How Well Does This Web Site Work?
Metropolitan Nashville (Tenn.) Public Schools is one of the largest urban districts in the country, covering 525 square miles of Davidson County and including 75,000 students and more than 9,000 staff members. The district has maintained its Web site since 1997.
The district home page is primarily text, except for a montage of photos at the top, so the information presented is simple for users to access. The home page is also kept short and concise, so users do not need to scroll down an unnecessarily long page. Nearly all the pages on the district's site maintain a consistent design.
Despite its simplicity, the home page has an awkward appearance. Different sections are not clearly defined, and they use text of similar fonts and colors that consequently blur together. The content also appears crushed between the unnecessarily wide and empty margins.
The drop-down menu and "breadcrumb" navigation bar are consistent on nearly all the pages, making navigation straightforward and convenient.
The site map is theoretically quite useful, giving users an option to view the whole site on one page, but it needs to be better organized. The map lists hundreds of links in a dizzyingly long column, without clear category headings or indentations.
INTERACTION WITH THE USER
The district has done a thorough job in presenting an impressive amount of content on its site. The "About MNPS" menu section is a particularly strong and informative section that includes the operating budget, annual reports, as well as links to departments, the board of education, policies and procedures, and a strategic plan for 2007-2014.
The search tool could be a very useful feature, but it was not functioning at the time of this review. The "School Board Policy Search" and each school's home page search tools also did not work. Particularly in such a large district, a malfunctioning search tool displayed so prominently is a frustrating oversight.
SCHOOL TO HOME INTERACTION
The "Teaching & Learning" heading lists and links to a great deal of important information, including academic standards, subject areas, and special education content. Unfortunately, the "Frequently Asked Questions" page addresses only questions about English Language Learner students and does not cover any other issues in teaching and learning.
The home page also links to community and federal education sites, such as the Nashville Alliance for Public Education, No Child Left Behind, and the Pencil Foundation, a local public education nonprofit organization.
The "Homework Hotline" is a valuable district resource that offers assistance in nearly any subject for students and parents. However, since it is so useful and popular, the phone number would be much better placed more prominently on the home page instead of existing solely under the "Parents & Community" heading.
The reading lists under "Teaching & Learning" are also very useful and consequently should also be accessible via a quick link on the district home page because of their universal importance to parents and students.
USE OF ONLINE TECHNOLOGIES
Overall, there is little creative use of Web technologies on the pages. The site offers no video or audio options and few pictures, which is disappointing for such a large district.
The technical assistance phone number on the home page is a very useful resource.
The convenient "Print this page" link opens up a printer-friendly version of the nnouncements on the home page.
As is unfortunately true with most district sites, there are no access provisions for disabled users.
The site appears to be well maintained and p-to-date. However, the dated material could be consolidated, as there is a list of announcements in the middle of the page, a redundant "MNPS Announcements" bar at the top, news items displayed in the left margin, and an "Upcoming Events" button on the right. A single, consistent location for news and announcements would be easier to access and understand.
Kurt O. Dyrli is a contributing writer for District Administration. To be considered for a district site review, contact Judy Hartnett at email@example.com.