Cabell launches new website
HUNTINGTON -- Cabell County Schools Communications Director Jedd Flowers is on the edge of a new era for Cabell County Schools.
"If I had to use one word to describe it, it's transformative," Flowers said.
The transformation hasn't been noticeable since it began last November, but during the first week of July, the work of Flowers and countless others will come to fruition in the form of a completely overhauled Cabell County Schools website.
The site will include much of the same content as before: Board of Education information, staff directories, event calendars, news updates and school district alerts. The big difference for the new site is that users will be able to find the page they need within one or two clicks, said Benjamin Herbert, an education client specialist with eSchoolView, the company that developed the Content Management System, referred to by Herbert as "the CMS" Cabell County will use.
"One thing Jedd and I have worked on a lot is making the site as user friendly as possible," Herbert said. "Any community member or parent will be able to get the information they need in just a couple of clicks. That is the one thing that is very important -- having information readily available for parents rather than having to dig or search for it."
The school system has paid about $10,000 to eSchoolView for the overhaul, and it also will pay a hosting fee for the website. The $10,000 also will include converting the website to adapt to mobile devices a short time after it's launched, Flowers said.
In addition to its accessibility, the new system allows for more in-house content management from Flowers, school administrators and teachers, Herbert said.
Teachers will be able to post lessons and online quizzes for students to take outside of class.
"You don't need to be computer savvy or know how to code to use it," Herbert said. "How I look at it is, if you know how to use Microsoft Word, you're going to be able to use our system because you can upload information and content yourself. Everything is at your fingertips."
Flowers admitted that almost each of Cabell's 29 schools has its own website layout and content, and there was no consistency from one web page to the next.
Now, each school's website will fall under the umbrella of the school system's website, and each site will have similar layouts with colors and information that are targeted to that school, he said.
"It's all operating under one brain," Flowers said. "Schools can push announcements for things happening there, and we can push district-wide announcements to each school's site. Some people only bookmark their school's website and don't look at the district. I want to be able to share things from the district level to all of the schools, so I can post something on the district page and pick which schools' websites it goes on."
Flowers said more than 400 teachers already have been trained in using the CMS, and about 600 more are left. However, he said most of the instruction on how to use the system will be shared teacher-to-teacher as faculty become more familiar with the system.
Another new feature of the website ties in with the district's first major foray into social media. Flowers said he had been waiting for the new website before setting up the district's Facebook and Twitter presence. Feeds from those services will be linked into the website.
There also will be a text-messaging service for parents and students to allow for maximum opportunities for communication between the district and the general population.
"People communicate in so many different ways, and the old days are the old days," Flowers said. "Sending out a news release and expecting every news release do go everywhere is done. News media pick up a lot of stories, but they don't pick up all of them. We have to go where people are communicating, and we have to be using a well rounded communications program with different pieces to support that information distribution."
Another improved feature of the website Flowers pointed out was the district calendar.
Using the new calendar, teachers and administrators will be able to add events to the district and school calendars.
Parents looking at the calendar also will be able to customize the calendar they see by school, giving parents the options to look events for as many or few schools as they prefer.
He also said Google Translate has been incorporated into the site, so users can have the website translated into any language, which is beneficial for Cabell County students and families who speak English as a second language.
Flowers also is using website as an opportunity to reach out to alumni through a page dedicated to posting class reunions and other alumni-hosted events.
He even has added a community page to link users to other facets of living in Cabell County, including the Cabell-Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau, local hospitals and places like Heritage Farm Museum and Village.
"A big part of what we want to do is economic development," Flowers said. "That is a big part of our responsibility. ...When a person or a business is looking to relocate to a place, one of the first things they look at is the school system. What better way to link all of these community resources than to all of these fabulous community resources that have been developed already."
Even though the website is ready for a launch, Flowers said it likely won't be fully functional until the beginning of the school year. The July launch gives officials the chance to work out any malfunctions with the site and gives teachers, parents and students the chance to become familiar with the page before the school year begins on Wednesday, Aug. 6.
Flowers described the whole experience as educational and collaborative.
"We pulled everyone together from the beginning," Flowers said. "It's been a process like we've never had before. It's been kind of fun in a way. I think everyone is going to be very proud of what they've done as the year moves on."
Follow Reporter Lacie Pierson on Twitter, @LaciePiersonHD.
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