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Re-elected board members Grant Hansen (left) and Kim Pickett are sworn in during the South Sanpete School District’s January board meeting last Wednesday.

 

South Sanpete School District

gets update on technology

changes and challenges

 

By Lloyd Call

Associate Publisher

1-20-2021

 

 

MANTI—Technology changes and challenges took front and center at the South Sanpete School District’s board meeting last Wednesday.

Technology director Nadean-Nielson DeMill said, “The changes we have seen over the last 20 years are astonishing. The complexity of the school district’s computer systems continue to grow every year.”

One major challenge the district faces is protecting students, teachers and staff from cyber-attacks and inappropriate content. “We field hundreds of email attacks every day, crafted very carefully to entice teachers into revealing information,” she said. “Also, hackers try to find ways to breach our databases through computer printers, heating and air conditioning systems, and other network devices. If hackers can get into the network, they can access all kinds of sensitive information.”

Ironically, another problem is that the programming filters the district uses are slowing down connectivity. This is not unique to South Sanpete, as many other entities face this problem, DeMill said.

Many websites do not like to be proxied. The district needs proxy services because it provides an extra layer of security and also helps identify specific users on the network.

A proxy server acts as a gateway between the district and the internet. It’s an intermediary server separating end users from the websites they browse. Proxy servers provide varying levels of functionality, security and privacy depending on needs and company policies.

When the district uses a proxy server, internet traffic flows through the proxy server on its way to the address that was requested. The request then comes back through that same proxy server (there are exceptions to this rule), and then the proxy server forwards the data received from the website.

The filter that reports things back to the district is what’s not functioning correctly. It slows down or stops the traffic.

Another challenge is that the district has gone to great lengths to protect its network and databases.

“As an example, a recent update on a server crashed, but because of the district having backups, within minutes the data was restored,” DeMill said. The district has redundant copies in off-site locations that activated, so the crash was not even noticed by most teachers in the district.

A final challenge is the sheer number of devices the district manages. The district has 784 computers and 219 laptops, 25 computer labs, 92 Apple TVs, and students have 3,364 iPads. “In another month, the district will reach its goal to have all the students, grades 1-12 having an iPad, so that’s great, but we have to keep all these up-to-date constantly,” DeMill said.

COVID has complicated things as well. For example, teachers who used to need only one computer or laptop now need another one to run video classes; so the district is again running short of the number of computers it needs.

Superintendent Ralph Squire reported that the Utah High School Association has changed the number of people who can attend indoor sporting events, going from two tickets per player to four tickets per player. Attendance will remain restricted, though there may be different rules that apply when spring sports begin, because they are played outside.

The board also reviewed the district’s graduation rates from 2019, noting that the Utah’s rates overall are slightly less than the districts rate, and that the rates continue to rise slightly from year to year.

The state’s average graduation rate is 88.2 percent. The district’s graduation has gone from 87.0 percent to 91 percent to 92.8 percent over the last three years, a 3.8 percent increase.

Gunnison Valley High School’s rates have gone from 90.8 percent to 95 percent to 94 percent. Manti High School’s rates have gone from 91.2 percent to 92.3 percent to 94.5 percent.