A tiny school district in Washington state is making use of its students’ ingenuity and technological know-how to help find a replacement for its current superintendent, who is scheduled to retire June 30.

In an attempt to broaden its search and attract a variety of qualified candidates for the superintendency, the Nine Mile Falls School District (K-12, enrollment 1,550) near Spokane has empowered a group of tech-savvy teens from local Lakeside High School to begin the development of a web page that district officials hope will draw applications from candidates across the country.

Three students from Lakeside High computer teacher Mark St. Clair’s Multimedia Computers class designed the superintendent search feature on the district’s web site as part of a group project.

The superintendent search page includes background information, a timeline for the selection process, and eMail links to the district.

St. Clair is quick to explain that his students are beginners, and only one of the students responsible for the superintendent search feature had ever studied web design. Other teams from the class were responsible for other aspects of the district’s new web site.

How did these beginning webmasters get the chance to try their hand at a district web page? “Their instructor was silly enough to volunteer them,” joked St. Clair. “All the board members visited each school after the announcement [that our superintendent was retiring], and when they came to the high school, school board President Joe Poss said they’d really like to see the web used in some way,” he explained. Since Nine Mile Falls did not have a proper district web site, only a page linking to the various school web sites, St. Clair was anxious for his students to fill this need and gain some invaluable web-authoring skills at the same time.

“We just thought it was ridiculous not to have a district web page. It’s such a great way to communicate with the local community,” he said.

According to St. Clair, district officials had two primary reasons for wanting to create a superintendent search page on the district’s web site.

First, they wanted a way to advertise the position outside Nine Mile Falls.

“We’re not even a dot on most maps, even though we are only 15 miles from Spokane,” said St. Clair, who said the other reason for the web-based superintendent search was to provide potential candidates with all the information they needed about the district. “We got mission statements and vision statements from the district and posted that information on the site,” he said. “These are the types of things that will be asked of [applicants].”

St. Clair said the entire district web site is being overhauled, but the superintendent search feature was “the catalyst for getting the whole thing done in the first place.” St. Clair’s students are using Macromedia’s DreamWeaver web-authoring software to create the pages on the district’s web site. The package being used by Lakeside computer students includes Macromedia’s Flash animation component; Director, a multimedia component; and Fireworks, Macromedia’s graphics production piece.

“Last year, the class was purely doing HTML [hypertext markup language] programming,” said St. Clair. “While the students need to know HTML, it has been my observation that most professionals are using a web-authoring tool of some sort.”

St. Clair said his students like the Macromedia product, because it allows them to switch back and forth between the set templates and original HTML coding easily.

“The program lets the kids tweak the code very easily,” he explained. “There’s a button that allows you to click over to HTML and then click back to DreamWeaver. Professionals call that clean code.”

St. Clair said his experiences in project-based teaching with the Multimedia Computers class have changed the way he conducts the rest of his classes. The Multimedia Computers class “is very popular and self-motivating. The push in education now is for larger, project-based learning that asks kids to solve problems. This class is all about real-world applications,” he said. “It’s really opened my eyes to how traditional approaches to learning can stifle creativity.”

St. Clair’s students have even designed web sites for local businesses.

“We did one site for a local ski resort,” he said. “They wanted something better than what they had, and they told us to go ahead and design it–and if they liked it, they’d use it.” St. Clair believes his students have found the real-world applications of web design to be very exciting. “There are no textbooks. We work on our projects in design groups. It’s exactly like the business world, because they work in design groups as well,” he explained.

Superintendent candidates who have applied for the position at Nine Mile Falls will be notified by April 18, according to the student-created web page. So far, the response has been enthusiastic.

“We have even gotten some eMails from overseas,” St. Clair said.