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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

School website gets smarter - New Wallingford site more compatible with smartphones

As published in the Record Journal Thursday August 4, 2011

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff

WALLINGFORD — As more parents turn to the Internet for information, the Wallingford school district is overhauling its website to make it more user friendly and accessible for parents.

School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said the new site, which launched Aug. 1, offers a cleaner, professional look, in addition to a mobile-friendly version.

“We’re excited,” Menzo said. “This gives parents the opportunity to stay connected. The first place people often turn to for information is the website.”

Randall Backus, director of Information Technology Services, worked with Menzo and a consultant from finalsite — a private web development firm — to overhaul the website. Backus said the project started last fall and cost a few thousand dollars.

“People are relying more and more on the website,” Backus said. “They check there first for information about delays and cancellations. We get calls if we don’t have that information up by 5:30 in the morning.”

Menzo said the new website focuses on a number of target audiences, including parents, members of the public and employees. The student section includes information such as summer reading book lists, the parent section has bus routes and registration information and the public section is geared toward Board of Education and budget information.

The mobile site is formatted for iPhone, Android and Blackberry users. The mobile-friendly website loads more quickly and is easier to use on mobile devices, Menzo said. Buttons direct users to the most-requested information, including school lunch menus, bus routes, calendars, delays and closings and a staff directory.

The district has also implemented a QR code for the website. QR codes are barcodes that, when scanned with a smartphone, direct the user to a specific website. Menzo said he hopes to have the QR code on all documents and letters sent home to parents to give them easy access to the website. In the future, it’s possible each school could have its own QR code to attach to school-specific documents, Menzo said.

Backus said the website gets a lot of hits not just locally, but from across the country. Menzo said that when many people are considering moving to a town, one of the first things they check is the school district’s website.

“You only get one chance to make a first impression,” Menzo said.

The old website faced complaints that it was cluttered and inconsistent. Backus said different school pages used different font sizes and colors, taking away from any sense of uniformity. The new website uses the same template across all pages. Backus said the layout of the site hadn’t been changed since it was first launched 10 to 15 years ago. The conformity will allow for more “branding” of the schools. Menzo said that he plans to bring back the Wallingford Public Schools seal on the website and use it in all official school communication.

Other changes include a reduction in the number of pages.

“When websites first launched, people wanted to put everything out there online,” Menzo said. “But we’ve learned less is more.”

Menzo said improving the website was part of the district’s five-year strategic plan in the areas of technology and communication.

“A district our size should have a vibrant website to celebrate the successes of our students,” he said.

Visit the Wallingford Public Schools website at
http://www.walling, or scan the QR code in this story with your smartphone to be taken to the website.

Scan this QR code with your iPhone, Android or Blackberry to get easier access to the Wallingford public school system’s website,

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