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Being School District Admin?

Cliff posted more than 8 years ago | from the education-vs-enterprise dept.

161

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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Deli Meat (4, Funny)

Jozer99 (693146) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756518)

Taking Deli meat out of the floppy drives of Apple SE/20's. My friends used to love doing that.

Re:Deli Meat (1)

idonthack (883680) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756574)

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.

Re:Deli Meat (1)

chat1410 (873712) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756585)

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 time. I had to replace CD drives because dumbass kids would play with the lens's. So yes, basically repairing what idiots used to break.

Pens and pennies (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756906)

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 teenagers caught copulating in the back rooms when a technician comes in to work early/late, some kids have no shame!


Add to that that teachers seem to think they know everything, but rarely know enough not to install webshots, spywarefuntime, and various other fun things... well it's not exactly a recipe for joy.

Re:Pens and pennies (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757825)

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.

Re:Deli Meat (1)

ohchaos (564646) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756983)

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...

Re:Deli Meat (1)

hazem (472289) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759407)

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...

Re:Deli Meat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14758446)

Once I was so bored in French class I accidentally jammed a pen cap in the CD drive. I was half asleep at the time, so don't ask how. The school sysadmin probably didn't even look in there (you could barely see it) and now the drive just sits there, without power. (must've unplugged it)

Don't ask us (1, Insightful)

Daxster (854610) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756544)

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..

Re:Don't ask us (1)

jeffskyrunner (701044) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759022)

School network admins, from My experience, at least in High school, have ego problems. The refused to even acknowlage that there might be something wrong with their system, even though we could see it clearly. We wanted to help them, and they threatened to suspend us.

Re:Don't ask us (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14759751)

And then you write/launch a virus to prove something is wrong and just get suspended anyways.

(Note: No, not YOU, parent commenter, but unfortunately the norm with a lot of punk kids.)

You left out the question you really want to ask (5, Funny)

general_re (8883) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756563)

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."

Re:You left out the question you really want to as (2, Funny)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756605)

David Lightman, is that you?

Re:You left out the question you really want to as (1)

chat1410 (873712) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756618)

(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).

Re:You left out the question you really want to as (3, Insightful)

Gyga (873992) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756642)

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. This will work if like my school every account, even the student account with no password, has write permission. I have not done this I have just seen my teacher enter grades and show an idot get caught by the librarian.

Re:You left out the question you really want to as (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14756673)

Saw not show, sorry.

Re:You left out the question you really want to as (2, Insightful)

jonwil (467024) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757846)

Any school where students have even read access to the places where teachers keep their grades needs to fire the sysadmin.

Re:You left out the question you really want to as (2, Insightful)

VxJasonxV (792809) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759753)

More like lynch.
But I don't entirely disagree :-).

I was one for 3 years,.. (4, Insightful)

mobiux (118006) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:I was one for 3 years,.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14756850)

They can't be fired, per se, but at my school (in a good-sized, way underfunded North Carolina, USA district) you loose network access privledges and receive suspensions starting with the first infringement. They increment upward in both days of "out" time and number of semesters of access suspension, per violation.

Re:I was one for 3 years,.. (1)

jZnat (793348) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756879)

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

Re:I was one for 3 years,.. (1)

Jesselnz (866138) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757060)

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...

Re:I was one for 3 years,.. (1)

Premo_Maggot (864012) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757582)

this guy is right, i would know from expierience....

SD IT 2K (5, Interesting)

42Penguins (861511) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:SD IT 2K (1)

42Penguins (861511) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756582)

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.

Re:SD IT 2K (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757495)

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. Images of all machines should be made and maintained, and DeepFreeze is a must. Teaching faculty and students to save to a network drive is a worthwhile investment.

3) Middle-schoolers do think they know everything. Don't necessarily discourage this by locking down your systems, but using deepfreeze lets them play around all they want, and once something goes wrong, reboot, and everything's golden again!

4) Elementary school teachers love you. They love everyone as a matter of fact. However, you've got to be cautious, be slow, and be extremely nice to any teachers when teaching them anything. Never be condescending, and never act like you know more than they do. Teaching teachers is one of the hardest things you can do. Go ask an Education Professor. With enough patience, you shouldn't have any problems.

5) Budget constraints blow. You'll always be understaffed and inadqeuately equipped. Deal with it. 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. They'll be thrilled to have the money and experience, and you'll be thrilled to not have to unpack an ungodly amount of equipment.

Re:SD IT 2K (1)

alienw (585907) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757879)

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.

Re:SD IT 2K (1)

hazem (472289) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759508)

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 into windows.

It worked pretty well because the kids got tired of messing with the computers - since all their "work" would get wiped out on the next reboot.

See my journal if you're intereste in how I made it all work. The trick is that with lilo, you can call it from linux, telling it to default to a particular "image" only on the next reboot, overriding the normal default.

It's designed for fat32/win98 (make tgz images), but could easily be modified to use dd/gzip for ntfs/winxp.

District Management (4, Interesting)

Breaker_1 (688170) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756604)

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.

Re:District Management (2, Insightful)

darrell73 (69855) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757532)

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 department wants a "vital teaching aid" (aka certain software package) installed in lab. Timeframe for completion of this....45mins (basically one teaching period.

This presents one of 3 scenarios

1) You do it.......stress-o-meter reaches critical
2) You don't do it for legitimate reason, such as class is already using those computers so you don't have access
3) You try to claim some clarification from the principal about decreasing the stability of the lab image by installing softare ad-hoc. He/She takes department head and explains that this isn't done and procedures have to be followed.

HAH! For those of you who are laughing must have worked in a school IT environment as you all know that NUMBER 3 WILL NEVER HAPPEN. A principal putting in some policy benefitting IT and taking some power away from the teachers....cmon, you have to be kidding!

