The East Baton Rouge Parish school system is going live Wednesday with a revamped website, one in a series of moves the state’s second-largest school district is taking to compete with the growing number of independent charter and private schools.
Also on tap are individual websites for the district’s 70-plus schools, testimonial videos from parents and students, print and billboard advertising, as well as a still-to-be-finalized outdoor party in downtown Baton Rouge for all the district’s schools to showcase their wares.
The school system’s main website will remain at its current address, www.ebrschools.org. It’s expected to take a day or so for the changes to become visible to all web surfers, depending on one’s browser. Information from the old site has migrated to the new one, but the old one will continue operating for another month or so in case something didn’t make the transition.
The new site is simpler than its predecessor. A slideshow of children’s faces dominates the home page. And they are not stock photos: All are children enrolled in Baton Rouge public schools.
“We’re capturing the images that tell our story, that show our kids doing great things with our teachers,” said Adonica Duggan, the district’s chief of communication and public relations.
Soon after taking over the post last summer, Duggan spent about $72,000 to hire Contrast Films to produce professional videos promoting the magnet program. She also is drawing from her budget to place print and online ads, as well as a limited number of television spots. She also plans to revive and update an annual phone poll the school system discontinued in 2012 that previously was used to gauge public opinion of the school system.
Much of the promotion, though, is relatively low tech. For instance, parents are taking brief home videos with their smartphones discussing what they love about their child’s school as part of series called “Why I Love EBR,” and students are creating a similar series called “What Teachers Make,” talking about their teachers.
“We have to focus on what people love about our product and that’s what we have to share,” Duggan said.
Duggan is doing a lot in house, either by herself or with her colleagues. For instance, she redesigned the website herself using WordPress. To make the website more user-friendly, information is grouped more by category than by which division of the Central Office produced it, she said.
“We really tried to look at it with a fresh set of eyes and think about how it would look like to our parents,” she said.
Individual school websites will start posting in March. Duggan said principals or their designees will come in for a day of training, roughly 20 at a time, and select what they want from a menu of options.
“They are going to leave there with their new website online, ready to go,” she said.
Duggan’s work got good reception when she presented it at a Jan. 30 School Board retreat.
“It’s amazing the amount of work you’d done in the six months you’ve been here,” board member David Tatman told Duggan. “This is a whole new day in terms of how we communicate.”
Board President Barbara Freiberg said schools need to do more to update their websites. She said too often she goes to school events that are never promoted on the school’s website.
“People need to be able to come to your website and know when things are,” Freiberg said.
Duggan said the new websites should be easier for schools to use and for the school system to use to update its district event calendar, which now is input by hand. Also, schools need to find the right person to maintain the site — and it doesn’t have to be an employee.
“They have parent volunteers at a lot of those schools who are itching for things to do,” Duggan said.