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Being School District Admin? 161

Posted by Cliff
from the education-vs-enterprise dept.
Bananatree3 asks: "I am a high schooler in a fairly large school district, and have always wondered what it is like to manage a large school network. What is it like to be a school district admin? What kind of unique things do you have to do that are outside the realm of 'normal' IT departments? When is the most hectic/slow time for you? How big of a network do you manage? Also, do you have any favorite stories about being a school district IT admin?"
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Being School District Admin?

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  • Deli Meat (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jozer99 (693146) on Sunday February 19, 2006 @05:42PM (#14756518)
    Taking Deli meat out of the floppy drives of Apple SE/20's. My friends used to love doing that.
    • Don't forget the candy wrappers from the floppy drives.
       
      Or trying to put the little rubber band back over the gears in the front of the CDROM drive.
    • I was an asst. for my middle schools sys admin. My job was basically all the shit work he didn't want to do such as image and configure roughly 80 iBooks and 20 iMacs, make sure everything looked nice and pretty while remaining fuctional, and set up computers for teachers. I got into the job because I could replace keyboard keys for iBooks MUCH faster than he could. By the time I left middle school I could swap CD drives betwee two iBooks in under 4 minutes...roughly 6 minutes if I closed my eyes most the t
    • I've worked two school districts thus far...

      In the former, our kids loved to stick pens and pennies into the drive. There's also a significant problem at several schools with theft. Workplaces may have issues with theft, but replacing the ball-mice with optical-mice in a lab only to have one dissappear 15 minutes later is somewhat disconcerting.

      Food issues include massive wads of gum under desks, chip wrappers, rotten bananas, etc.

      In the current distict, I've heard stories from co-workers about teena
      • At the labs they had at uni, they used padlocks to lock the PC to the desk and also padlocks that had all the cables running through them so that it was impossible to remove the mouse, keyboard etc without cutting the cable.
    • hrmm.. I haven't removed delimeat from an SE but I have pulled the better part of a peanutbutter & jelly sandwich from the CD-ROM drive of a PowerMac LC-575...
      • A friend of mine used to have a commodore 64 with the (what is the number) 1581 disk drive. It all stopped working shortly after his young nephew came over. When he took it to the shop, the repair tech laughed as he told him the drive was full of oreo cookie halves. Apparently the newphew saw him putting black skinny things into the drive and decided to emulate...
      • Yogurt in the LC 580s was one of the fun ones when I was in high school.
  • Don't ask us (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Daxster (854610)
    Go ask your bloody network admin(s) what it's like. Much better responses, and you might get to help out, etc. Stripping cat5 is always good slave labour..
  • by general_re (8883) on Sunday February 19, 2006 @05:50PM (#14756563) Homepage
    I am a high schooler in a fairly large school district, and have always wondered what it is like to manage a large school network.

    "Also, hypothetically speaking, how would someone go about getting in and changing grades? Strictly hypothetically, of course."

    • David Lightman, is that you?
    • (My post above tells about my adventures as a sys admin asst. for my middle school). I also also granted a pretty much unrescricted username on the network, with PLENTY of days when I had no jobs to do. I checked into it, changing grades would've been quite easy....though I had no need, I was an A student, and never told anybody that I could change them (so no pressure to do it).
    • If hypothetically your school is like mine then every computer is connected to a central server "F", and if like my school your teachers place their grades in an excel file in their directory named after the period number (F -> hallway -> teacher name/class number -> period) than is would be a simple matter of going to the library opening it up and changing your's. The hardest part is making sure you don't get seen by the librarian, and knowing which grades are which because they aren't titled. Thi
  • by mobiux (118006) on Sunday February 19, 2006 @05:51PM (#14756565)
    the biggest difference i noticed between normal admin and school admin, is that in a school, your worst users are actively trying to bypass your security and restrictions, and they can't be fired for it.
    • I actively try to bypass the security restrictions as a whitehat, but this being my senior year, I've become lazy and don't tell anyone how to do it. You can only secure Windows as far as it lets you; SELinux is an entirely different story.