So you are left with two possible outcomes
1) You are seen as a angel by the requesting department for making it happen.....until you have to refuse the next time - then you are the devil incarnate. The spin off from this outcome means that more requests will happen from other departments because you can already make it happen so it has become SOP (Standard Operation Procedure). Of course if this install breaks other software then you are the devil incarnate.

2) You refuse - you are the devil incarnate. And don't try to justify yourself.....there is no justification from the devil incarnate. Of course the spin off from this option is that teachers talk and you become the entire schools devil incarnate because you are just not a "Can Do" person. Generally speaking once this happens, being fired or an nervous breakdown is very soon to follow.

So the biggest difference in business (at least those businesses that have a small amount of success) is that oversight from a manager who can broker requests like that. It isn't just the IT guy being difficult, but there is a procedure that can be followed that everyone (forced or not) can agree upon.

Anyway, enough of reminiscing (shudder, twitch, twitch), I did try to avoid being put into a scenario like this by being proactive.

At the beginning of term 4 (last term of the year here in West Aus) I sent out a memo to the departments asking them to list what software packages they will require in the new year. I also explained that this would allow me to test them all and ensure that they work. The response I got back generally was "All the ones we used this year, plus a few more for next year that we haven't nailed down yet". So I bided my time and with several weeks to go in the term I requested the same information. I was told that we needed all the ones from this year and not sure yet about the new ones. I followed up with the departments, ask them when they would know. I was told, "When we get around to it".

I'll admit at this point in time, I bitched to my higher ups about lack of co-operation and lack of planning being undertaken by the department. I was told to not be a whiner and to bend over and take whatever the departments wanted to use.

So I decided to play this out and see what happened.

I received requests for installation 3 days prior to the beginning of the term. 32 of them, 8 of which needed to be in prior to the 3rd day of term.

Frustration! Yes please! Care factor of management 0(zero).

Just another year.

*Please note that it was extremely soon after this that I left the school and have sworn NEVER to go back*

Re:District Management (1)

Randall_Jones (849846) | more than 8 years ago | (#14758689)

I understand your frustration, but the point of having the computers is for students and teachers to use them. Your job is to do what they ask you to do and make sure it works, even when it's hard. Why stop at refusing to install software because it decreases stability, why not just tell the school administrators not to bother taking the computers out of their shipping boxes, since inevitably they're bound to break from student/teacher use/abuse.

Re:District Management (1)

hazem (472289) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759439)

Actually, my job, working as a tech for the school district, was not do to what the teachers asked. It was to keep the computers running, maintain the security of the network, and to follow approved procedures for adding new software.

And remember that you're responsible for maintaining the computers with all the software. You do realize that for a variety of reasons, installing one piece of software can break another software's installation.

So, if you're responsible for maintaining 40 different pieces of software on the computers, and a teacher comes up and wants something he downloaded off the web installed for the next class, you're most likely a fool if you do it. That software needs to be tested to make sure it behaves with all the other pieces of software - and that it isn't loaded with spyware or other security-breaking issues. And you also need to make sure they have all the licenses to install it on 25 computers - even if the teacher just bought one (they usually don't understand that concept - that you have to pay for it for all the computers - even if you can use the same disk to install it on all of them).

If you have more than a handful of computers and a handful of software packages, you have to be really careful about what you just install willy-nilly, or you'll end up with a worthless pile of computers.

a terrible job (5, Interesting)

Greventls (624360) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:a terrible job (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756870)

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.

Re:a terrible job (1)

GoofyBoy (44399) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756907)

>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) !!!!

Re:a terrible job (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756953)

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.

Re:a terrible job (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757907)

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)

Re:a terrible job (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14758484)

I don't work there, but I do help my chess teacher set up computers during chess class. (computers in chess class?! I don't understand it either)

He thinks its a miracle that I can get these machines running with Windows (though I'd much rather install *NIX) and running some sort of chess game.

He also suggested getting new 17-inch monitors for these computers, just to play chess.

Personally, I think he's crazy.

I also have a somewhat deranged French teacher that sometimes has to be taught things three times! The agony of the faculty knowing you're good with computers!!! The agony!!!

Teach the users to help themselves... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756622)

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.

Re:Teach the users to help themselves... (0)

biodork (25036) | more than 8 years ago | (#14758625)

This is why IT takes a lot of crap.... When people have a problem with the stuff I am in charge of, they expect me to fix it. IT expects to hand me a manual/link and for me to learn their jobs. I can, for a lot of the stuff, do it. For others- I can't. My degree is in molecular biology though...

What you are saying, when you do this, is "I am not worth keeping employed here becuase I don't actually do anything. You can learn it all yourself". You are likely one of the same people who will then gripe when your job is sent to outer mongolia for 1/10000'th the cost....and you will wonder why.

This response sums up why IT gets treated like crap a lot of places...

Re:Teach the users to help themselves... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#14758923)

Let take an easy example... intalling a network printer.

  • I could point you to a web page that explains how to automatically set up a network printer for your computer that would take five minutes of your time to do.
  • Or would you rather be on the phone for 15 minutes as you watch me remotely log into your computer and install a network printer that would've taken five minutes to do by yourself.
  • Or you would rather have a desktop technician come to your desk, kick you off your computer for half an hour, and install a network printer that would've taken five minutes to do by yourself.

The company I work for wants the user to go to the web page to automatically install a network printer. If you can't learn something that simple that the company wants you to learn, how useful are you to the company?

I'm doing about 600 tickets per month. The vast majority of those tickets take about less than five minutes each to complete. You know where I spend most of my time on the Help Desk? Helping users who are too lazy to help themselves. I'm not talking about the clueless, the inexperience, or new employees. I'm talking about the people who think they are so important that they expect other people to do something simple for them when that isn't the company policy and are too inconsiderate to say "thank you".

Answers From A School District IT (5, Interesting)

JordanL (886154) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756624)

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.

Re:Answers From A School District IT (1, Interesting)

JeffSh (71237) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756697)

nice post, wish i had some mod points. +1 for sig too.

good stuff.

