California Educational Data Processing Association
The DataBus - Vol. 36, No. 4
June-July, 1996

NetDay Woes

Lessons Learned: Technology Director pulls off a successful event in spite of daunting roadblocks and last-minute planning.

Kitty Sanchez-Pfeiffer, San Marcos Unified School District

Editor's note: San Marcos Junior High School in San Marcos celebtrated a delayed NetDay96 activity on April 27, 1996. With some planning assistance provided by the San Diego County Office of Education, Ms. Sanchez-Pfeiffer produced a very successful NetDay activity, complete with local TV news and print media coverage. Here is her story.

In the past 2 1/2 months, I have learned more about LANs, WANs, Internet Servers, Routers and hubs than I ever intended as the Director of Technology and Information Systems for San Marcos Unified School District. I am a hardware and software person, whose experiences with networks encompassed installing ethernet cards and connecting the "baby Macs" to Sun Servers. When Superintendent Dr. Larry Maw asked if we could participate in NetDay '96, I enthusiastically responded "SURE!" I respond that way to everything so this was not unusual. Then I set upon the task of learning what network design entailed. All this new wisdom was so I would appear knowledgeable when inexperienced volunteers descended on San Marcos Middle School on April 27. That day was the culmination of weeks of planning (not one of the things I do best), shopping (one of the things I do best), consulting and designing our network.

Since school districts are notoriously poor, my first step was to recruit sponsors to fund our endeavor, provide lures to draw in the much sought after volunteers and anything else they felt that their company could provide in trade for publicity. A major software development corporation swiftly joined in the excitement. We had meetings to discuss what we were going to do and how it was going to be accomplished. They said that they would fund it all. After all was accounted for, (cable, conduit, hubs, routers, etc.) the bill was a whopping $38,000. Our first mistake was in realizing that everything means different things to different people. So we adjusted and found additional funding for the hubs and routers. Our second mistake was not getting any agreement in writing. ALWAYS GET FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES IN WRITING!

I had loads of help from teachers, administrators, consultants, wiring and network experts, sponsors and hardware vendors. But as I soon discovered the experts could not agree. Finally after weeks of discussion, we decided on a 100BaseT backbone with three 10BaseT drops in each of the 70 classrooms, offices, and 6 drops in the Media Center and computer labs. This was our third mistake. REMEMBER VOLUNTEERS ARE PERFORMING THE WORK, SO KEEP GOALS REALISTIC!

We measured every inch of the middle school, laid the backbone, the Saturday before and shopped for supplies two days before NetDay. At our supplier, Graybar Electric, we were still deciding whether to run the conduit over the top or in the ceiling. Finally a decision was made. Graybar had everything in stock and delivered it right away. That helped avoid a fourth mistake. SHOP EARLY.

Friday evening was insane. Our frantic sponsor couldn't find the 100 NetDay T-shirts that were promised for our volunteers. Two teachers worked from 6:00 a.m. until way past 10 p.m. in the hopes that it would appear to volunteers that the project was organized. APPEARANCE IS EVERYTHING.

Saturday arrives and the weather is beautiful at 7 a.m., as it always is in sunny San Diego. I walked into the middle school and yesterday's gnarled nest of CAT 5 cable was tied neatly in bundles. Team leaders, blueprints in hand, set out to measure cable, finalize drop sites, and learn proper termination. The cellular phone rings--T-shirts have miraculously reappeared and our sponsor will drop them off before eight. GIVE VOLUNTEERS SOMETHING BESIDES BRUISES AND SORE MUSCLES TO TAKE HOME.

Scurrying around like maniacs, the precision team leaders had a plan for their area of responsibility. So when 9:00 rolls around and we are infiltrated with our 30 volunteers, down from 100, the atmosphere appears calm. After a brief introduction and training session the team leaders grabbed their staff and set to the work at hand. Their instructions were to have as much fun as possible and still accomplish something. VOLUNTEERS NEED TO HAVE FUN AND FEEL THAT WHAT THEY ARE DOING IS IMPORTANT.

In four short hours 35 classrooms were pulled, cut, terminated, wall molding and jacks were installed. The media arrives at 12 and gets lots of wonderful pictures and stories. The district had a photographer video tape the entire day's events. Our sponsors were so overwhelmed that they increased their donation from $2000 to $6000. This was a very good thing as the bill for supplies came to $6281. IT IS AMAZING HOW MUCH A FEW VOLUNTEERS CAN DO WITH THE RIGHT TEAM LEADERS.

Looking back, all the frantic frustration, indecision and hassles were well worth it, and I am looking forward to wiring all 9 remaining schools.

These following items will become our NetDay commandments:

  1. We will listen to the experts but the final decision will be what is best for San Marcos Unified School District.
  2. We will get all financial offers in writing.
  3. We will realistically set goals as to how much can be done in one day.
  4. We will shop early and stick with our original design.
  5. We will have more fun and maybe word will spread and more people will join in our next NetDay.
  6. We will always give the volunteers something to remind them that all their hard work is appreciated. We will also feed them well.
  7. We will use the same team leaders over and over. They were awesome.
  8. I will think before I say "SURE" to anything.
  9. I will always keep my guardian angel with me. My husband says I must have one or else everything would be a disaster.

Kitty Sanchez-Pfeiffer is Director of Technology and Information Systems for San Marcos Unified School District. She may be reached by e-mail at

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