Get ahead of the challenges facing school districts in 2023 by monitoring trends that will affect your district. Recent years have presented challenges to K-12 schools; 2023 will not be an exception to this, but there are actions district leaders can take to be prepared.
Cyberattacks on K-12 schools will increase
As cyberattacks against K-12 schools gain coverage and cybercriminals continue to organize, cybercrimes will only increase.
These crimes against K-12 school districts are on the rise because cybercriminals have identified districts as lucrative targets. Student information systems (SIS) store personally identifiable information (PII) of students and staff and many school districts lack the resources to layer essential cybersecurity measures, leaving them vulnerable to cyberattacks. Cybercriminals know this; they can easily attack district networks and hold their PII hostage or sell it to bad actors. Districts utilize hundreds of tech resources and IT personnel are left with the insurmountable task of vetting and maintaining all of them. Unsecure websites and ‘rogue’ apps, those that are used by staff and students but not vetted by IT, can easily slip through the cracks, creating openings for cybercriminals to enter.
Recovering systems after an attack is costly and time consuming. In addition to paying often hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom, district networks are down an average of four days, and require 30 days to fully recover.
Audit all apps in use across the school district, their privacy policies, and data security practices. Third-party analysis of privacy policies provides a reliable source of expertise. These steps can be completed manually or accelerated with digital intelligence software.
Block students and staff from accessing new and unknown websites. Millions of new sites come online each day and the vast majority aren’t educational. These can be malicious and until they are categorized by your web filter, the safest option is simply to prohibit access. If you’re using a web filter with an AI-driven dynamic database, educational or appropriate sites won’t remain uncategorized for more than a couple hours.
Take the time to inform all stakeholders about the importance of cybersecurity and data privacy to empower them with the knowledge to protect their privacy and the community. Teaching staff and students about phishing emails and rouge apps can mitigate risks and help keep staff from unintentionally opening something that will leave your district vulnerable.
School safety will evolve to emphasize prevention
Student mental health has continued to decline in recent years; suicide is now the third leading cause of death in teenagers and events of school violence are increasing. Declining student mental health is not only the result of school violence, but also a direct contributor.
This is likely to continue into 2023, unless our communities take proactive measures to support students and staff and prevent acts of school violence.
Students need us to prioritize their mental well-being as a means to support their physical safety and improve school climate. Fortunately, government parties are increasing their grant funding for crisis prevention efforts. This fall, Oregon granted $3.3 million to schools and the Department of Justice has granted almost $190 million for violence prevention efforts in K-12 schools. Additional grant funding for crisis prevention is likely to follow and districts will be able to use increased grant funding to bolster their prevention efforts.
As grant funding reaches your district, consider taking a holistic approach to school safety. In addition to response and recovery efforts, dedicate resources to prevention and intervention tactics.
Leverage technology to enable your safety and student services teams to intervene before a crisis. Without AI, they can only respond to what they hear and see in person–they need visibility into their students’ online activity. With staffing shortages across districts, technology can help ensure intervention is focused where it needs to be. Identify where these teams need to be supported and let artificial intelligence tools fill in the gaps.
Data will guide district purchasing decisions
These predicted trends for 2023 make one thing really clear—district needs are increasing. Unfortunately, their budgets are not. Data informed decisions will be the key to maximizing limited district dollars.
With mounting concerns about a potential funding cliff and enrollment declines, district personnel will have to make difficult decisions about how to spend their limited financial resources while meeting the needs of their students and staff.
The key to making the right decisions to address issues like staffing shortages, the mental health crisis, physical safety, cybersecurity, and learning loss is looking into data.
Start collecting the data your district needs to make informed decisions now. Decisions will be more pragmatic with data collected over a few years or even just a few months.
Purchasing data analytics tools and proper data review now, while these funds are still available, will be a worthy investment for district leaders. When it comes time to make purchasing decisions, data that reflect the ever-changing needs of districts will enable leadership to invest more in their needs and cut out underutilized resources or redundancies.
Necessity will demand innovation
The problems facing the education community in 2023 will be addressed by creativity and innovation.
Education faced innumerable changes and challenges in recent years and each time educators made it work–because it was the only way to move forward. Many aspects of the modern K-12 landscape are improved as a result. We will continue to see innovation as a product of necessity in 2023.
My last recommendation is this: listen to people with ideas. Invest in people with ideas. When we give support to change makers, we all reap the benefits of their creativity. Through COVID, educators, technology teams, parents, communities, and vendors all came together toward a common goal of educational continuity. A rapid shift to 1:1 and remote learning would have been considered impossible just months before it was reality. We will do amazing things for students if we continue to work together with a willingness to embrace new ideas and innovations.
About the Author
Brian Thomas is the President and CEO of Lightspeed Systems. Thomas is a leader in the edtech industry with 20+ years at Lightspeed Systems keeping students safe and academically supported.