Re:Answers From A School District IT (1)

jZnat (793348) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756903)

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.

Re:Answers From A School District IT (2, Insightful)

Pseudonym (62607) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757022)

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.

Re:Answers From A School District IT (2, Funny)

karnal (22275) | more than 8 years ago | (#14758481)

He meant to type "American Librarian"... :)

Re:Answers From A School District IT (1, Offtopic)

aaronl (43811) | more than 8 years ago | (#14758685)

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 it would be right to force my neighboring town to not have one.

-An American Libertarian working for a municipal government.

Re:Answers From A School District IT (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759262)

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.

Re:Answers From A School District IT (1)

Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757686)

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 to one site only - they could block the proxies manually and get the students in trouble (since the computers are named after the classroom number).

And I use PuTTY all the time - mostly for shell access to my college account (I'm taking a half schedule in college), but occasionally for proxying - and they haven't even blocked the PuTTY home page.

(By the way, I hope I'm not in the same school district as you.)

Re:Answers From A School District IT (1)

eosp (885380) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757858)

I've had to use VNC to get to /. -- apparently it's "Inappropriate Content."

Re:Answers From A School District IT (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14758667)

Well, gee whiz... from ASCII p0rn today to the (now less often) daily GNAA post to the penguin sex... of course slashdot is "Inappropriate Content."

Quick points (4, Informative)

pcgamez (40751) | more than 8 years ago | (#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 (2, Insightful)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756683)

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.

Re:Quick points (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14758424)

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.


Yeah, a few of us academic IT types have been around the block a few (dozen) times.

I audit everything auditable. I've got an SQL server full of data about to burst at the seams. I can tell you the last time Mr. Arroyo the math teacher farted in front of his machine and the last time Ms. Simpson tried to installe Bonzi Buddy.

Seriously tho, lock it down then audit Audit AUDIT... Most teachers think because they're union that they're unassailable. This is not the case... if you play your cards right you can give them enough rope with which to hang themselves. (or at least make them look like idiots)

The real solution though if you want to stay in the education field is to work for a university. Much nicer, more diverse computing environment, and you can take action against problem students. The profs are pretty much teflon coated though.

Re:Quick points (1)

deezilmsu (769007) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756692)

And I am agreeing with everything that Parent has to say.

Interestingly... (4, Interesting)

deezilmsu (769007) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756676)

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.

A less-than-generous assessment (2, Interesting)

Lovejoy (200794) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756685)

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, much smaller school district, users can't access the site for Bridge Construction Set - it's blocked by the NetNanny because it's a "gaming site." Because games and learning are mutually exclusive, of course.

I'm sure there are school IT admins who do it because they like working with students and teachers, or for the love of working in education. But for what school districts pay, if they're not doing it for the love of the job, or of the students, they are probably not up to the task.

Caveat - this is my limited experience, and there are exceptions to every rule. So if you're the exception to the rule, please don't take offense. /puts on flame-retardant suit

Only one way to go (3, Interesting)

geohump (782273) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756738)

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]

Re:Only one way to go (1)

Sfing_ter (99478) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757101)

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 in your post... DON'T BRING THAT LINUX STUFF IN HERE!

In fact the only time i was able to get oss in place was on some classroom routers,(hide them macs and block the itunes), temporary kiosks, storage/backup servers, and a trouble ticket server. All instances where I was the only one needing to interface with the root machine.

School districts run away from a big initial dollar amount, (they do not care about tco or writing off over a 5yr period), they just need to get something by the board...

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

Re:Only one way to go (1)

Nimey (114278) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757320)

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.

Re:Only one way to go (1)

LDoggg_ (659725) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757875)

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 work for a private school without very much at all available for an IT budget.

Sure there's always resistance by the odd MS fanboy here and there, but they're not typically the ones that are willing to help out anyways.

I understand that there may be red tape doing stuff for a public school district, but if you have the means, just get it done.
YOU are the IT person, not the loudmouth whose computer using ineptitude causes them to resist any form of change.

Re:Only one way to go (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14757341)

yup...ltsp rocks. i'm an admin in a small school in maine, and we have a decent sized diskless lab. ltsp really does work great...especially with machines that would now be considered junk. the first real problem that i've had with the lab happened not that long ago, when a group of faculty needed to use a site that used shockwave. its too bad, but i had to point them to the windows lab. petition adobe/macromedia: http://www.petitiononline.com/linuxswp/petition.ht ml [petitiononline.com]

Re:Only one way to go (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759302)

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 human attention after a crash, if it boots at all, you can always use ssh from a central location to do what's needed, saving the time spent on a personal visit.

Easier Said than done (1)

Ximok (650049) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759762)

This makes the assumption that school districts use hardware that can network boot. I've run into this problem many times. Plus, as cool as terminal clients are, it is hard to muster up the hardware to support the server side. Remember your budget is often somewhere close or below 0.

Constant trouble (3, Informative)

Makatsuta (844053) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756758)

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.

OS X... (1)

diamondmagic (877411) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756789)

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.

Re:OS X... (1)

JJman (916535) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757134)

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.

Re:OS X... (1)

mboverload (657893) | more than 8 years ago | (#14758312)

Damn right. Apple Remote Desktop is god. /Used to fuck around with kids with it

Key differentiation (2, Interesting)

JRHelgeson (576325) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756820)

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.

Re:Key differentiation (1)

ScytheBlade1 (772156) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757421)

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.

from experience (1)

Abstract_Me (799786) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756841)

being a network admin for school districts can be pretty interesting. your biggest jobs include cleaning spyware and staying up to date on the latest sites for online instant messaging and flash games.

some of my fav memories would have to be watching conversations about myself and being called a "f*&^n immigrant" due to blocking a popular site.

one of the more interesting aspects of schools is that with all the sensitive information they hold on students, parents, teachers, adminitration, etc etc security seems to never be a huge issue. and by never a huge issue i actually mean nobody cares.

as for the busiest time that is summer roleouts (if you are looking for a summer job where you will learn a lot contact your it department and see if they need summer students), christmas rollouts can also be busy but generally not as tiring as the summer versions. the worst time is more then likely jsut after a big rollout when school starts back up. nobody knows their passwords or usernames, can't figure out the new system, don't understand why their version of software is gone... you name it people will complain about it.

