional touch.

“I looked at other school systems that have come a long way with professional sites,” he said. “For some people, the website is the first introduction to Gainesville City Schools that they get. It’s important to me that they get all the information they need.”

When budgets started shrinking for the system, especially around 2008, funds diminished for technology needs. However, the board decided to make a new site a priority.

“It’s one of our major communication tools, especially for parents who want information about lunch menus, events, school supplies and dress code,” Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

“Our technology infrastructure is getting old and needs updates, so we looked where we could put our budget behind the schools and access.”

The district outsourced the project to a professional company, but schools can still put up their own content. Website leaders at each school are expected to update their pages in the next few weeks before school planning starts.

The Red Elephant theme was an important focus for Palmer.

“As you went from school to school, it was like going to a new Web page,” he said. “It was confusing for parents who have kids at different schools and just want to find simple information in the same place.”

When schools start filling in information, Palmer will emphasize the events feature of the website, encouraging principals and each school’s Web leader to post anything that parents may want to attend.

“If something is happening in the schools, I want it there — bake sales or whatever is going on — to keep the community informed,” Palmer said. “One thing about websites is that they can’t be static. If there’s no reason for people to come back, they won’t.”

Palmer also added a “suggestion box” tab on the left side of the website for people to send in comments about the updated Web pages, and the comments go to the technology department and all senior administrators.

“We do pay attention to those,” he said. “Staff members have sent in positive comments about the look and feel of the site, but I do want to know what people want to see changed.”

The site will soon include statistics trackers so Palmer can see what parts of the website get the most traffic. He plans to watch the trends and move content so people can find it easier.

“The student information system where parents can check grades is in several places,” he said. “I try to think about what people use the most on the site and make it prominent.”