How Well Does This Web Site Work?
The Mexico Academy and Central School District is located in the center of New York state, on the shore of Lake Ontario, and includes three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. The current district Web site was designed in 2005.
The home page is well designed, sleek, uncluttered and professional in appearance. The welcome message introduces users to the site and explains the navigation menu but doesn't introduce the district as effectively as it should. Some of the well-written information on the District Info pages, for example, would be a great addition to the home page.
All of the navigation choices are placed together in a box at the top of the page, which is consistent throughout the district's Web pages, so most navigation is straightforward. Th e drop-down navigation menus are simple and easy to use, keeping the number of categories efficiently to a minimum. For users with browsers unable to display these menus, or for those who prefer a simpler format, all the choices are also accessible in a helpful site map. However, there is no search engine for the site to help users find district information.
QUALITY OF THE INTERACTION WITH THE USER
The Web Resources menu is helpful and offers a selection of Internet search engines, as well as links to Web sites of particular interest to educators, students and parents. This feature encourages frequent use of the home page as a portal to the Web. Th e Web Resources should also be listed on the site map, however, to aid users with computers that cannot access dropdown menus. The menus remain in place, from page to page, so it is easy for users to move to other content areas. Unfortunately, as is true for most district Web sites, there are no accessibility options for disabled users.
Parent resources are equally prominent with the student and educator resources, demonstrating a strong commitment to parent involvement. Staff contact information is easy to access, as are links to state and federal education resources.
The Board of Education page provides links to the schedule of meetings, along with minutes and agendas, and includes a valuable online policy tool that can be searched by keyword or policy number so that users can quickly find official policies on topics of interest.
The individual school sites offer little information besides basic statistics and short descriptions about the schools, and several of the landing pages have not yet been developed. Additional content on these pages would enhance the site significantly and also promote the unique character of each school.
CREATIVE USE OF ONLINE TECHNOLOGIES
The Publications menu provides links to the district attendance policy, lunch menu, school calendar and newsletters, all in PDF format. Although PDFs add extra steps and can be cumbersome to use, in this case the concise and effective format makes printing these important information pages simple and convenient.
The "Eye on the Tigers" feature is a collection of district news videos made by high school students in their television production course. The segments are well produced and highlight this strong instructional program.
The district also takes advantage of Moodle, a free online course management system, so students and educators can extend their class assignments and activities to the Web.
At the time of this review in late August, the School Calendar had not yet been updated for the coming year, which parents, staff and students are likely seeking, and instead displayed last year's information.
The Athletics link provides useful schedules for each sports team, along with competition results, scores and related information. The schedule pages are hosted on an independent Web site with ads, which may be troublesome.
Kurt O. Dyrli is a contributing writer for DA.