School System Admin Speaks Out (2, Interesting)

riffzifnab (449869) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756885)

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 institution but that's about it. Computer networks are computer networks where ever you go. Some school IT offices get sucked into teaching computer courses (or in my high schools case the IT department came out of the computer classes). But most of the time I got to avoid dealing with the students thankfully.

It was a rather steady flow of work. There might have been a little increase in workload around grading time but that mostly was other people's problems. My biggest source of trouble was from poorly written educational software. That stuff sucks big time. I think its written by educators who become programmers.

Sorry I don't have anything really cool to write about, but its really just like other jobs. At least as long as you don't sweat the bull-shit.

Ok... (2, Interesting)

Sfing_ter (99478) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756889)

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 leaving the library, as cd-drive sounds like an out of balance washing machine..

High school kid with keyloggers, and other various hacking tools in his folder: Excuse:
he was learning to be an FBI agent... :)

Teacher purchasing a server (got the funds and all), so she could have enough room for the studendts to put their video projects... then a dozen kids fragging their files because they were trying to edit 4 & 5 gig files across a 100m network :)
(server must not be fast enough) hehe heheheh.

Network manager - 17-school K-12 school district (5, Insightful)

siredgar (144573) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756891)

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 roses. Also, the pay is lower than you can get in the corporate environment -- I could likely get an extra $10k a year over what I make now in the surrounding area. In fact, I took a $5k pay cut when I left the corporate environment to join the school system, but I did it with a smile on my face and I'll never go back to the corporate workforce if I can help it. Obviously, it would take more than $10k a year extra to make me do so. It might be different if my wife didn't make a decent income as well, but I'd sure miss it if I left.

Er... that was probably a bit more than 2 cents worth.

Re:Network manager - 17-school K-12 school distric (2, Informative)

Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757761)

(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 are going nuts and often don't consider or care about the consequences.

Ask your school district if they'd consider implementing a username and password for each student, so they can put violations into the regular disciplinary system for "abuse of resources" or whatever else is in the student rules.

Re:Network manager - 17-school K-12 school distric (1)

fnord123 (748158) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759142)

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.

Re:Network manager - 17-school K-12 school distric (2, Interesting)

siredgar (144573) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759316)

Spring break and fall break are often not full weeks for us as administrative staff, so call it 5 weeks a year. So.... yeah, it's pretty nice :)

Did I mention during the summer we work 4 10-hour days (7 AM - 5 PM) and have 3 day weekends?

Not a good job (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14756892)

i don't have any good things to say about this job.
lots of kids fucking up your computers - replacing the wallpaper with a pic of goatse, putting magnets on the monitor, etc...
i did have sex with the school librarian in the server room though

Re:Not a good job (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14756965)

]blockquote] i did have sex with the school librarian in the server room though [/blockquote]
Ewww. *shiver* I can't imagine anyone having sex with Mrs. Edna, not even her husband.

not quite district admin... (2, Interesting)

bob7 (923187) | more than 8 years ago | (#14756954)

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 be bypassed by any motivated 15 year old, and judging by the fact that they havn't blocked Google Video yet, they probably don't care. Theres also the issue of managing the software on all the computers (eMacs). They all come imaged with an older version of OS 10, some remote desktop software (I had a lot of fun with that), a grading program that the teachers seem to complain about, MS office 2000, and (of all things) Dreamweaver and Flash MX. In order to install 3rd party software, drivers, etc. you need to file a request to the help-desk. If they aprove it (wich can take about 3 months) they e-mail you a password. Thus, we could not hook up our shiny new laser printers to our shiny new computers. Finally, When the district decided to get us these fancy 'smart board' things, no one had any clue what they did, much less how to use them, so they all sat in a corner the whole year. You'd think they might want to teach the teachers a thing or 2 on the technology, but no.

K-12 (1)

cyberbian (897119) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757334)

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 the kids didn't drop the laptops occasionally, it would be an almost ideal setup. Hacking gravity is still proving a little difficult. Damn Newtonian physics!

I don't know about you... (1)

martinultima (832468) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757394)

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 yelling at students using SSH tunnels, Firefox, and anything else they don't understand.

Although then again, that's just what I know from my experience as the only student in the entire district who not only knows what Linux is, but also even has his own version [distrowatch.com] .

Re:I don't know about you... (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759337)

Can't get to innocent websites because of the domain name? tinyurl.com [tinyurl.com] is your fried! HTH, HAND.

Quite simply... don't bother. (2, Interesting)

Saxophonist (937341) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757515)

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 with that part. However, the clueless admin had no idea how to reinstall the print driver after messing with it for allegedly half an hour.

This was Win98, so there was no real concept of "administrator." I had to log in, but once on the system I could change anything I wanted. I was sick of the printer not working, so I poked around on the HP website, found the driver, and installed it. The whole thing took less than five minutes. The other computer was already set up to connect to this computer over the network for printing, so it immediately had print capabilities too.

About a month later, I was in this lounge using the computer and another teacher was using the other one. The "admin" walked in. The other teacher asked her some sort of question about printing, to which the admin answered, "Well, printing won't work because I couldn't get the print driver to install." The other teacher replied, saying that, no, she was able to print just a moment ago from this other program, just not from the one she was using. The "admin" replied, "Well, it must be magic then, since there is no print driver on that computer." I just stayed out of it. Later, I told the teacher (since it was one I trusted) what I had done, and she thought it was hilarious.

Frankly, in a lot of schools, the IT person is designated by an administrator. Quite often, that person is a school librarian that has a little bit of a clue how to do research and use programs on the computer, and that is it. Security is a joke most of the time.

