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WACS Board Reviews Security Measures

WESTFIELD — Can Tenamore, Westfield Academy and Central School District’s technology coordinator and chief privacy officer, reviewed cybersecurity measures with the board of education at a recent meeting.

Tenamore began by showing board members a news report detailing how schools have become primary targets of ransomware attacks. A ransomware attack can shut down a school’s computer system, which can effectively shut down the school. Criminals typically try to lock down systems while threatening to steal information and sensitive administrative documents. Then a ransom is demanded in order to stop the attack.

However, Tenamore, told the board that the district has many protocols and safety measures to prevent such an attack and to ensure student and staff data privacy.

“I don’t care what data it is, we’re going to protect it,” he said.

These safety measures begin with the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework, Tenamore said. NIST lays out guidance and standards for how organizations should secure their critical data, he added.

Tenamore then described the district’s spam filter, which removes thousands of fishing e-mails and spam before they can reach a user’s inbox.

“We’re using a filter from Microsoft,” he said.

Tenamore noted that when the district switched to remote learning the laptops the students took home were not protected by the district’s firewall. This situation has been remedied, he told the board.

“So, how are we protecting the devices that go home?” he asked. “We can flip the firewall on with all the laptop devices. We have all the protocols in place now.”

Tenamore told the board that the district’s next line of defense is its antivirus software, Sophos Antivirus Protection.

“Sophos detects malware,” he said. “Ideally, the rate of infection goes way down.”

The most important security measure, by far, Tenamore said, is training and constant education of students, teachers and staff.

“This is huge,” he said. “We live in a scary world. We have to do our due diligence, to do the best we can. It all boils down to the staff and students we support.”

Tenamore also explained the multi-authentication process for internet security, which involves sending a six-digit code to the user’s phone. However, even more important, is that the district is able to encrypt its data, he said. If someone were to obtain student, teacher or administration data, they would not be able to read it, he added.

“The best part is we’re encrypting all devices,” Tenamore said. “We’re setting the standards high.”

Finally, Tenamore said, the district has a back-up server that is large enough to handle information from all of its other servers. Furthermore, all of the critical servers are also backed up off site, so the information is located in two places, he said.

In other business, Michael Cipolla, district superintendent, told board members that a lot has happened since school opened in September.

“The great news is that we’re here, together, with our students,” he said.

Cipolla said the district recently had three positive COVID-19 cases and everything went smoothly.

“This past week we had a few COVID cases that we had to work through,” he said. “The whole process went very well.”

In a related matter, elementary principal Mary Rockey told the board that a lot of good learning and gap filling are taking place in the elementary school.

“Our goal in the elementary school is to keep things as normal as possible,” she said.

Rockey said things at the elementary level are being done as normally as they can be, but with a little bit of a twist. Using the Halloween montage as an example, Rockey said, “things aren’t exactly the same, but they are as normal as we can make them.”

Secondary principal Corey Markham told board members that the seniors appreciated the opportunity to get together and take a trip to Allegany State Park.

“Thirty-five students went,” he said. “It wasn’t raining there and everyone went on a one or two mile hike.”

Markham also noted that, in the senior high, teachers and staff are always working to get students back in the classroom.

“We’re constantly evaluating our capacity … we’re always looking at our usable space,” he said.

In another matter, Molly Anderson, curriculum director, told board members that a regional learning committee has recently been formed.

“A lot of schools are facing the same struggles and uncertainties right now,” she said.

Anderson also told the board that there are six new applicants for the seal of biliteracy. She explained how the six pupils will work through the rubrics that were developed by Spanish teacher, Monica Annis, and English teacher, Laura Wilson.

“We’re excited to have six new candidates for that,” she said.

In other business, the board discussed the district’s customary $11,000 contribution to the Westfield library.

“It is my understanding that this is mandated under the law,” Cipolla said.

Board member Deanne Manzilla noted that the district’s contribution has been $11,000 for more than a decade.

“I think we’re lucky that we’ve been able to do the $11,000 and not have to go through a complicated formula for it,” she said.

Manzilla also noted how beneficial the library is to the district.

“They’re a good, safe place and they’ve reached out to the students doing remote learning,” she said.

Board member Tom Tarpley said he has not not able to confirm that the contribution is mandated. Wendy Dyment, board president, responded that “it’s found under real property law, not school law.”

Board member Steve Cockram reported that, as the board representative to the safety committee, “I’m really impressed with how the staff is taking all safety measures and how well everything is being implemented.”

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