      However, yes, you make a valid (and humorous) point. ;P
    • My school's admin gets really pissed whenever you do -anything- that you weren't told to do. I've been suspended for installing portable firefox on my student drive...
  • SD IT 2K (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 42Penguins (861511) on Sunday February 19, 2006 @05:52PM (#14756569)
    I helped manage a mid-size district (2400+ total) with about 400 computers on the network when I was in high school. One thing that made it interesting was that the REAL admin was almost blind, and gone half the year for eye surgery. I remember a lot of manual labor. I was carrying cases/monitors/other items between 4 buildings most days. In the elementary school, when you go in you're a magician. If you're lucky, you step in during a snack break with a particularly generous teacher. In the middle school rooms, you're a nerd, and hear 12 year olds talking about their "skills" in fixing things. In high school, maybe you know some people, but still feel out of place. Teachers, for the most part, know nothing about the workings of their computers. They know their username and password (because it's written on their monitors) and how to check e-mail, and that's about it. They attract spyware like honey-covered shit attracts flies. Kids are pretty much harmless, save for physical vandalism to cases. The beginning of the year and right after Christmas break were crazy. Also, whenever they got a technology grant shipment was hell. 2 people unpacking, labling, and distributing 60 workstations in a day?! Not to mention clearing out old ones. Thankfully, the admin made network images of each model, and all the lab computers ran DeepFreeze. Things outside normal IT are explaining to very small children how the computers do and do not work. Although, it's probably similar in the real world.
    • Oh, one more thing.
      Organizational skills are key!
      The guy I worked for rigged the switches seemingly randomly, making repair/replace take a LOOONG time.
    • Yes. I can agree with you on a lot of points here. I never worked in a HS (Split Districts... it's complicated), but have spent a good amount of time working in a number of Elementary/Middle schools. A few reflections:

      1) The custodial staff cannot be relied on to move/clean anything that's vaguely technology related. It's not in their contract, so they don't do it! Expect lots of manual labor.

      2) A good security policy shouldn't allow spyware or any other programs to be installed for that matter. Image
      • To help deal with understaffing during busy times, hire a few of those know-it-all 14-year-olds (they have to be working age to legally hire them), and pay them $6/hour to unpack boxes and move equipment.

        Don't know how your district is, but some of them require competitive bids to buy a stapler, much less hire someone. I now have the strong belief that American schools suck mainly because of the corruption and red tape imposed by the local officials.
        • To be fair, competitive bids may have been put in place to help combat corruption. Still, I was one of those kids who benefitted greatly from both the paycheck (one summer) and the experience (4 years) of working IT while I was in high school. They should start a program that allows them to hire a few students each year to get around the red tape.
    • Not to mention clearing out old ones. Thankfully, the admin made network images of each model, and all the lab computers ran DeepFreeze.

      Having few resources and many varied computers to maintain (and an onslaught of kids determined to ruin them), I came up with a solution using a small linux install to keep a local image of each computer on its own harddrive. The computer would then first boot into linux and then, based on the parameters set, would either rebuild from the windows image, or just reboot int
  • District Management (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Breaker_1 (688170) * on Sunday February 19, 2006 @05:58PM (#14756604) Homepage
    I work for a fairly small school district in a rural community. As far as the managment of the systems goes, the lack of automation for things causes the most headaches. Other than that it's mainly sitting in my office watching the servers. Every now and again one of our drives will fail. Now, as far as things that bug me that aren't really part of my job go, the student management software is hell. It's poorly made and all that, but, even more annoying is that faculty doesn't know how to use it, and we get constant calls on "how do I set whatever code" and I don't really know. We paid to send ALL of our faculty to courses to learn how to use it, but not the IT staff. So, we have to tell them to just call the company. They get pretty upset when we say that. My manager is ... unique. He's one of the most shady people I've ever met in my life, and I grew up with drug dealers/addicts. He drives me insane. I'd say working for a school district isn't probably too much different than working in any other IT department, other than our customers are students and teachers.
    • by darrell73 (69855)
      I'd have to disagree with Breaker1. There is a LOT of difference between a bus/gov IT department and a school IT department. The main difference is oversight. In business, IT is given a clear picture of what it needs to achieve, with what support (whether that is financial, HR or policy/procedural). In a school pseudo-anarchy rules.....and that's from the teaching departments. Each department is its own little fiefdom and no one talks to each other. The most common occurance of this is where one depar
  • a terrible job (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Greventls (624360) on Sunday February 19, 2006 @05:59PM (#14756609)
    I'm not a school admin, but I know some friends who are interns at some public schools. They claim it is the worst job ever. Besides being underfunded, they have to put up with all sorts of bullshit. Employees can get fired, students can't. Teachers typically don't watch the computers, so the vandals always get away with it. Filtering content is extremely important. They have to make sure nothing bad is on the network and the kids can't get to any questionable sites. The teachers act like students. When the teachers are being taught how to use programs, they act like students. They won't pay attention, talk to eachother, take cellphone calls, etc. The budgets are typically terrible. Though that is usually evident in the hardware. There isn't much to administer anyway. It doesn't matter if servers go down, etc. The computers will only have microsoft office on them in most situations. Usually you'll have a firewall, a mail server for the faculty, and then a file server.
    • They have to make sure nothing bad is on the network and the kids can't get to any questionable sites.