What's worse is that what is often done in the guise of "security" makes computers practically inoperable. I can't even begin to explain the annoyances of the Novell "security" system for Win98 PC's (this was a different school system). No start menu; everything had to be accessed through desktop icons. File browsing on the computer was similarly prohibited, but all you had to do was open up, say, Word, and "open" a file. Then you could see whatever was on the computer. The proxy for "safe" web browsing was a joke; simply change your browser settings, and presto, you have a direct internet connection. I didn't bother because I had no reason to, but if a student had any knowledge of how to do this kind of thing, that student could easily bypass security.

As others have mentioned, the pay is pretty dismal, since if you actually are hired as a full-time system administrator with real qualifications, you could use those qualifications to get a much better-paying and more satisfying job elsewhere. So, as I said in the subject line, my recommendation is: don't bother.

Experiences in the late 90's (1)

Chokai (10224) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757521)

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, with below average pay.

When I was doing this job I was more of a general "do it all" tech because of some of my skills and some interesting things I did:

1) Quite a bit of basic forensics. So just how did the porn get on the school computers? What user did it originate from? Who installed that keystroke recorder and what information did it obtain? What teacher gave out the password that allowed it to happen in the first places so they could get "help" from a computer savvy student. In other words A LOT of time spent reviewing logs because kids wouldn't rat.

2) Writing reports and documents outlining what student x did for the inevitable parent/principal meetings and subsequent discipline was an interesting part of my job, at least several hours per week.

3) Assisting in small criminal investigations. Theft is going to be common. Depending on your job description you could spend time inventorying equipment to determine what is missing or even directly assisting the cops by gathering logs and the like. I know at least one sys-admin who got to work with the FBI after kids jacking the computers from the school were transporting them several states away in order to sell them. His installing some "call home" software on random machines in the school with the problem helped a great deal when someone was stupid enough to boot the machine on the 'net before wiping it.

Cobb county school district. (1)

blackomegax (807080) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757525)

Cobb county in georgia outsourced their networking operations once me and a buddy got caught "hacking" (i use the term VERY loosely, they overreacted to what was at the time, unheard of scriptkiddy shiat) and it turns out im a little infamous for it. Ironically enough, im going for a major in infosec.

Its got some perks (1)

laoseth (955776) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757614)

I worked for 4 years for the School I graduated from. Medium size network, 1200 students 200 faculty, 500 computers. One biggest difference than any other sector, you get 3 months(summer) where you have to support only 5% of your network, and the rest is yours. This allows you time to play, but most of that time, you have things to do. I worked as part of a 3-5 person team as I was there, mostly over the summers creating images to be used for the next year. 3 months for an image, well, the last year of there, the room we were using for image building had roughly 500 different software titles in it. Licences ranging from Full campus, to 20 copies used only by special ed. All of these had to be sorted and installed in the correct areas. Then, the users you are supporting are not required to know ANYTHING about the computers they used, so most of the users were completely stranded if anything went wrong. Also, your working for a government, so funding is special. One year you get a grant to buy 300 computers for the campus, but who gives grants for wiring(no one, cause who cares if your company donated 4 miles of cat 5, or a layer 3 switch, when your competitor donated 300 magical computers). Then 4 years later, try explaining to non tech that you need 300 new computers. They stare at you, thinking, chalkboards don't need replacing every 4 years, nor do books or desks, what did we get into). I was lucky to be separated from all the finance shenanigans by a boss who's almost sole job was to play finance and liaison between Superintendents, and school boards, and Parents for Responsible Technology (yes, a techie parent started this as well) and keep of clear of the bull shit. This one person made the job extremely laid back and joyous for us, though if I was in here shoes, I think it would have been the worst job in the world.

Missing mouse balls (1)

the.Ceph (863988) | more than 8 years ago | (#14757958)

I worked as an intern at my high school's IT department. One of the biggest problems was students stealing mouse balls.

Solution, super glue the bottom of the mice on. Sure they wouldn't work so well once they got dirty and you couldn't clean em but eh, that's what the bastards get.

Re:Missing mouse balls (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14758411)

Sounds more like a reason to use Unix to me.

Re:Missing mouse balls (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14758478)

OH MY GOD the day we got rid of the last ball mouse was a joyous one!

We went out for drinks with all the people involved with IT to celebrate (and a couple of the final year students who helped with the labs that were over 18). :)

Re:Missing mouse balls (1)

hazem (472289) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759473)

We just got optical mice instead. No moving parts...

One step lower (1)

TLouden (677335) | more than 8 years ago | (#14758039)

I've been working with the Department of Technology for DPS since sophomore year and can tell you that the most hectic time is during breaks when it's most acceptable to make changes. Outside normal is dealing with a full spectrum of user types. Everything from teachers and administrators with no computer knowledge, to students in programming classes, to script kiddies with something to prove are on the computers and network. Security is insane because there is no way to determine who should have what rights. Teachers and students must be kepts from doing damage by accident but allowed to perform necesary tasks. The best way to learn about this would be to assist in the IT department at your highschool so that you get a feel for how much has to be accounted for.

My experience.. not that it matters anyway :) (1)

damneinstien (939730) | more than 8 years ago | (#14758136)

First, I am currently a high schooler and manage my dad's small business infrastructure (some workstations -- most running (K)Ubuntu depending on the users preference -- and 1 Apache server and 1 file server both running Debian. Additionally, I help out the IT people at my school.

My school's IT Department is fairly well funded -- we have 8 labs with 20 or so computers each; all of the ~350 faculty members have laptops and there is a projector in every classroom. All of the computers (unfortunately) run Windows XP.

The biggest annoyance is that the IT people in my school are idiots. They have a strict policy of "IE only," even though it's well known that other browsers are much better security-wise. But the department members, being idiots and everything, cannot for their life enforce this policy correctly (not that they should but w/e). Other students constantly bring in Portable Firefox and can run it even though they technically shouldn't be able to. We have blocked execution of all outside executables except just renaming "firefox.exe" to "iexplore.exe" can easily circumvent that. I have pointed this out to the IT people numerous times but they refuse to do anything -- even though we have had significant downtime when some kid brought one virused executable (can't remember which one) and renamed it purposefully and downed the network.

