St Andrew’s College Engages With Parents

St Andrew’s College Nails Parent Engagement


"Stratos were very approachable. I really felt well-supported and comfortable to ask any question."
‐ Francesca Eathorne, St Andrew's College

The parent portal at St Andrew’s College wasn’t being used. It was difficult to navigate. Relevant information was hard to find. Content wasn’t updated regularly. When the school decided to revamp the portal, including an upgrade to SharePoint 2013, it called Stratos Technology Partners.

High marks for technology and communication

St Andrew’s College is a Christchurch-based fully independent co-educational decile 10 school for students from pre-school to Year 13. Established in 1917, the school prides itself on spiritual Presbyterian traditions and high academic standards.

The school has a reputation throughout New Zealand as a leader for using technology in the classroom – including innovative uses of Office 365, OneNote and tablets. St Andrew’s College also recognises that good communication amongst all stakeholders is an important factor in building a culture of achievement and success.

Mission: replace intranets that were ugly and difficult to navigate

Sam McNeill

“We have a public facing website, an intranet for parents of students and StaffNet, an intranet for staff members. Both intranets used SharePoint 2007. Parents found it was difficult to navigate, information was hard to find and that information wasn’t being updated regularly. We also didn’t have consistency of branding and user interface design across all three systems,” says Sam McNeill, Director of ICT at St Andrew’s College.

A St Andrew’s College systems administrator was instrumental in moving the school toward a Microsoft server platform, and setting up the original SharePoint implementation infrastructure. When the time came to upgrade to SharePoint 2013, Stratos helped with the migration plan. “The internal team was comfortable setting up the networking and servers but less so when it came to the applications that ran on them.”

Communications and IT work together

The project was a collaboration between the school’s five-member IT team and four full-time staff who work in the communications area.

“Since the portal was public-facing, Francesca Eathorne, head of communications, got involved. Her group was involved in putting up content, which ensured the material was fresher,” explained MacNeill.

Nurturing the brand, inside and out

Eathorne takes up the story: “Communications departments have come a long way in many independent schools over the past five to six years. Now they tend to comprise a small team of professionals and it’s not uncommon to have an in-house graphic designer, photographer and marketing specialist. The website and intranet are now key pieces for good marketing and customer service.

“Our Communications team is there to grow and nourish the brand externally and internally. We’ve had conversations internally about what a brand is, and how everyone has a responsibility to help nurture the brand. That helped enlist the support of all the staff members in feeding us information for new releases, stories and photo opportunities.

“In a large organisation there are many opportunities for communication to break down because of sometimes unpredicted barriers. It’s my job to put processes in place to smooth them out. It’s always about being consultative and collaborative on projects. It does take a lot of time but in the end you get a better outcome.”

Matching what parents want

“In the independent school industry, another challenge for communications and marketing is around the traditional expectations of what we think our customers want, grasping how fast that change is happening. We’ve shifted a long way in the last four years and we have to continue in that direction.”

MacNeill added, “St Andrew’s College holds open evenings where parents can learn about the devices their children are using at school. In this way, St Andrew’s College goes above and beyond what would normally be expected of a school but it helps parents to engage in and be a part of their children’s education. This is a part of our key messages.”

Our old intranet had to change

Eathorne said that when she first joined St Andrew’s College, she knew the school needed a new intranet. “The intranet was difficult to navigate and definitely didn’t reflect our brand. It was one of those things that had been set up and not managed afterward, probably for lack of resources. People just kept adding things and it became this great big ugly honeycomb where it was impossible to find anything."

“We identified the project to fix it in 2010 but didn’t get around to it until 2012. We talked with our executive team extensively and recommended Stratos come in."

Extensive consultation was key

“When we started looking at the intranet, we broke it into two halves. On one side was the parent portal that gave parents access to the information they needed. The other was the staff portal, StaffNet. The parent portal was simpler, and we were getting so many

complaints from parents that we thought it would be an easy win to do that first,” Eathorne said.

“We initially thought it would take 12 months but in fact it took 18 months. There was just so much consultation required.

"My role was pretty much to build a site map and to consult with parents. We surveyed parents to find out what they used, and what didn’t work. We looked at the analytics.

“We also did a lot of internal consultation. We went to each person who was in charge of the different sections of the portal such as Exams, Careers, and NCEA, and had in-depth consultations about how they used it currently, how they wanted to use it, what tasks they expected parents and students to do when they went there, and how they would like to see it evolve over the next couple of years.