      Why does anyone care? If some 13 year old has enough determination to get past the firewalls and look at pornography, I tell him good luck. That and of course ban him permenantly from my network for the rest of his days. If he really needs to use the net, he can, but only with lynx.
      • >If he really needs to use the net, he can, but only with lynx.

        Welcome to the world of ASCII pr0n! [spacebarcowboy.com] NSFW (or school districts) !!!!
        • Welcome to the world of ASCII pr0n! NSFW (or school districts) !!!!

          If someone is willing to go to those lengths, I think the internet is the least of their problems. That said, I'm not sure lynx supports css sheets.
      • The problem is not so much students accessing inappropriate sites, its what happens when the parents find out (threatening law suits or removal of their kid from the school for example)
    • So you're the guy who's blocked off my state from the internet? ;)

      I'm just a bit annoyed that I can hardly get any work done since the new filter came in. Every site not on its own domain name (2nd level), or hosted at a uni gets blocked. Anything which is decided could be bad gets blocked. I've had to throw out an entire project because genetic modification to brewers' yeast isn't allowed past the filter (alcohol). Google Cache? Nope. Wayback machine? Not allowed either.

      At least I'm allowed to use Ope
  • Ideally, users should learn to help themselves instead of complaining to the network admin or Help Desk. I get a lot resistance from some users who insist that the Help Desk fix their problem even though I provided links for them to fix their own problems. I been tempted to walk into work with a smiley coffee cup and wearing "No, I won't fix your computer!" T-shirt.
  • by JordanL (886154) <{jordan.ledoux} {at} {gmail.com}> on Sunday February 19, 2006 @06:01PM (#14756624) Homepage
    Hey, I'm a former student a current employee of a large school district, and I think I can answer some of your questions:

    What is it like to be a school district admin? What kind of unique things do you have to do that are outside the realm of 'normal' IT departments?

    One of the things that's a bit quirky, but not much different than most other IT departments is how the users are made to interact with the personel.

    Often times you will get a teacher who has done something to their compuer that is outside the scope of the service agreement which the department has with the school, and then wants the IT department to fix it for free.

    Because school districts work on tax budgets, our method of dealing with purchases and such is interesting as well. The IT department makes administrative decisions without consulting the school board, and thus, is not allowed, in any part, to be unionized.

    We recieve a budget from the school board that we use to pay for our costs, (like buying parts or laptops or a new server), and then the schools, out of their budget, pay the general fund back for any services they buy from us. Certain services, (like internet, printing, etc.), are provided for free. Others cost the school money that they pay back to the district.

    When is the most hectic/slow time for you?

    By far, the most hectic time is September-November. All the new things that got implemented over the summer are being used for the first time, and things go wrong.

    How big of a network do you manage?

    I can't really give specifics... but its upwards a quarter million computers over a hundred or so square miles.

    Also, do you have any favorite stories about being a school district IT admin?

