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In the business world, the front office is that part of a business or company that first deals with the public, whether customers, clients or in the case of a school, students and parents. At most elementary, middle and high schools, the school front office is generally located at or near the front of the building and recent changes in security expectations usually require that all visitors enter the school through this portal to control access. In most instances, the school front office at this level also continues to contain the dreaded principal's office where disciplinary actions are meted out as necessary. Locating a college or university school front office is a bit more problematic. In the beginning of a student's career, the Admissions Office would be the school front office; later, the Office of the Registrar would serve as the primary office for most student visits.
The school front office is the destination of visitors, parents and teachers in any given elementary, middle or high school. This area must often be used simply to gain entry to the building or campus, and anyone who is not considered staff or a student may be required to show identification, sign-in to a visitors' log and wear a badge designating him as a visitor. A receptionist and other staff have their desks in this area and they often greet visitors from behind a long counter. Parents arrive to pick-up or drop off children, and visiting speakers for periodic school or class assemblies are first met and greeted here by administrative staff. Staff and teacher mailboxes can often also be found in this area.
The principal and other staff offices such as that of social workers and school nurses are also located here. These offices, however, are somewhat removed from the initial entry foyer and have doors that can be closed for private discussions. The general atmosphere of a lower school front office is that of cheerful and controlled chaos. Decor is often based on student art projects with seasonal themes. The noise level depends upon the school's use of bells, office announcements and the volume of the ringing telephones.
A college or university school front office usually projects a quieter, more sophisticated air. Depending upon the status of the academic institution, the waiting area of an admissions office may resemble a formal sitting room with leather chairs and floor lamps. After being greeted upon arrival and seated, visitors are usually taken to a private office to review financial aid packages and other formalities of acceptance and attendance at that school. This layout explains the popularity of small cottages or houses being modified by colleges for the purpose of serving as the school front office.
The front office is where everything happens, and the ideal situation for a student who wants to find out things is to make friends with the receptionist's children. The receptionist sees all and will generally discuss it with his or her spouse at home. Naturally, the children are going to hear things and are the best sources for school insider gossip. High school students, especially, are the nosiest humans in the world, and are always eager to hear the latest tidbit.
The front office is also the source of news of future happenings. If a regulation or similar is coming down the pike, the front office will know it first, and in high school, forewarned is forearmed. Making friends with the receptionist was always good politics.