UCS revamps website, tech features

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 30, 2016

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With the start of a new school year, Utica Community Schools is giving some starter lessons about its newly revamped website and the rollout of a new downloadable mobile app for students and parents and more.

According to school officials, the overhaul affects the websites for the school district’s online ecosystem, including the schools and specialty programs. In a statement, UCS Superintendent Christine Johns praised the online changes for their functionality.

“The websites will give our users a more convenient way to digitally explore Utica Community Schools and our nationally recognized programs and services,” she said.

The new website’s visual interface favors bold colors and simple shapes, and button links to social media websites are prominently displayed.

The district’s websites for individual schools feature a similar interface setup, though the color schemes may differ.

Common website uses are grouped together through a toolbar with drop-down menus. To make the browsing and navigation experiences more predictable, similar functions will appear in the same places of each school site. Web surfers may also directly access an individual school’s website by typing the school’s name in the web browser’s address bar and adding a dot and “uticak12.org” at the end.

The website also promises to be friendlier for mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. Parents may customize a companion iOS or Android mobile app to get the most pertinent details about their kids’ academics, schedules, attendance and bus-related information.

The new site also features a drop-down menu with options to translate the site into other languages, such as Albanian, Arabic, Bosnian, Macedonian, Polish, Romanian, Spanish, Vietnamese and Urdu.

UCS spokesman Tim McAvoy said the clear interface will make it easier for parents, students and people generally interested in UCS to search for a staff list, check a student lunch menu or download a form.

“We wanted it to be an attractive site,” he said. “It’s an attractive design that has a common navigation structure.”

According to McAvoy, the redesign project cost approximately $46,000, and he said it was necessary in order to follow federal accessibility guidelines for people with disabilities.

“Access, excellence and equity are fundamental principles of Utica Community Schools,” he added.
McAvoy said the new design has been in the works for about eight or nine months. He said West Corp.’s SchoolMessenger software handled the technical aspects, which works together with technology that is used for the district’s automated phone system.

“It’s integrated with that system, and when we send notices — for instance, a snow day — not only will (users) get the automated phone call and the email, but it will pop up at our social media and the companion app.”

The district vows to work out any snags that website users may encounter. McAvoy said the website has an email link at the bottom of the screen that welcomes user questions and input. But so far, he said, the initial reactions are “very positive.”
Students and parents may find the Utica Community Schools mobile app on the Apple App Store for iOS devices and the Google Play store for Android devices. Check out the updated UCS website at www.uticak12.org. For more school district information, call (586) 797-1000.