    We use Novell ZEN Works around the district, and by far, the most common misconception among users is that 'snapping' an application, (a network driven installation), means they no longer need the CD to use the program. *rolls eyes* We distribute applications, we don't crack them.

    The students usually provide the best stories though. One of the onsite technicians was in a classroom removing sound drivers, (the students had been wasting time in class listening to things and the teacher requested we fix that), and noticed a student attempting to circumvent the security policy and reinstall his sound drivers. The technician remote controlled his computer from across the room and typed into the command prompt "Don't do anything stupid". The kids in the class gathered round in astonishment saying things like "they can't do that ... how do they know ... can they see everything we type?" They walked over to the technician who had controlled the computer and asked, "Can the district monitor what your computer is doing?" He smiled and answered, "They can monitor everything." Heh.
    • nice post, wish i had some mod points. +1 for sig too.

      good stuff.
    • All those wannabe neophytes are impressed by simple sysadmin and root-access permissions, so that's definitely gotta be something to worry about at some point or another.
    • American Libertarian who doesn't believe in socialism....

      No -1 Flamebait from me, but I do wonder why you work for a public school district.

      • He meant to type "American Librarian"... :)
      • That's simple. Libertarians tend to want government staying out of where it doesn't belong. This particularly applies to the Federal government. There is nothing unconstitutional about a public school system... as long as the Federal has absolutely nothing to do with it. If the residents of an area vote to have such a thing, then fine, that's their democratic decision. I don't always like the idea of public schooling, because of the many conflicts and waste that are often involved, but I also can't say
        • There is nothing unconstitutional about a public school system... as long as the Federal has absolutely nothing to do with it.

          When the Washington DC school system is the best in the nation, the Feds will be able to claim they know more about running schools than anybody else. Until it is, instead of the cesspit it is now, they should shut up and mind their own business.

          • When the Washington DC school system is the best in the nation, the Feds will be able to claim they know more about running schools than anybody else.

            Shows what you know - the city runs the school system, not the Feds. All the feds do is harrass the city over each little expenditure. I like to think of it as Marion Barry's legacy.

        • There is nothing unconstitutional about a public school system...

          Um, no one said it was. But it is a form of socialism, albeit on a local level. If someone thinks public schools should be abolished because of that, I can respect that (while disagreeing entirely). But for someone to say he doesn't believe in socialism while supporting one example of it is either playing Orwellian word-redefinition games, or (more likely) simply doesn't understand what he's talking about.

          • How ironic you should imply someone not knowing what that're talking about in the context of your own misguided arguments. Maintaining a free republic is the duty of its citizens, and an informed public is the cornerstone of that democracy, and you can't be well informed or independant in thought if you can't fucking read. Get rid of the public schools and they end up replaced by theistic institutions fostering religious dogma - not exactly the cornerstone of a free society.

            This isn't just my opinion, it's
            • None of which challenges (even a little) the fact that public schools are an example of socialism. Too bad they failed to teach you basic reading comprehension.
              • Again, you accuse another of lacking something that is obviously not part of your character - Jefferson's arguments point out why public education is absolutely not an example of "socialism." Liberty depends entirely upon a certain minimum level of education among the people. Without that education, there is no liberty - and no room for libertarians (even of the bastardized contemporary version, the type of which you apparently are).

                Your argument is mere assertion.

                Public schools are not an example of social
          • Um, no one said it was. But it is a form of socialism, albeit on a local level.

            So fucking what? You act as if Socialism was automatically a bad thing, when it's quite often the best idea - the national power grid is a form of socialism and it works just fine. National Health Care is socialist, but it's a damn good idea.

      • No -1 Flamebait from me, but I do wonder why you work for a public school district.

        Let's just say that the 'experience required' to work at the school district is proportional to how it pays its positions comparably with the rest of the industry. ;) (I need SOMETHING on my resume).
    • He smiled and answered, "They can monitor everything." Heh.

