Even though school’s almost out, you still need to keep your web site sizzling. Web surfers are notoriously fickle. If you wait until the dog days of August to update your home page, you’ll just find that your web site has, well, gone to the dogs.

To keep your site fresh all summer long, here are a few tips:

  • Show your stakeholders that learning is a year-round proposition by enlisting a troop of parent and student volunteers and arming them with inexpensive digital cameras. Their mission is to take photos of students’ and teachers’ summer activities, from band camps, sports clinics, and math academies to curriculum committees, building renovations, and faculty workshops. Then post the photos on the web, with a brief cutline or headline.

  • Find out if any student, staff, or faculty groups are traveling abroad or participating in school-sponsored exchange programs. Ask one member of each group to act as your correspondent, and have them email photos and short stories to you on a regular basis. The goal is to post something new on your home page every week.

  • Ask your guidance department to draft a simple “how to” section that walks parents through the registration process, from signing up at a new school to building a course schedule. Few things infuriate parents more than moving to a new city with kids in tow, only to find out that the schools have shut down for the summer.

  • On a related customer service note, make sure you have a knowledgeable person answering the phones and following through on information requests. Make sure you check your email frequently, especially those that come through web-based feedback mechanisms. If your staff isn’t going to be available during the summer, take their addresses off the web, post a web note, or arrange for an automatic email response.

  • Move your school or district calendar from the back recesses of your site to the home page. In addition to summer activities, be sure to include registration deadlines, teacher and new staff orientations, beginner’s days or kindergarten round-ups, bell schedules, opening of schools, and other key data.

  • Link to parent-friendly web sites that include information about summer and vacation activities that will keep kids learning from June through August. Public libraries and local and national cultural attractions–such as science and art museums, history centers, and zoos–typically have a wealth of web-based learning tools and fun activities. Parents will also appreciate tips and guidance regarding summer academic programs and tutors.
During the summer, many parents will have questions about transportation, food service menus, special education, tutoring, academics (by grade level), before- and after-school care, co-curricular activities, athletics, and athletic eligibility guidelines. You may want to package everything in a “new to school” section with a link from your home page.

Newcomers and new home owners will want to know which schools serve their neighborhood or address and who to call if they want a change in assignment. By anticipating parent questions, making it easy to find this information, and then advertising its availability on the web to parents, realtors, and others, you’ll market your schools all summer long.

Summer’s a great time to review your web site from top to bottom to see if every page, link, and section still has meaning and relevance for your key audiences. Don’t be afraid to delete or revamp sections that no one seems to visit; careful pruning during the summer months may result in a more plentiful harvest of web surfers this fall. Use NetMechanic, Web Site Garage, or some other source for a free web check-up.

If you need more qualified web help, offer free or low-cost summer training sessions for students, parents, and teachers. You can also partner with area community colleges and technical schools. As stated previously in this column, there’s a plethora of free resources on the web for content, graphics, logos, buttons, and images, as well as lots of practical “how-to” information (see the eSchool News archives). While you need to maintain fairly tight control on who has passwords and can post information, when it comes to developing content, the more hands the better.

Finally, if your school web master doesn’t have a 12-month contract or doesn’t receive any additional compensation for his or her work, you may want to revisit that policy. A well-maintained web site can make or break your public image, yet too many schools still expect web masters to work for free, on their own time.

This penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to web management may have worked when the average web site contained 50 pages and attracted few visitors. With quality expectations increasing exponentially and the average school web site now exceeding 500 pages, the stakes are too high to leave this critical business function to volunteers.