A good school website tells you what you need to know about a school without even stepping inside—a reality we now face until schools can once again open their doors for tours.

The Department of Education has a page for every school and, while it includes important information, such as the school’s contact info, and any measurable sign of a school’s progress, it doesn’t give us the flavor of a school.

By flavor, I mean: Is the school relaxed or strict? Does the teacher lecture a lot or a little? Are there hands-on projects? What does the school value most?

Parents care about these things and the school website is a good place to exhibit them. At InsideSchools we can often glean a lot from a school’s own website.

Let’s look at an example: Castle Bridge Elementary School displays its welcome of Spanish-speaking families by alternating its use of English and Spanish on the home page. It takes a stand on its love of nature walks by posting several photos of kids outdoors. It addresses the recess question directly: “We will go out in drizzle, cold, and snowy conditions,” it says, under a tab titled, "Why the progressive model?"

The smartest websites I’ve seen are written in simple, direct, parent-friendly language. They list specials (such as music or dance) and after school clubs. They post photos of students in action. They highlight what’s special about a school, for example, the rare elementary school that has a band. A school website should also cover academics but avoid jargon like “differentiation,” and acronyms like “ICT,” unless they are clearly defined.

Bottom line: If a website does its job well, you’ll know just by looking at it whether or not the school might be a good fit for your child. That said, since there are good schools with no websites, next week I’ll address the question: should every school have its own website?

Let us know in the COMMENTS. What’s your idea of a good school website?

Photo from Castle Bridge Elementary School's website.