      Key word can. At our school district, although they have VNC on all the machines and they can monitor the Internet traffic, I know that they don't in general. They switched the content filter from a default-allow system to a default-deny system last week because people were finding new proxies faster than the filter software caught them. If they simply watched a random sample of computers - or monitored computers with suspiciously high HTTP traffic
  • Quick points (Score:5, Informative)

    by pcgamez (40751) on Sunday February 19, 2006 @06:06PM (#14756646)
    1) If you have good software that will handle the students screwing around (such as DeepFreeze or whatever).

    2) Expect vandalism of the computers. All cases should be locked. All equipment rooms should be locked.

    3) In general, the faculty has not a clue how to use a computer. They actually tend to be less teachable than the average person. If you have 50 faculty, 2 might be knowledgeable (as in, enough to build computers and such), 5 will not have to contact you about anything as they can fix it, and the rest will be nightmares.
    • Re:Quick points (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Gothmolly (148874)
      They'll be worse than nightmares. "In this day and age" (to use a horrible cliche) to NOT know something about computers makes you a dinosaur, out of touch, etc. etc. No teacher is going to want this image, so they'll a) actively sabotage you and b) claim to know much more than they do. Expect this primarly from the mid-50s, "I'm just waiting to retire but I hate these computer almost as much as these kids", types.
    • And I am agreeing with everything that Parent has to say.
    • As a student, I've heard something about vandalism... in Australia we use 240v power, and the little power selector switches aren't locked inside the case anywhere. Guess what happened.

      Last year there was tape over the switches, this year they've been epoxied in place. I'd have loved watch a computer being turned on like that...
      -ReK
  • Interestingly... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by deezilmsu (769007) <danielaaronwilliams&gmail,com> on Sunday February 19, 2006 @06:12PM (#14756676) Homepage
    I was in high school (3 years ago) and was tapped by out district admin to help him, so I got to see what he sees from the viewpoint of you (the question asker). Here's what I found: Hectic times of the year: beginning and ending of every semester. Between the influx of new students that had to have user accounts and e-mail accounts created for them, and removing the ones that had graduated from the previous semester to keep the accounts right with the students in the district, those times were really straining. Also, the student grade/attendance system (STI, that piece of shit) would really put a huge load on our servers from all the data going in and out of it as well. Network size: We had ~400 computers in the high school that I was in charge of, that was 6 separate labs, and at least 1 computer in each classroom, most had 2. Then there were 4 big IBM servers and 2 smaller ones (big: district webserver, STI server, teacher e-mail server, teacher file server; small: backup file server, student e-mail server) You are also more than likely some form of tech support for every one that you manage. For one of my 4 periods a day my last three semesters at high school, I did the tech support and management stuff. Most of the time it was fixing problems for the faculty who had hosed soemthing up on accident, or fixing something a student did on purpose. It was fun doing the work. So fun, I've found the same thing at the university I am a student at, helping to manage another network, for the college that houses Computer Science and 5 other departments. Bigger network (4x), more headaches, but alot more leeway in what I can do, and something that may turn into a job offer when I graduate soon.
  • I'm sure it's a nightmare job, but the limited number of school admins I've encountered have not been up to the task.

    In one school district, the principals of each school got Windows laptops which were completely locked down. When one principal asked them to install an 802.11 card, she was told she wasn't allowed one because it was a security risk. This is the same district that turns OFF the mail server at night and weekends for security purposes. Heck, why not leave it off all the time, then?

    In another, m
  • Only one way to go (Score:3, Interesting)

    by geohump (782273) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .pmuhoeg.> on Sunday February 19, 2006 @06:24PM (#14756738) Journal
    The best (only!) way to survive adminning a school district is to convert every desktop machine to a diskless client., No hard drives, and no floppies on the desktop machines. (USB Key's are Ok for students and they don't have any moving parts or heads that need maintenance)

    Stick one server in each room where there are more than N clients and make a subnet out of the room. N varies based on network speed, server size and typical client load.

    Server is headless, keyboardless, mouseless, administered remotely.

    Diskless clients almost never breakdown, and need very little RAM to run effectively.

    All this concentrates your admin work to the servers and network equipment. (and replacing mice and kybds). And user accounts are more easily admined as well. Of course all user accounts should be managed on a centralized server/authorization system.