Besides that, most of the teachers have install priveleges on the machines loaned to them. Everyday one of them brings it hosed with some oddball virus/spyware/adware/whatever. I can see why sometimes we might want to give admin-priveleges on the laptops we loan to them but they really shouldn't.

Our web server is a joke. 20 GB of space for the whole district! I mean with storage being so cheap these days, I can't figure out why they can't replace the old hard-drive with a fresh 250Gb one. With all the clubs/sports sites and the school sites of the 30 elementary schools, 8 middle schools and 2 high schools, that hard-drive is 99% full and the webmaster is always trying to cut down usage by saying no to a new club or whatever that wants to use that hosting space.

We pay WAY too much for stupid software. For example, our image runs "Geometer's Sketchpad" which I believe costs $20 a license and we 410 or so licenses. Now, the KDE educational suite has a much better alternative -- for free. I have asked the district to at least install Kubuntu on the math computers to save some money but we have MS-Fan boys on the board.

Our filtering software is pretty horrible. We are supposed to block webmail etc. but can't. Just putting in a Linux router at the gateway blocking everything but port 80 and 443 and then blacklisting traffic would be so much more effective.

And then comes our file server. Has all the district's "important" files -- WITHOUT backups. Nope. Not a single backup. It's a disaster waiting to happen.

I sometimes have to wonder how some of the IT people got a job there. Seriously, they have no idea how to manage a restricted environment -- at all.

Welcome... (1)

sedyn (880034) | more than 8 years ago | (#14758441)

"to save some money but we have MS-Fan boys on the board."

I welcome you to the world where instead of a technocracy we have mediocracy. Management (of any kind) will always resist change, sometimes despite obvious benefits.

Let's assume that they did what you said, and it worked perfectly, no better than perfectly, that it beamed knowledge directly into the kid's heads. The question will come up why a student was the one to suggest it and why wasn't it discovered and implemented earlier. Making the "professionals" and management look bad.

Everyone is worried about how others see them, and the nightmare of a manager is to be considered out of touch and a bad decision maker (including past mistakes). Which fosters in an atmosphere where it is very hard to atone for one's mistakes.

I know it sucks, and I feel lucky that at that age I was completely apathetic towards myself and fellow students. If I actually wanted to improve their situation I might have got myself into a lot of trouble.

Re:My experience.. not that it matters anyway :) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14758683)

First, I am currently a high schooler and manage my dad's small business infrastructure (some workstations -- most running (K)Ubuntu depending on the users preference -- and 1 Apache server and 1 file server both running Debian. Additionally, I help out the IT people at my school.


Congrats. Pick up some part time work doing the same thing with other people's small businesses. I think this trend is going to accelerate.

My school's IT Department is fairly well funded -- we have 8 labs with 20 or so computers each; all of the ~350 faculty members have laptops and there is a projector in every classroom. All of the computers (unfortunately) run Windows XP.


All too common, unfortunately. I'm a university admin and so luckily we have a mix of systems.

The biggest annoyance is that the IT people in my school are idiots. They have a strict policy of "IE only," even though it's well known that other browsers are much better security-wise. But the department members, being idiots and everything, cannot for their life enforce this policy correctly (not that they should but w/e). Other students constantly bring in Portable Firefox and can run it even though they technically shouldn't be able to. We have blocked execution of all outside executables except just renaming "firefox.exe" to "iexplore.exe" can easily circumvent that. I have pointed this out to the IT people numerous times but they refuse to do anything -- even though we have had significant downtime when some kid brought one virused executable (can't remember which one) and renamed it purposefully and downed the network.


Personally I use Firefox under Slackware but on the XP workstations in the wild I only allow IE. Why? Cause I lock that badboy down with GPOs. I then Deep Freeze the whole thing, and that's something it sounds like your school could use. Virus rips into the system? Reboot and its gone.

Besides that, most of the teachers have install priveleges on the machines loaned to them. Everyday one of them brings it hosed with some oddball virus/spyware/adware/whatever. I can see why sometimes we might want to give admin-priveleges on the laptops we loan to them but they really shouldn't.


This is a problem we've had too. For me the issue is twofold. Firstly, software exists that won't run properly without local admin privileges. Secondly, profs at my uni seem to think they have free reign on university laptops. The reality is that it depends on the dean of your school. At our school the profs have serious political clout so they get away with it, and unfortunately it's a fact of life. I've gotten down to itemizing hours on unscrewing faculty machines to keep the bean counters and head shed in the know, and it looks like something's going to give shortly. It's all politics.

Our web server is a joke. 20 GB of space for the whole district! I mean with storage being so cheap these days, I can't figure out why they can't replace the old hard-drive with a fresh 250Gb one. With all the clubs/sports sites and the school sites of the 30 elementary schools, 8 middle schools and 2 high schools, that hard-drive is 99% full and the webmaster is always trying to cut down usage by saying no to a new club or whatever that wants to use that hosting space.


Yeah, this seems to be a no-brainer, I'll give you that. Then again maybe the server is so old that it can only address a smaller drive. ;) I'm joking. But then again we made a SparcStation 10 act as a web server for nine(!) years. (Thank you Easter Bun errr Ross Technologies!)

We pay WAY too much for stupid software. For example, our image runs "Geometer's Sketchpad" which I believe costs $20 a license and we 410 or so licenses. Now, the KDE educational suite has a much better alternative -- for free. I have asked the district to at least install Kubuntu on the math computers to save some money but we have MS-Fan boys on the board.


Welcome to the real world. I'm a UNIX guy with a background working for the U.S. government in a past life, and one thing I hated about non-government work is that it was almost all Microsoft in my area for smaller servers (under 8 cpus) and workstations. As far as the software goes, the question becomes one of "well, if we paid for it we get support". You'll hear this a lot.

