Montclair school website
IMAGE COURTESY MONTCLAIR PUBLIC SCHOOLS A screenshot of the home page on the revamped Montclair schools’ website.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair’s new school website officially went live on Thursday, Nov. 1.

The district announced to parents that it would be switching platforms in an email Superintendent Kendra Johnson sent to parents on Oct. 31.

The email cautioned that there may be periods when the website would be down for service and additional upgrades.

The website switched from the old blue, red, yellow and white color scheme to a light gray background with black lettering and steel blue accents.

The website domain, montclair.k12.nj.us, remains the same.

There is a separate drop-down menu with each of the 11 schools at the top of the page, along with a drop-down menu with a choice of 10 languages. When a language is selected, Google Translate automatically changes the website into that language.

The new page was designed by the company SchoolMessenger Presence, said Alice Velez, the schools’ interim director of technology.

The annual cost for the website will be $10,000, which Velez said was a 75 percent reduction in costs for maintaining the website.

A new district website has been on the schools’ to-do list for the past several years.

Over the years, parents and staff have complained that the old website was not user-friendly, mainly in that it was difficult to find information on the site, and Velez said navigation and ease of use were the two most pressing issues behind the website redesign.

The home page now has a designated tab for communications from the superintendent’s office, something that the old website did not have. There are also designated tabs for the Genesis portals for parents, students and staff and for the digital backpack: a feature where parents can see notices about upcoming school activities.

The individual school pages no longer have the start and dismissal times listed at the top of the page. Additionally, the individual school pages vary on whether they have student and family handbooks posted on their pages.

Some schools also have direct links to their PTA council websites on their pages, while others do not.

Velez emphasized that the site is still a work in progress. “As you can imagine, bringing a new district website online is a tremendous undertaking, especially done while school is in session,” Velez said.

In the future, users will be able to subscribe to specific school calendars and events, all in one view, and users will also be able to sign up for notifications when a calendar they follow is updated. Social media will also have an expanded role as a communication tool, she said.

“Visually, it will take some getting used to. That’s often the case when websites are revamped,” BOE Vice President Joe Kavesh said. “My initial take is that it is more user-friendly than the previous version. Otherwise, my intent is to make sure the website is fully ADA complaint.”

The website had been the subject of a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in November 2016. The office had done a review of several pages on the district website and found that they were not fully ADA compliant. The website’s design presented difficulties to viewers with visual impairments, the keyboard controls were not readily obvious and the videos on the site did not have closed captioning.

“These barriers deny persons with disabilities access to programs, services, and activities offered on the website and may impede the District’s communications with persons with disabilities,” the letter said.

All videos on the school website now have a closed-captioning option.

“I really commend the district administration for all of the hard work on the relaunched site. I think it is clear and user-friendly, and look forward to hearing feedback from the members of our broad community of users on their experiences as well,” BOE President Laura Hertzog said.