    If licensing and managing licensing for all the servers and clients and user's email etc.. becomes problemsome or too expensive, all licensing concerns can be eliminated by using k12ltsp, a proven thin client system allready in operation at many schools in the USA and many other countries.

    http://www.k12ltsp.org/ [k12ltsp.org]
    • Ooohhhh I tried, the amount of crap I got when I:
      1) put a few Knoppix for Kids stations in the elementary libraries (no-one knows how to use them - no-one being the adults as the kids loved the icons and thought they had a new toy)
      2) showed a cost difference between MS office and openoffice...
      3) provided the form for FREE StarOffice 7 for the ENTIRE district to the CTO (and then to the purchasing agent when that did not work)
      4) showed the cost difference (tech support included) on some classroom setups as i
      • Oh yeah, don't take their Ms Office away, they can't use it, but don't take it away.
        Yep. IME the idea is that "everyone uses MS Office" so therefore the school districts must put it on their underpowered PCs so the kids get familiar with it. Get 'em while they're young.
      • You got crap from them by showing that it would save a ton of money?

        Oh yeah, don't take their Ms Office away, they can't use it, but don't take it away.

        Funny how no one sees a problem with spending 150 USD(educational discount) per MS Office license just to teach kids brand loyalty.

        I set up a 55 computer k12ltsp lab a few years ago and have found that most kids and teachers don't really care what they're using as long as they can use the internet and write and print documents. The setup was volunteer w
    • Server is headless, keyboardless, mouseless, administered remotely.

      If you can get permission, make the servers *nix. Not just for the obvious security/stability issues, but because unlike Gatesware, *nix servers will come back up after a power failure without needing somebody to come around and log in. If you have Gatesware servers all over the campus, it can take hours to get them all up and running if there's only one tech to go around and log into each one. And even if there's something that needs h

    • I love the "in case" blocking of various sites. At a district I previously worked for, I was told to block "deviantart.com" because there was a section which contained semiclothed/nude pictures. Well, that section is well marked, contains warnings beforehand, and isn't so simple to get to that one could accidentally click on.

      I know many young people with artistic talent whom use (or could use) DA as an art repository. Despite my arguements against censoring it I was ultimately forced to blacklist the site
  • Constant trouble (Score:3, Informative)

    by Makatsuta (844053) on Sunday February 19, 2006 @06:27PM (#14756758) Journal
    I was a High School admin for a couple of districts. I found the students in the private schools to be the most cruel and demonic to computers. The rual students where more respectful. Bigger districts varied from OK to bad, but not as bad as private school. The worst I have seen is someone putting hot glue into a computer's powersupply to breaking of pencils inside the floppy drives. The annoying ones are the teens that pop-off the belt on the CD-ROM drive tray motor. The worse student to a computer is a teenager. I have fixed spam/bot/malware infected computers and in 15 minutes it would be trashed again. Teachers gripe because of the draconian methods I have used to control the damage students cause and have demanded restrictions be removed. What they don't see, is the budget the district gives for time and parts, which is virtually nothing. Everytime a student is given more freedom on a PC, the more expensive it costs to maintain it. The best environment I have seen for students is an all Mac setup. Virtually no headaches, yet schools want to run away from them. They just don't see.
  • I Love using Remote Desktop on Mac OS X to spy on other computers (If I am right, Windows included), and, to really freak people out, take control of that user's computer. Do it to someone in that room and see their reaction (ONLY if you are good at controlling laughing--you will NEVER be able to do it again once people know it was you). Youv'e got to know that computer's password, though, but most schools have them set to the same thing, or more often nothing at all.
    • Yeah, my favourite trick is to shut down their machine when they're playing loud, bad music. Just shut down cold. No chance to save or anything. And there's nothing they can do but wait for the ancient machine to start up again.
    • Damn right. Apple Remote Desktop is god. /Used to fuck around with kids with it
  • Key differentiation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JRHelgeson (576325) on Sunday February 19, 2006 @06:39PM (#14756820) Homepage Journal
    As a security auditor, I've audited College and High School networks.

