IT leadership is an essential component of school and district operations, and in today’s post-pandemic landscape, K-12 IT security is critical in combatting increasing cybersecurity attacks that can cripple even the largest districts in a matter of moments.
It’s important to establish the right K-12 IT practices and policies that support teaching and learning–and it’s even better to share those best practices in the event that other K-12 IT leaders are seeking to establish the same kind of policies.
Here is K-12 IT advice from a handful of IT leaders:
1. The alarming disparity between prioritization and preparedness is indicative of the cybersecurity challenges school districts are facing. As the Director of Technology at Maconaquah School Corporation located in north-central Indiana, I know firsthand that implementing a proactive cybersecurity posture is a difficult and time-consuming–yet necessary–process. School districts are prime targets for hackers; therefore, we must be prepared.
In our own school corporation, we have adopted four key practices that enable us to continuously strengthen and advance our cybersecurity mitigation and prevention strategies. One of those strategies includes continuously identifying and addressing vulnerabilities. As with training, school districts should never remain idle when it comes to evaluating and addressing their vulnerabilities. We have spent the last few years identifying and fixing gaps in our cybersecurity posture and defenses. Conducting regular audits and evaluations has put our district in a stronger position, but the work is never complete. To be diligent, we must proactively assess our cybersecurity weaknesses and defenses regularly. [Read more]
–Chris Percival, Director of Technology, Maconaquah School Corporation
2. There is no doubt that cybersecurity is essential for all organizations in our modern world. However, security cannot be valued more than usability. The sad fact is that the only entirely secure computer system is one that have been unplugged and shut off. Cyberattacks will continue, and it will be important to ensure that every organization has strong backup and recovery plans in place. However, end user usability is just as important as security.
IT leaders need to ensure that usability is still the primary consideration in building IT systems. IT systems are of little value if they are not able to be used effectively by end users. Considerations of what level of additional steps end users are willing to take is essential. This is particularly important as many organizations still have a high number of remote workers. Make sure the warnings provided to end users are significant as well. Too many warnings can numb end users into assuming the IT department is crying wolf and they may stop paying attention to warnings. [Read more]
–Steven M. Baule, Ed.D., Ph.D., Faculty Member, Winona State University
3. For many of IT teams, challenges around cybersecurity are top of mind, with recent research revealing over half of lower education organizations were hit by ransomware in the past year. On top of this, concerns remain around cloud costs, including new limits on free cloud storage, leaving some wondering what they’re supposed to do and having to pay up. K-12 IT teams need to rethink their approach to cloud storage costs and security.
In order to modernize and innovate, education decision-makers will need to embrace hybrid or multi-cloud storage options that keep their data secure by moving away from mainstream, high-cost cloud providers. Further, to meet growing demands on schools’ IT departments, IT leaders will need to adopt a flexible cloud mindset that enables them to effectively and securely store and leverage the growing deluge of data they are inundated with–everything from student health care data to device and research data. A high performance, multi-cloud approach can help K-12 schools check major pain points off their list. [Read more]
–Kevin Warenda, Director of IT, Hotchkiss School
4. Sometimes it feels like a school district IT department doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Yes, technology is more a part of today’s education than ever before, but when tech is running smoothly, it is easy to forget IT departments and the staff that keep the infrastructure running exist.
In my six years as the director of technology for the Pittsburg Independent School District, we’ve gone through many changes, not to mention what the pandemic put us through. But when COVID-19 forced us all to remote learning nearly overnight, my six-person team was able to move 2,500 students to a one-to-one program rapidly and quite successfully. There were numerous factors contributing to the team’s stellar work. One factor was support from administration, which is vital: It’s very helpful to have someone, both at the board level and the executive level, who understands IT and is equally invested in its success as my team and I are. Listening to your team members is important, too–it validates their importance as individuals and as part of a team. [Read more]
–Nele Morrison, Director of Technology, Pittsburg ISD, Texas
5. In today’s schools, nearly all aspects of student data reside on IT systems in the K-12 ecosystem. And the seamless use of that data through various technologies is paramount in ensuring a stellar educational experience for students and teachers. When teachers and administrators need to bring in student data, protect that data, and adapt to unique needs among various stakeholders who need access to the data, often the amount of time between data entry and usage is so lengthy that end-user experiences only lead to frustration.
I envision a scenario in which students and employees who move between schools in the same state lose no data, lose no documents, no video projects, no graded assignments. Open enrollment policies illustrate why school districts need to implement a cybersecurity system that works seamlessly outside of one specific district. This is a solid illustration of the potentially negative impact that cybersecurity and, more importantly, hands-on protection tools such as user authentication can have on a student’s experience. All learners need an individual path to flourish. If the data that follows them down their educational path isn’t comprehensive or lacks details teachers need, delays or setbacks can result. Retaining and accessing vital student data that teachers need immediately upon a new student’s enrollment is a process that screams for standardized methods. [Read more]
–Diana McGhee, Former Director of Technology at Fort Thomas Independent Schools & Former President of KySTE