Tackling Cybersecurity Challenges in a Large School District
A Conversation with Mark Racine, CIO of Boston Public Schools
Racine and his team are constantly reminded of the importance of cybersecurity because of numerous low-level threats taking place on a consistent basis. Cyberthreats are increasing in frequency, mostly less complex attacks such as phishing scams, but Racine is concerned with the overall numbers. He adds, "We're getting hit, at least, once or twice a day with really stupid low-tech phishing scams but, every time, we shake our heads like, 'How does somebody think that this works?’ But they're coming through every day."
Deciding not to take low-level threats lightly creates an advantage. "We know that this is a constant threat that we need to think about. We need to think one step ahead of the game, and we don't perceive ourselves as being bulletproof," adds Racine.
Boston Public Schools have nearly 57,000 students and 100,000 parents, so a small IT department must rely on everyone taking part in educating themselves around cybersecurity. As Racine sees it, "Our effort has to be in making sure that our school community, the teachers, principals, and secretaries are fully educated on what they need to do and how they need to work with parents on it."
When it comes to edtech inside classrooms, many startup companies are concerned with getting in the door and providing user-friendly experiences for students and teachers. While that approach may seem reasonable, tech companies often forget the IT component and the overall cybersecurity issues at hand. It's a problem facing many CIOs. Racine explains, "If you have a new startup that's trying to get their feet wet and they're not even thinking about security, it makes it very hard to have a conversation with them on how to scale up and how to grow into a district. It's a non-starter when you go from one classroom to 5,000; the needs of security and privacy and data integrity are very different. It depends on the vendor. Sometimes, new companies in the field may not know that security is a major issue."
About Mark Racine
Mark Racine is the Chief Information Officer for the Boston Public Schools, where he leads the instructional and operational technology for the largest school district in New England. Mark joined the Boston Public Schools in 2007 as a classroom teacher before joining the central administration in 2012 as the CIO, where he has led multiple modernization projects across the district, including the move to Ed-Fi in 2018. Mark serves on the Governance Board for the Ed-Fi Alliance, the National Advisory Council for Cybersecurity, and the peer review team for the Council of Great City Schools.
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