The Manatee County (Fla.) School District is located on the Gulf of Mexico, just south of the city of Tampa, and includes 42,000 students and 7,000 employees.
The layout of the home page is distinctive and sleek, with clear sections dividing information and menu items. The heading includes a montage displaying high quality photos of district schools, but it is too large, taking up half of the page. A nearly identical page design is maintained throughout nearly all of the district pages, so navigation is consistent and information is easy to find. The district address and office phone number should be displayed prominently in the heading, instead of in fine print at the bottom of the home page.
The main navigation menu, which includes just six categories, is very simple and easy to understand and is maintained through nearly all district pages. As a result, most navigation is straightforward and consistent.
While a site search tool using Google exists on its own page, it should be more easily accessed, with a search entry box maintained in the heading of every page.
A convenient, well-organized site map is available for users who wish to see all links displayed on one page, instead of navigating through menu options.
Interaction with the User
The "About This Web Site" link accesses a page explaining how to navigate the site to find relevant information, which is useful to users who are new to the Internet. However, to better serve such users, this link should be placed more clearly at the top of the home page, instead of in very small print at the bottom.
The home page includes a prominent link to a page with an extensive, detailed description of the new district strategic plan, "EdVantage."
There are no access provisions to aid disabled users.
Manatee County's Safe and Drug Free Schools program has a site within the district's site that is particularly well designed. It includes resources such as an online library list, surveys about bullying and drug use, and important forms for parents.
While the Contact Us page has postal addresses and phone numbers, it does not include e-mail addresses.
The Parents section has a wide variety of forms in PDF format, from food menus to policies and calendars, as well as a link to a "Web Query" tool, which finds the closest bus stop to any address in the district.
A variety of forms, such as school calendars and policies, are available in Spanish but are scattered around the site and difficult to find. To better aid Spanishspeaking parents, these forms could be available in a single location, clearly accessible from the home page. If there are large numbers of non-English-speaking parents in the district, the district could consider making a Spanish version of the entire Web site available.
While each of the individual school sites is generally very well designed, there is no continuity between them, as each has a completely unique layout.
While distinct school character is important, some design consistency would make navigation easier, especially for parents who navigate new school Web site pages as their children move from the elementary school to middle and high school levels.
Use of Online Technology
The "Video News" page includes video clips hosted by the superintendent, who discusses a particular news topic, such as the current budget situation. This feature is a great way to liven up important content that may have otherwise been overlooked in a different format.
Unfortunately, the superintendent's message was eight months out of date at the time of this review.
In general, the information posted is well maintained and kept current. The eNews and vNews sections, however, are disappointingly sparse, with only one or two news items listed per month.
The news archives show that at one time, various items were posted several times per week. Frequently updating news items, as the district has done in the past, would motivate parents, community members, students and staff to access the site often and with consistency.
Kurt O. Dyrli is a contributing writer for District Administration. To nominate your district for a site review, contact Judy Hartnett at: email@example.com.