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With technology as its “great equalizer,” Moss Point School District makes network security a top priority

A partnership with Cisco brings standardization and peace of mind.

Most of the students in Moss Point School District in Jackson County, Mississippi, have never ventured out of state, and many have never left the county, so Superintendent Kim D. Staley is working to make technology the “great equalizer,” allowing children to experience the world via the Internet. But Staley and his technology staff know that some corners of the Internet pose hazards for children, so network security has emerged as a top priority at the 3,000-pupil school district.

“I am a firm believer that technology is the gateway to equalizing educational processes,” said Staley. “Our challenge was to use technology to engage the children, but at the same time keep them from going to sites that we don’t want them to go to.”

At Moss Point, the network security concerns were similar to those faced by districts across the country: limiting student access to social networking and other educationally inappropriate sites, blocking spam and safeguarding the network against threats from viruses, hackers and intruders. Addressing those concerns, Staley knew, would require an investment in new technology and staff training.

"Our challenge was to use technology to engage the children, but at the same time keep them from going to sites that we don't want them to go to."

The teacher training effort at Moss Point includes an IC3 certification program, where teachers take a formal course in basic computer and Internet use. There is also added instruction in how to identify students who are engaging in inappropriate use of the Internet, such as by looking at the programs students are using on their Windows taskbar.

For the technology component, the district turned to Cisco. “I’ve always chosen Cisco because it’s the industry leader,” explained James Glover, Moss Point’s director of technology. “Support is very easy to get, the operating system and switches and equipment almost never fail, and it gives us industry standard protocols so you don’t have to worry about devices not working together.”

To control student use of the Internet, block spam and protect its network against malware, the district uses Cisco’s IronPort web and email security suite. One of the key benefits of the IronPort system, Glover said, is its use of reputational filtering, meaning that it identifies sites blocked by individual customers and extends protection against those sites to other users as well. He said the IronPort spam filter blocks 16,000 rogue emails each day from entering users’ inboxes. Other Cisco security devices used by the district include a fire- wall to protect against denial of service attacks and other threats from hackers.

Because physical security is a key component of network security, Moss Point School District implemented video security and access control systems, also from Cisco, Glover said. “We chose the Cisco solution for physical security because they offer a complete system that integrates with our network,” he said.

According to Glover, Moss Point’s partnership with Cisco for its network security needs provides the assurance that all components will work seamlessly together. “The biggest benefit is standardization,” he said. “Working with Cisco gives us peace of mind because the biggest headache a technology department can have comes from having 40 or 50 different brands of equipment spread around.”

The district’s network security initiatives with Cisco have also given Superintendent Staley peace of mind. “I have an obligation to the taxpayers, because this is public money we are spending,” he said. “I’m confident that I’m providing the children of this community with the best possible opportunity for an education using the latest and greatest technologies that are available, and at the same time doing it in a safe environment.”

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