Improving Site Performance and Staff Happiness for Stillwater Area Schools

The Challenge

Stillwater Area Public Schools, with 8,300 students and 1,000 employees in Minnesota, had been struggling with the overall performance of their website:

  • page load times of up to 15 seconds
  • administrator access that was equally slow
  • deficient documentation for using the site
  • an ever-present list of training questions
  • site-wide search not indexing the last year of content – a particularly vexing problem

The Solution

A TEN7Audit was conducted to uncover problem areas and provide recommendations. Performance issues were tackled in three ways:

  1. A new hosting solution with Varnish to speed front-end performance, and Memcache object caching to reduce calls to the database. Drupal caching tools were enabled.
  2. Disabled non-essential and performance-intensive modules, like Database log (dblog), Statistics, Devel and RDF.
  3. Added the module Node Revision Delete to automatically purge old revisions, trimming the website’s database size.


The site’s main menu was the biggest performance culprit: loading this block took almost 7 seconds for each page! We worked with the client to reconfigure the site for block caching. This reduced block load times down to milliseconds, reaping huge performance gains.

Other key findings included:

  • Core and contributed modules that required security updates
  • An out-of-date version of PHP
  • The need to configure PHP caching
  • Lack of SSL encryption

The Results

  1. Page load times were brought down to a snappier range -- as low as 345 milliseconds.
  2. All site traffic was secured by implementing SSL site-wide.
  3. Search woes were corrected when it was discovered that their firewall was blocking Google bots from indexing the site.
  4. Staff training sessions were conducted.
  5. User documentation was created for the site’s features and functions.

The Stillwater Communications team was so happy with the results, they sent us flowers. We ❤️ happy clients.

Tess Flynn

DevOps Engineer

Tess is a recognized expert in the Drupal field with experience in Drupal 7 and 8 development. She has assisted in the creation of web platforms for Fortune 500 companies, and is the module maintainer for Flag 8.x, Examples, and Flag Friend. Tess is a world-class mentor and educator, having spoken at Drupalcon, BADCamp, and Midcamp.

Madeleine Lowry

Technical Project Manager

Madeleine is focused on managing projects with the goal of happy clients and happy developers. Her experience includes marketing strategy, business analysis, and management consulting. She holds an MBA in Marketing and Strategic Management. A graduate of Prime Digital programming bootcamp, she's also founder and organizer of Southwest Coder Dojo, a free coding club for teens.