School District IT Director Chad Peters outlined for the School Committee how student data security is ensured on Wednesday, Oct. 10.
Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak indicated that Whitman Police Chief Scott Benton had sent him and Assistant Superintendent George Ferro an FBI update on student data breaches and pirates holding student data for ransom — usually in the form of crypto-currency such as Bitcoin.
“I’m pretty secure with what we have, but I want you and the public to know your student data is secure here at W-H,” Szymaniak said.
Peters explained that data security starts with the switch three years ago to virtualization and the elimination of computers with individual drives.
“All of our data is actually in our data center,” he said. “None of the data actually resides on the individual devices.”
In addition, there are multiple layers of virus protections both on the dummy PCs and in administrative areas, but in the form of deep-scanning anti-virus protection on virtualization and on the firewall for network connections and Cloud storage facilities. Anomalies of large amounts of data traffic going in and going out of the network are checked.
Switchers, routers and wireless equipment is also monitored, Peters said, as well as email security. He said information and data servers are also encrypted and backed up so any hacks with the intent to hold data for ransom would be futile.
“From a user’s perspective [in school], we have restricted accounts where users have restricted rights,” Peters said. “When they log onto a computer or virtualization, they can’t just install things.”
It protects the system from potential viruses imported via USB sticks or other installed devices or programs.
Committee members asked what kind of instruction was offered students to help them protect themselves on the Internet.
“With a lot of things going on in society now, with data breaches … I think that’s going to be one of our initiatives,” Peters said. “We communicate a lot of that with our staff. In their computer classes they teach digital literacy and digital citizenship. … From our perspective, I think we have to push a lot of that more.”
Ferro said the district now has teachers and media center staff teaching those skills in a Common Sense Media program, as well as an educational liaison to technology on a stipend basis.
“When it comes to educating staff, that’s when we rely on the technology department,” he said.
During the meeting W-H seniors Dorothy Dimascio-Donahue and Kaitlyn Molito were recognized for having been honored by the Mass. Association of School Superintendents as the two top academic students at WHRHS.
“It’s not just in the classroom that they excel, it’s all over the place,” Szymaniak said. “They are true Panthers through-and-through — in student government, student activities, they study hard, they’re good citizens, and I think we should all be proud when they graduate this year, sending them off as ambassadors of WHRHS.”
The School Committee also welcomed interim Director of Student Services Lauren Mathisen, who has been an employee of the district for four years and an 18-year veteran educator. She started as a school psychologist and has worked at WHRHS as the special education coordinator for the last four years, focusing on inclusion and new programs on social-emotional health, including the program that helps students returning from either medical or psychiatric hospitalizations return to the classroom and school community.
In other business, Szymaniak reviewed — and the School Committee accepted — his goals for the 2018-19 school year, a process he said is one in which he is still learning some aspects of the job.
“I felt like putting ‘Survival’ this year wasn’t appropriate [to include],’ he quipped. “Some things that Ruth [Gilbert-Whitner] has left as legacy, I’ve pruned down the wording so I think they are manageable and user-friendly.”
Szymaniak’s goals, for which he outlined potential strategies, include:
• Supporting student learning through a focus on support for the math program, English language learners, expansion of special education — with a focus on in-district programs that can best serve students while saving money for the district — and continuing efforts to provide free all-day kindergarten;
• Being visible throughout the district, with planned and un-planned visits to all schools during the week and meetings with teachers and student leaders;
• Improve and create open lines of communication in conjunction with the district’s focus on safety and security, which includes a planned ALICE training session for staff on Friday, Oct. 19 — an early release day, and grade-level safety training for students and parent meetings; and
• Development of a workable budget that will deliver services and create opportunities to prepare W-H students for higher education, the workforce and/or military service.
Member Christopher Howard asked how Szymaniak felt about the template over-all.
“I don’t love it,” Szymaniak said. “I don’t love it at all, but here’s the thing … but this is what the committee has always gone to. Ours is more of leadership, of facilities, of a professional culture and then family. … It’s kind of a teacher template and our administrative template that everybody else uses in the district.”
Howard agreed that to start somewhere it is easier to start with what is already in place, but trying to measure success is the difficult work.
“I would encourage that we start here but, at some point we rework the template,” Howard said. Szymaniak and several other school committee members agreed. Member Fred Small suggested a simpler format including, goals, measurement indicators and evidence of attainment.
“I personally am not looking at this as a hard-fast, set-in-stone report card, so to speak,” Small said. “I look at a relationship [where] everyone’s working together for the common good. … It’s important to set a goal more important to say how you are going to achieve the goal and how it can be measured.”