It's been two years since the Whitehall City School District's last major website overhaul, and things since then have slowed.

It's been two years since the Whitehall City School District's last major website overhaul, and things since then have slowed.

In fact, at least one school board member has voiced concerns about a lack of updates to the site.

With the rollout of Google Apps for Education last week, district officials say the usability of the site should change dramatically, even if the look remains the same.

"It's all about collaboration," said Dr. James Freeman, the district's director of technology.

Not only will the new platform allow for better usability on the district's website, but it also means more tools for students and teachers in the classroom as well.

According to Freeman, Google Apps for Education gives students and teachers access to all sorts of software, such as email, presentation applications, word processing, calendars, drawing applications and spreadsheets. Because all of the software comes through Google Apps for Education, it is shared easily among staff and students.

Users also can access any of their school projects (and the tools to create them) from home, as well as with their student access, a home computer and an Internet connection.

Staff members and administrators will have the ability to communicate with each other more easily, Freeman said, and could share calendars and announcements with the district's website for better communication with parents.

Another bonus, Freeman said, is that the program is free. Because the servers are off site and managed by Google, it frees up resources that otherwise would have been spent on maintenance, additional licenses and upgrades. And because it is Web-based, no software is needed for the district to install.

Teachers and staff received training last week, and students will be given their own Gmail accounts when they start school. Students and parents will be given a copy of the district's acceptable-use policy, which addresses proper use of the Internet, including browsers and email, while at school -- and the ramifications for violating those policies. Freeman said if parents do not want their children to have access to the system, they must sign and return the form stating so.

Freeman said he also is looking into other ways to better communicate with the community. He created a little known Facebook page for the Whitehall City School District that features construction photos and a few events throughout the district. The page has only five "likes" thus far, but that's OK with Freeman. He said he wants to enter the social-media arena in "baby steps" in a deliberate effort to take advantage of tools being used by students and parents everywhere.

"Because it's simply the way to communicate," he said.

He also would like to create a Twitter account for the district, he said. Twitter quickly is becoming the social media of today's teens, he said. Weather-related cancellations are just one notification that could be disseminated easily through such social media as Twitter, Freeman said.

Social media -- and its place in schools -- is a hot topic among educators. Although many believe it is an effective tool to use with today's youth and their parents, other issues exist, such as online predators, inappropriate websites, cyberbullying and sensitive student/teacher relationships that are giving educators pause.

Whitehall's Facebook page was created last October but has seen little activity since then.