Our filtering software is pretty horrible. We are supposed to block webmail etc. but can't. Just putting in a Linux router at the gateway blocking everything but port 80 and 443 and then blacklisting traffic would be so much more effective.


Yeah, but do your admins know linux? Who is going to train them? If they misconfigure a linux box serving this role the ensuing grabassedness will be noteworthy. They'll be running an IRC network and anonymous ftp site without even knowing it.

[Admin] Uhh dude, have you heard of a torrent tracker called "Pr0n0sat 1"?
[Tech] Nope. Why do you ask?
[Admin] Because we appear to be hosting it.

And then comes our file server. Has all the district's "important" files -- WITHOUT backups. Nope. Not a single backup. It's a disaster waiting to happen.


I think this is pretty unexcusable, but then again I've seen organizations who think they can get away without dropping that couple grand for Veritas or Brightstor licenses and another five grand for an OK autoloader unit.

I sometimes have to wonder how some of the IT people got a job there. Seriously, they have no idea how to manage a restricted environment -- at all.


First off, I'm not trying to defend them. I don't know them. But consider:

They may be operating under a crap budget.
They may be short staffed.
They may need training.
At the rate academic IT pays you generally get one of three types of people:
- those who are incompetent and couldn't get a job anywhere else but will work for peanuts
- those who are using this position to springboard into "professional" IT administration (i.e. previous bench techs and student techs moving up)
- those who are competent, have experienced the corporate world, and like working in education

Compound these with the ability to burn out from lack of support or lack of resources or endless political battles and it gets even more interesting. ... is late.. logic failing.. speeling circkits fawlty.. must get sleep.

What I manage... (1)

adjuster (61096) | more than 8 years ago | (#14758577)

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's, and about eight-hundred (800) Windows 98SE-based PC's. Our network infrastructure is all Ethernet based, with gigabit-Ethernet based fiber links between our buildings, and 10/100 switched Ethernet inside the buildings. Besides running basic "File 'n Print" services, Microsoft Exchange 2003-based email, and providing access to the Internet, our LAN/WAN also supports about three-hundred Cisco IP phones. Our Internet access comes over three (3) bonded T1 lines. Major applications include our telephone system (Cisco CallManager and Unity), email, file 'n print sharing, gradebook (Pinnacle Excelsior... *blech*), student management (a AS/400-based application), and a host of small "boutique" apps (library automation, planning for "special needs" students, cafeteria POS, various student assessment systems).

I've been with this district since they deployed their first networked PC, and I've managed the entire infrastructure since the beginning. I brought us thru the Windows NT 4.0 and Exchange 5.5 days to where we are today. I don't handle PC problems (we have a combination of in-house and contracted support for broken PC's), but I handle any communcations / networking issues, management of the Active Directory installation, and provide general planning, design, and guidance.

We use a Linux-based disk imaging system that I put together for imaging our PC's via either CD-ROM based imaging or multicast network imaging. _ALL_ user data is stored on servers and PC's are re-imaged as a first response to PC issues. This fixes the majority of reported issues, and our lowest-level response staff are trained in these activities. I've eschewed what I consider silliness with programs like "Deep Freeze" or "Fortres", and use "System Policies" for my Windows 9X PC's and Group Policy for my Windows XP PC's, along with judicious use of re-imaging when necessary. (It takes around 15 minutes to re-image a Windows 98 PC and 25 minutes to re-image a Windows XP PC.) PC's (or, at least, their software environments) are disposable.

Overall, I'm pleased with how well things work. My duties are an approximately 20% full-time equivalent. Over our entire technical staff, we have approximately 2 full-time equivalents managing the network, phones, servers, PC's, and applications. It's split over six (6) people, including myself, and works out really well. We do most of our communcation via email, and I may go several weeks w/o seeing any of the other staff face-to-face.

The things that have helped most include:

  • A very thorough understanding of the features of Active Directory and Windows XP Professional. Translate this to whatever directory-service and client operating systems you use. Windows and AD have been good to me, and I've been a "MCSE" since 1997, but I cut my teeth on XENIX and SCO Unix, and I'm a die-hard free and open source software user. Like a lot of people, managing Windows systems is my "day job", though I've managed to work Linux or other free and open source software into nearly every one of my Customers networks in some way or another.
  • The ability to write code when I need it-- especially scripting during PC startups or logons. Our disk imager is a bunch of scripts tying open-source tools together on bootable CD's or PXE boot images. I wrote a system-policy handler DLL for Windows 9X that allows these PC's to obtain software installation instructions from scripts, not unlike Windows 2000/XP PC's obtaining installation instructions from Active Directory. I've heavily scripted the PC startup and user logon process to eliminate any manual labor from adding new PC's or user accounts. Almost all of our software for client computers is installed via either Windows Installer (MSI) packages or through scripting.
  • An appreciation for the multiplicative effect of your labor. A mistake that damages five-hundred (500) PC's is inexcusable. You take a lot more time to test, test, and test again when you know that your mistake is going to cost a tremendous amount of your time to fix. The payoff is very easy to demonstrate, though. We re-imaged all our Windows 98 PC's, over eight-hundred (800) PC's in five (5) buildings, in four (4) days during the summer of 2004. This wouldn't have happened without very careful planning and testing prior to deployment.
  • Centralized storage of user data and settings. PC's, as I've said, are disposable. Even though schools have an absurdly long PC lifecycle (we're running PC's from 1999 on Windows 98SE, presently), it's important to recognize that the software environment on these PC's should be disposable. User data lives on servers, protected by redundant disks, access-controls, and redundant backup systems. That can be spelled "SAN", "tape", or whatever you'd like, but it needs to be there. Foremost, we are the stewards and guardians of data.
  • Solid technical knowledge about _every_ piece of the overall system. I know how every one of our appliations and infrastructure components functions very intimately. At one time, we had a mixture of T1's, ATM, Ethernet (copper and fiber), 802.11b point-to-point links. The move to all Ethernet throughout the network made life easier. Our application software is pretty tightly controlled, and I get to, at the very least, review and test each application prior to deployment (if not actually getting to make recommendations about the application and its relative pros/cons). I am highly effective because I make it a point to know everything about everyting that my network, servers, PC's, and embedded client devices are used for.
  • My writing and communcation skills have been keys to my success. Whether being used to write emails, to write procedure documentation for other technical (and non-technical) staff, to deliver training to users, or to assist in policy discussions w/ district administrators, my writing and communication skills have been invaluable. Knowledge of the specifics of the public education "industry" is helpful, as well as an understanding of the underlying "district politics", but neither matters if you can't communicate effectively.

