Tom Ingram ramps up network security in Florida schools

It's crucial that students and staff at Escambia County School District are aware of potential dangers online, the technology specialist says.

Since the Escambia County School District experienced a cyberattack last fall, Tom Ingram and his team of more than 100 IT experts have been “beefing up” network security in the Pensacola, Florida, school system.

The denial-of-service attack led Ingram, the director of information technology for the district, to improve network infrastructure in a way that is proactive — rather than reactive — in shutting down future attacks, he tells EdScoop in a recent interview.

He and the IT department also worked on increasing awareness among students and school officials.

“The main thing we can do is help our staff and our students understand that there are benefits but also dangers in using online resources,” Ingram says. “We’ve worked with our staff quite a bit this year to try to increase their knowledge and avoid falling for the things that you see on the internet.”

Part of those efforts has involved a dedicated manager for information systems security — a go-to person for the district’s application and network security.

Meanwhile, Ingram has been contributing to a district-wide initiative, Vision 2020, that supports personalized learning.

View more of EdScoop’s interviews with innovative school CIOs.

All students, from grades 3 to 12, now have access to a device. Most middle and high schoolers are taking those devices home with them each day, and elementary school students are expected to do the same beginning next year, Ingram says.

Escambia has also improved bandwidth across schools — every classroom is equipped with its own modern wireless access point. The network has 6 gigabytes of connectivity distributed across the approximately 40,000 students in the district.

Escambia also uses Google Classroom and Google Drive, but it’s “looking for other ways to expand the way we deliver content to our students,” Ingram says. “We have a task force that’s been looking at our digital learning ecosystem to see if we can improve the way our students and staff interact with educational software.”

The biggest challenge for the district — and for himself, as an IT director — is managing the interoperability of software, Ingram says.

“I really hate it when our teachers are … going to different places to try to find the information they need to help them solve a problem in the classroom,” Ingram says. “I think that’s an upcoming challenge we need to find the solution for and I think working with my peers at CoSN helps with that problem.”

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