Manchester public schools launch new website

By Corey AmEnde - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Thu., Oct. 31, 2013
Manchester public schools now have a more updated co-hesive website. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

The Manchester public schools recently rolled out a new district-wide website that features a clean design and easier navigation.

The new site, which has a standard look and template featuring green and white colors for all the schools in the district, was introduced on Oct. 1.  The older sites were individually managed by each school and did not have a consistent look from one site to another.

“The old site was kind of clunky,” said Ryan Gohla, who works for the Information Technology Department and is the District Web Master for Manchester Public Schools. “We had some good information there but it was somewhat hard to get to,” added Gohla.

Dr. Richard Kisiel, the interim superintendent of Manchester public schools, said he wanted to redesign the site for easier navigation, to create a consistent look across the schools and district’s site and keep the community current with information and events happening in the schools and district.

Some of the elementary school pages are still migrating content and aren’t 100 percent, “but it’s already 1,000 times better than what we had before,” said Gohla. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback as far as people getting what they needed to get and getting it quickly.”

The new site – - is easier to navigate and features drop-down menus at the top of the page for the main content areas such as district information, calendars, departments, jobs, resources and schools.  The individual school sites include all nine elementary schools, Bennet Academy, Illing Middle School, Manchester High School, Adult Education, Bentley Alternative Education, Manchester Preschool and Manchester Regional Academy.

The school district worked with Finalsite, a web design company based in East Hartford that focuses on school websites, on developing a new look for Manchester’s site.  Gohla said he started training with Finalsite in June to learn the site and process so he could then train the web masters at the individual schools across the district.  After training, Gohla and the other web masters then had to migrate content from the old sites to the new sites while keeping both sites current at the same time.

In addition to better navigation, the new sites include other upgrades such as the ability for teachers to create their own pages.  “They can have everything from a calendar, they can do assignments online, homework, or they can keep it basic and just have general class curriculum and information,” said Gohla. 

Another new benefit is the ability to create online forms and a management component to track the forms. “So, say the school wants to do a field trip permission form. They can go to the site, parents can sign it off online instead of having to rely on the kids bringing home the pamphlet and giving it to their parents and bringing it back,” explained Gohla. “It’s all online.” The teacher or contact person for the forms can easily keep track of who has responded and even notify parents that there will be permission slips released for signatures. 

From an administrator’s side, the site features a content management system which makes maintenance easier and more efficient.
“The content management gives you the ability to make a change in one place and have it be replicated throughout the site,” said Gohla.

Another benefit is integrated calendars which allow Gohla to create a district calendar that each school can post instead of having to create their own. The calendar option is also interactive and allows parents to export the calendar to their phone or Microsoft Outlook account.

The ease of use as a result of this new design may not have surprised Gohla, but where and how many people are using this site has. 
As part of the redesign, administrators are able to use Google analytics which tracks how many people visit the site, where they come from, what pages they visit, repeat visitors and how long they stay.

“Our biggest audience, which was a surprise to me, is people that come from out of town and want to move here and want to see what they system is like,” said Gohla. The traffic data shows that close to 40,000 people have visited the site in just over a month with some of these users coming from India, China and Europe.

Even though some of the schools are still migrating content for the initial launch, Gohla said he’s already looking ahead to the second phase of this project where he and the other web masters can implement more features, such as a wide-spread use of teacher pages or more integrated calendars and use of bulletin board.

For sports teams there is an athletics manager that allows coaches to set up team pages, keep stats and post messages to players.  There is also the ability to create a mobile version of the site for phones or tablets.

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