I could rant on and on for _so_ many paragraphs. I've invested a goodly part of my life in this Customer, and it shows in how well things work. It's been a large part of my life for eight (8) years now, and I intend to be with the district for as long as they'll have me.

Re:What I manage... (1)

JTD121 (950855) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759048)

I'm not an admin, but I was at a high school a year ago, and in my final year, got to do quite a bit here and there. I did very little actual admin work, but when I needed the admin to do something, he wanted me to go through all this paperwork for a simple driver install...I was like 'WTF?' and then I tried to hack DeepFreeze in my spare time while in programming class. It didn't work, because we were apparently using the latest at the time (5.2.x.x) and the latest hack at the time was for 4.2 I believe. Anyway, I applied for a summer position in the whole district, and heard not even a peep from them about a job, or even potential jobs... Maybe I need to talk to the right people or something, but that annoyed me, seeing as most of the infrastructure seems to work pretty well, except that it is all Windows-based...They have a machine that is running 98SE for a small file server in one room, because XP will only allow 10 connections at a time by default, and has to wait a certain amount of time before it will allow a new connection...*shrugs* I want to get into some admin work, but there just doesn't seem to be 'room' for a new one just yet, being that my school district is spending quite a sum on a new high school, I might just be there for a job interview in '07.

From an IT Assistants pov (1)

Blyry (817193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759403)

I am an IT Assistant at a smaller school (1200ish students, k-12) and It is a nice setup we have.

There are around 350 computers spread over 5 labs with approximately 30 each, with one 90 computer lab, and the rest are in classrooms. Every teacher has a computer, and all the computers are newish dells. We spend approximately 30 thousand dollars a year on hardware upgrades (1/3 of hardware every three years) + occasional expenses we have extra money for.

The network is almost brand new, with fiber links between switch closets(6 of em), and 10/100 ethernet to every computer. There are also POE switches that power the phones (everything is nortel), and there is a wireless network to accomodate cordless phones, and administrators pdas.

Everything is kept under a tight, tight control with Symantec Internet Security software at the proxy server filtering almost everything. There is also Symantec managed anti-virus on every networked computer. We use Winclass [winclass.com] to manage students, and It works great, for the most part. All of the updates, security or just plain software are pushed out through the domain, and if it can't be done then the assistants(Myself and other students) get to manually install it on all the computers that need it. Everybody gets a "Z" Drive where their stuff is stored(even the My Documents folder is mapped there), everybody loads a default profile when the log on and then that profile is theirs on that computer, but everything is extremely locked down with policy, so if they can do it it's because we said they could.

It's a pretty relaxed enviroment, stuff doesnt crash very often, and we have a great budget, considering what other schools have. The biggest problem we have as far as students screwing with stuff is occasionally somebody will go into the bios and set a password. Another one of my favorites is when a retarded student puts tape over the sensor on the mouse. That one was pretty confusing the first time it happened to me...

This is all from the perspective of a HS Junior, BTW, but I feel that is a pretty good at what goes on at my school, without revealing too much.

School Admin - Not all that its cracked up to be. (1)

Ximok (650049) | more than 8 years ago | (#14759742)

I admin a 1200 node network for a small sized school district. 5 buildings in all. A lot of our time is spent on very small irritating tasks, mostly problems caused by mal-intending students, or under informed staff. Like any admin, we have the occasional drive failure, and we have to cater to the systems our predecessors setup because our users are accustomed to the "old" environment. You have to be very good people person to make any drastic changes to your network without feeling the pain back from the staff (and your boss). If you want to upgrade the mail server, or switch to a new fileserver because the old one is on its last legs, you either have to bite the bullet and be a bad guy, or you need to play politics for 2 months in advance.
Student management systems are a pain in the rear and usually don't integrate well with any of your existing systems... especially your login system (ldap, Active Directory, ANYTHING). The most hectic time of year is the first two weeks of school... this is when you find out about things that have been broken for "2 years" and "why haven't you fixed it yet". Also, unlike the private sector, the federal government requires you to filter the net for porn etc. Full compliance with this will take a little work as the "default" filters usually don't do the job right.

In regards to unique things, you will find that you will have almost unlimited amounts of http traffic over your internet connection. Invest in a packet shaping device of some kind (we use a packeteer) to segment your traffic it WILL save your butt when some punk decides to fire up bit torrent.

Once at one of my buildings, a principal was having issues connecting to the internet, so he unlocked the network closet and started re-arranging the cabling on the switches. When he was done, he had managed to plug most of the switches into themselves, unplugged the fiber that connected his building to the main server closet (the connect to the internet for him) and them managed to plug the fiber in backwards. Needless to say, he screwed up a lot. The real problem: he changed his proxy settings on accident.

If you want to have it easy: find a way to convert EVERYTHING over to a single platform, and automate everything you can. Expect to work in an environment where you don't have the budget to upgrade anything at a regular pace, expect to have to know Mac OS 7-X, Windows 9x-XP (and then vista), all of your server quirks, and spend a lot of time finding ways to save your precious bandwidth.

My advice: don't do the job unless you have a degree. Cause if you ever want to leave that district, or get better pay, you'll have a hard time without it.
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