WordPress powers more than 25 percent of the internet — and as such boasts an impressive collection of sites that use the CMS, from universities and non-profits to large publications like the New York Times and Wired to massive enterprise companies like Sony and GM. WordPress’ flexibility and ability to scale makes it the obvious choice for any website, regardless of industry. WordPress in Action is a recurring blog series designed to showcase some of the amazing sites built on WordPress and to hear from the folks who develop and design them. In the first installment, we look at Newark Public Schools as a prime example of why WordPress is the right choice for education.
Newark Public Schools is one of the oldest and largest school districts in New Jersey. The district boasts more than 35,000 students and 5,000 employees. In collaboration with WordPress development agency WebDevStudios, Newark Public Schools in 2014 moved all of its sites to one easy-to-manage location on WordPress.
Before switching to WordPress, they used a proprietary solution, which made the site difficult to manage, not customizable, and very expensive — running nearly $100,000 per year in service fees alone, said WDS co-founder and CTO Brian Messenlehner.
Moving Newark Public Schools to WordPress required the migration of almost 80 websites to a WordPress multisite network, which was particularly challenging because data export was not available for the sites.
“We had to write a script that scraped all of the content from the [previous] websites,” Messenlehner said. “We started by scraping the menus of individual school sites, which provided the titles and the hierarchy for each page. We then scraped each individual page for all of its content.”
Despite the challenge, the move to WordPress is expected to save the school district more than $150,000 in just five years, Cameron Barrett, Senior Manager of Web Technology at Newark Public Schools stated during his presentation at WordCamp Dayton 2015.
The move to WordPress fueled a number of performance improvements for Newark Public Schools, namely better SEO and increased site speed, among others.
“It is now fully responsive to mobile devices and easy for school administrators to manage,” Messenlehner said. “It is also being hosted on WP Engine and is super fast now compared to being very slow [on the previous solution].”
WDS used AppPresser to create a mobile service that enables parents and students to receive alert push notifications directly from the school.
“Staff can easily send out push notifications via AppPresser so students and parents can be notified on their mobile devices of any school closings or any type of alerts,” Messenlehner said.
The site now has a more modern look and feel at a fraction of the cost, Messenlehner said. Parents, students, and staff use it as an online hub to learn about each school in the district. Each school is a subsite in the WordPress multisite network.
Messenlehner said WordPress is the best platform for education because of how inexpensive open source software is compared to proprietary options.
“WordPress is the right option for education because most of the time it’s going to save a bunch of money. Going open source is the way to go versus paying for software licenses,” he said.
Its ease of use and extendibility also make it superior to its competition. The room to grow is endless with WordPress, Messenlehner said.