In response to recent security breaches, the Antelope Valley Union High School District in Lancaster, Calif. (nine-12, enrollment 18,000), may be one of the first districts in the country to hire a network security manager whose sole duty is ensuring that safety, responsibility, and privacy reign supreme in the district’s computer network.

“There were three reasons we decided to hire a network manager with an emphasis on security. First and foremost, we wanted to protect students while they are online. Second, we wanted to protect the integrity of our network. And, finally, we wanted to optimize our bandwidth,” said Michael Porter, director of information services at Antelope Valley.

“We are such a large district that we’re really dependent on the internet. We communicate through eMail and teach classes over the internet, and many of our teachers have their own sites, so we are very technology-rich,” said Linda Solcich, community relations coordinator. “But, because of that, we have to be very careful.”

At press time, the district was still searching for the right candidate, with the goal of filling the position by mid-January.

The decision to spend $70,000 to hire a network security manager comes in the wake of security breaches on several school web sites and a highly publicized case of inappropriate internet use by a teacher.

“We had a case several years ago where a teacher was looking at pornography on the internet, so we’ve had to fire employees in the past due to misuses of the internet,” said Solcich.

The case she referred to occurred during the 1997-’98 school year, when a district art teacher was fired after a district investigation revealed he was keeping pornographic materials from the internet on his school computer.

Despite his firing, trustees voted to give the teacher $40,000 to avoid litigation. District officials said the 4-1 vote was cast to end the case because they didn’t want to go to court, face rising attorney fees, and risk losing the case.

The art teacher faced 17 misdemeanor and felony charges related to the use of a school computer to store sexually explicit, erotic, and pornographic material and for allegedly molesting a 15-year-old female student.

He was sentenced in May 1999 to a year in jail and probation of five years after pleading no contest to unlawful computer access and possession of child pornography.

With roughly 5,000 computers throughout the district—and with every classroom in all seven high schools connected to the internet—Porter believes Antelope Valley was in need of a staff member to concentrate solely on security issues.

“An internet connection opens up your network to hackers, and it allows for improper use from within, so there has to be some mechanism in place to avoid problems,” he said. “As an institution becomes larger, you really might have to have someone to manage all of those things.”

The $70,000 price tag for the new district position includes benefits, Porter explained. “The actual pay is somewhat less than that. Actually, I think that figure is low compared with the private sector. [Private-sector network security managers] can make $90,000 to $100,000 doing the same thing,” he said.

District officials believe the $70,000 is a necessary and cost-efficient expenditure.

“Our network technicians were taken off their normal duties to track down hackers, and we had to hire an investigator at one point to go in and look at files on some computers, and all that was happening more and more frequently,” said Porter.

“When we added it all up, we decided we were already spending more than it would cost to hire someone to specifically take care of that for us,” he said.

Monitoring the district’s WebSense filtering software will be just one of many duties expected of the district security manager. Another will be making sure the district’s servers are “bulletproof.”

“As school networks get bigger, safety and security will become essential components to school administration,” said Keith Kruger, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Consortium for School Networking.

“When we reach a certain level of network sophistication, I think you’ll see more and more schools realizing the need for a manager of information, not just a manager of technology,” he added.

Porter agreed: “I believe that, if [districts] are going to emphasize … web-based content, there will be an increased need for this type of position.”

Links:

Antelope Valley Union High School District http://avdistrict.org

Consortium for School Networking http://www.cosn.org