    Simply put: Wherein most organizations are trying to protect themselves from the internet - at a school district, they try to protect the internet from their organization.
    • A hahahahahaha....

      Okay, okay, okay, phew, let me start breathing again. *deep breath*.


      A HAHAHAHAHA.


      You, sir, WIN THE INTERNET. That is, without a doubt, the single most accurate statement EVER TO HAVE BEEN SEEN ON SLASHDOT. Not to mention the most well-phrased, and blunt. You, sir, are the winner of all things great. Why? Because you hit the nail square on the head.
  • After college I did a year long stint as a sys/net admin a small upstate New York school district. It was really my first time being a full time admin and man was it crazy. It was a small underfunded school district so everything was done on a shoe string. It was only two buildings with about 500 computers but when I got there it was still a hubbed network [shudder].

    However its really not that much different from working anywhere else. There might be a little bit more bureaucracy because its a public in
  • Ok... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sfing_ter (99478)
    700 computers, 9 sites, 2500 users.
    Windows Networks, all sites see each other, user logins for high and middle schools, windows 5 domains, 40 macs in a lab at the HS, 5 computer labs, 15 servers.
    Networks/domains already existed when I got there.

    Special things:
    student server folders: nightly scripts to delete mp3, zip(sit rar etc) and exe(dmg bin etc)
    daily run of quota script and notification to "over/close to the limit" offenders

    Funny things:
    Middle schoolers taping nickels to cds and putting them in and lea
  • by siredgar (144573) on Sunday February 19, 2006 @06:51PM (#14756891) Homepage
    I'm the network mangler for a medium sized school system - 17 schools, 11,000 students, 3500 network nodes.

    There are a few challenges that I can think of that deviate from what I encountered in the private sector:

    1. Content filtering. Though you probably find content filtering of some sort at most companies, being in a school system I'm *required* to have content filtering by CIPA (Child Internet Protection Act) or risk our federal funding and thereby my job. Unfortunately the extent of what/how you filter is ill-defined. Also unlike a company where as a rule sane adults realize they can get fired for surfing pornography, I have a few thousand middle and high school kids whose hormones are going nuts and often don't consider or care about the consequences. Now, I'm a bleeding heart liberal and censoring by and large goes against my grain, but I believe preventing young children from accidentally being exposed to something they weren't expecting (whitehouse.com instead of whitehouse.gov, for instance) is a good thing. However, if a pubescent child is determined to go looking I don't believe you can stop him from finding it. We could deploy draconian measures to stop it, but then you limit the value of the Internet (example: We blocked google images because there wasn't an easy way to prevent them from switching off the safe-search mode). We (IT) also bounce all requests to block a site that isn't obvious pornography to the curriculum folks for a ruling. That leads to decisions I don't always agree with, such as blocking plannedparenthood.com among others. Content filtering in a K-12 school system is a touchy business, balancing needs/desires of kids, faculty, parents, school board, and CIPA.

    2. Funding/staffing. I used to work for the Family Channel. When a new IT project was floated, an adequate budget was attached and off you went. In the school system new IT projects come up all the time, often driven from other departments, but insufficient funding/staffing is attached to it in many cases. Work tends to pile on already busy people and so you get people who are very good at what they do yet they end up doing a half-baked job because they simply can't get to it all. We have a networking staff of 3 people to handle all telecommunications/networking/security (cameras) in the county, and for the 6 years prior to this July, only had 2 on the team. This is probably the most frustrating part of my job. We also have to deal with bidding procedures. Anything over $10,000 has to be put out to bid and approved by the school board. That makes something we might normally do in a few days to a couple of weeks (evaluate and decide to purchase a product) take a month or more. You also end up justifying an IT decision to people who might not understand the nuances of why the lower bidder isn't the best solution.

