Southwest Licking Local School District's communication advisory committee met for the second time May 24 to view other school districts' websites and ponder ways to improve their own.

Southwest Licking Local School District's communication advisory committee met for the second time May 24 to view other school districts' websites and ponder ways to improve their own.

The committee surveyed eight different school websites: Mason City Schools, Dublin City Schools, Lorain County Joint Vocational School, Ohio Hi-Point Career Center, Orange Schools, Rocky River City Schools, Granville Exempted Village Schools and New Albany-Plain Local Schools.

As they considered each site, the committee members took note of features they liked, such as basic contact information near the top of the page, pages with different content specifically for students and parents, pictures of students, e-newsletters, well-updated and/or color-coded event calendars, news stories with the potential to subscribe to an RSS feed, inclusion of such social media as Facebook and Twitter, a direct link to athletics and a full staff directory.

Another important aspect that stood out to the committee was a section of Orange Schools' website specifically for residents of the school district.

"It's the responsibility of the school district to communicate with everybody in the school district because you're educating them, even people who aren't coming to your classroom," said Saralee Etter, a parent who is also contracted to work with community relations between the district and its residents. "You have to educate everybody about what your district does and what it's all about. It's a key function of everything that has to be done."

Afterward, the committee looked at SWL's site and pointed out aspects that could be improved.

SWL school board member Cindy Zaino was critical of the site.

"I love our school district, but I'm not impressed with our website," she said. "It needs help."

The committee reached a general consensus that purchasing a prepackaged website from a professional marketing company that would allow the school to upload its own content and information would be the best choice.

"It's easier and more cost-effective in the long run to buy a package allowing people to update their portions (of the website), spreading communication duties over more people for fresher content, more immediate content (and) different perspectives," Etter said.

The ease of a prepackaged website was also important to Zaino.

"I tinker in building websites, but they are all websites that you just drop the content into, and that's the beauty of it," Zaino said. "We can improve our image and make communication easier."

Though questions were raised about the availability of funding for the website, Etter again emphasized the importance of communication between the district and the community.

"I think there's a point that you say, 'Even though it costs money, it's definitely worth it because you're bringing the community together,'" Etter said.

The committee's next step is to invite three different professional marketing companies to present their solutions and provide costs. The committee then will pick the best option and recommend it to the board.