“We did a couple of focus groups but the rest was mostly one-on-one interviews. We were really able to get an understanding of what people wanted, and the buy-in was fantastic because they still got to manage those areas. When we rolled it out, the training went well and it all went smoothly.

“The project was delayed by several weeks, but it was not Stratos’ fault. It was more a function of the sheer number of people and amount of content involved. We couldn’t do a soft launch, it always had to be a ‘big bang’. There was so much change from what we had to what we were going to release, and because it was going to be public facing, it had to be as near perfect as possible.”

Best practice yields better results

Eathorne continued, “We went with best practice: we kept to the one-to-three clicks standard and designed a shallow site. We took a hard look at what needed to be on the site and what didn’t.

"The wonderful graphic designer on our team designed the original skin to ensure it fitted our branding. We then took the design to Stratos to tell us whether it was possible to build. Everything was really smooth.”

When it came back there were a few tweaks. “Stratos took the time to explain the suggestions they made, especially on the design side, like suggesting that we not put too much below the scroll. We came up with a few things that weren’t easy to implement, but we worked through all that pretty well.”

Stratos smoothes the way

“Francesca met with every line manager involved, worked out what was needed, and created a map from which Stratos was able to set up the permissions for each of those areas,” MacNeill explained. “We then had a far more defined permission structure for the intranet so that no staff members could randomly upload material.

“We appointed someone in our IT team to liaise between the line managers identified by Francesca to get content onto the new system. He was also tasked with issuing new permissions and providing training.

“Stratos and our systems administrator did a fair amount of work configuring the SQL back-end. Our systems administrator worked at the infrastructure level and liaised directly with Stratos, who also facilitated the project.”

"It was a wonderful marriage of the Communications and IT teams, with this nice facilitation by Stratos to push us along and make sure we were on the right track."
‐ Francesca Eathorne

“Stratos were really understanding about how long the consultation took, because we had to fit in with everything else we would routinely do. Stratos also advised us about the questions we were asking and made sure we were on the right track. They gave us some good advice,” Eathorne added.

“Anything we pushed back on, Stratos was really respectful of. They wanted to resolve the issues and we were able to work it through without unnecessary conflict.”

"I felt a little intimidated at these meetings where technical things were being discussed, and I had no idea how these things related to one another. But Stratos were fantastic about explaining things, making sure I was comfortable with what was being discussed, breaking things down into lay people’s terms and not laughing when I used the wrong term for something.”

Success: High use and no complaints

“We measured our success through parent feedback and their reaction to the new system. We also followed up with our managers to see what they thought. Once our analytics were set up, we monitored them to confirm that our usage had grown considerably. The number of negative comments just dropped away all together.

“We made sure that our users, like the NCEA and the Careers managers, were comfortable using it. They were getting continual feedback on their own areas, so we wanted to make sure that we were hearing that. We also wanted to hear from wider staff because they would go to the site, too.

“It’s not the kind of stuff that, to be honest, is all that exciting. It’s a place where you go to find out the vehicle use policy, the alcohol policy, when the terms begin and end or where the sports fixtures are. But the fact we no longer get complaints and that our analytics tell us people are using it, tells us it was successful.”

MacNeill added, “What we do isn’t particularly complex in regards to SharePoint. The permissions, calendars and everything else are pretty standard features. We aren’t using the more advanced features of SharePoint such as InfoPath forms and versioning.

“But migrating from SharePoint 2007 to 2013 meant we gained a lot more control over the look and feel, so we made it a lot easier for parents to navigate, and since it started we’ve seen usage markedly climb.

"One area we are likely to explore further is replacing the shared drives where staff keep teaching resources and using SharePoint instead so our staff can access their materials anywhere. We’ve already opened up a discussion with Stratos about progressing this.

Stratos impresses

“Our experience with Stratos was positive. For a while there, our databases starting ballooning in size as our content migrated across. Stratos came out and fixed it pretty quickly by implementing file compression.”

"Stratos has also lent us their expertise toward physical appliances that manage resources between the local system and the cloud. We’ll certainly explore that further down the track.”

Eathorne said, “What impressed me about Stratos is that they are down-to-earth people who you can talk to. From a lay person’s sense, I was thinking – because I’m not a technical person – am I the right person to be doing this site map?

“It was really nice to know I was working with a group of people, not just internally with our IT people but also with Stratos, who would really support me on that, who thought I was perfectly capable of doing it, and were happy to give me any help at any time.

"I definitely recommend Stratos. They are worth contacting and talking through what the right solutions might be.”