    3. Atmosphere. This is why I work for the school system. It's *so* much more relaxed and rewarding than working in the private sector. Work in the private sector and you're making money for someone. Work in a school system and you really can give something back to society. It may sound cheesy, and certainly isn't my only motivation, but it really feels good to use your talents somewhere where chasing money isn't the goal. When the kids go "it's the computer man!" and light up when you fix their computer it's a rewarding warm fuzzy. I also get to work in jeans and comfortable shirts, work 8 - 4:30, get 2 weeks off for Christmas, 1 week for spring break, 1 week for fall break, 10 vacation days a year, 9 or so sick days, 2 personal days, and all the standard school holidays. My boss is fine if I want to go grab an hour at my daughter's school to watch her school play. It's a really personal life/family friendly work atmosphere. Of course, there are downsides as well -- for instance I often have worked over spring break or Christmas break to do things while the faculty/kids are out, but that's not unique to the school system environment. Just didn't want to give the impression it was all wine and ro
    • (example: We blocked google images because there wasn't an easy way to prevent them from switching off the safe-search mode)

      Just add "&safe=vss" to the end of all queries sent to *.google.com. If you have a proxy, there's probably an easy way to do this. Our school district implements this, probably through their Lightspeed Systems' filter.

      Also unlike a company where as a rule sane adults realize they can get fired for surfing pornography, I have a few thousand middle and high school kids whose hormones
    • Wow - did I read that right? You get 6 weeks vacation, and "all the standard school holidays", plus 2 personal days, plus 9 sick days off?

      Seems like a sweet deal to me - I'd take a $10K paycut for that in a heartbeat.

  • by bob7 (923187)
    I was a student aide in the computer lab last year, and managed to get administrative plrivelages for pretty much everything in the school. The district IT department, itself, is a bunch of incompetant controll-freaks. Schools certainly have interesting issues. The first is blocking all the naughty websites. To do this, they have the entire district (several miles wide) wired up to a single high-speed connection. Inbetween us and the web is a proxy server running their firewall. The firewall, though, can b
    • The district IT department, itself, is a bunch of incompetant controll-freaks.

      That's certainly possible, but it's just as likely that they're overwhelmed cat-herders trying desperately to keep things from falling into utter chaos.

  • I have the pleasure of administering a K-12 private school. The kids are very computer literate, and as such, you really need to make a good sandbox for them to play in. Thankfully, Apple and BSD provide great facilities that enable me to ensure that the kids are kept safe with content filtering, have roaming profiles and each client is locked down with respect to software installation. Surprisingly, the teachers have much less comfort with technology, and they mess things up more often than the kids do. If
  • But as far as my school district goes, the work seems to consist of spying on students who know more than them and blocking their perfectly innocent Web sites [kicks-ass.org], locking down the computer settings to the point where you can't even lock your screen to keep people from messing with it if you're not at the machine, discovering that all the restrictions make it impossible to remote-install software without running into enough problems that any students and/or school people watching can't help but laugh, and yelli
  • I have been in the education field, though not technically as a sysadmin. I have done a lot of my own system administration in at least one school, though, because the actual designated IT person was clueless and the security was so poor that I could change any setting I wanted.

    For example, we had two computers in a teacher's lounge, one of which was connected to a simple inkjet printer. This computer got some virus, and the cure was apparently to wipe the hard drive and start over. I had nothing to do

  • I worked and also volunteered for a large school district (20K+ students) when I was in high school and college. My experience jives with others, kids will do NASTY things to the computers, all the cases will need to be locked and even then they will still get into them. If you enjoy working with kids and the district is structured right it can be rewarding, especially when you get a kid interested in productive use of a computer vs say just gaming or the 'net. But most of your work will be pretty mundane
  • I'm a contractor that's been with a fairly small district (2500 student enrollment) for about eight (8) years. I'm a self-employeed contractor, and work with a mix of educational, governmental, and private-industry Customers.

    At my districg, I manage ten (10) servers (Windows NT Server 4.0, Windows 2000 Server, Windows Server 2003, and a couple different flavours of Fedora Linux), and a mostly Cisco Systems branded Ethernet infrastructure. I've got about five-hundred (500) Windows XP Professional-based PC'

    • by Lovejoy (200794)
      This is indeed a very, very good explanation. You are a terrific communicator. I'll bet the district folks love you. If you get tired of your admin work, you could definitely do technical communication/training.

      I also note that you did not once call your clients "idiots," "morons," or the like, which seems to be a significant problem on this thread.

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