TLE SPOTLIGHT: Rockingham County Public Schools

CoSN sat down with Kevin Perkins, Technology Director for TLE Seal recipient Rockingham County Public Schools to learn more about Rockingham’s journey to the TLE and how starting small, but with sustained efforts, can lead to big wins over time.

CoSN: Kevin, please tell us a bit about yourself and your district.

I’ve been with Rockingham County Public Schools for 23 years, seven as a high school math teacher, seven as an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, five as the Supervisor of Technology, and four as the Director of Technology. My wife, Kimberly, and I have three children and live in Bridgewater, Virginia.

Living in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Rockingham County students attend 15 elementary, four middle, four high schools, a governor’s school, a technical center, and an alternative education center. The student enrollment of over 11,600 students is supported by nearly 2,000 full-time employees. Dr. Oskar Scheikl is our Division Superintendent.

CoSN: Why did you decide to apply for the TLE Seal?

So many teaching and learning resources are used now and student data is required to make many of those resources useful for teachers and students. Student data is used to facilitate log-ins and to help teachers analyze student progress. So we wanted to make sure we are taking best practice steps to protect that student data and the CoSN TLE Seal framework provides that.

CoSN: When it comes to developing and improving your student data privacy program, what do you find most challenging?

We are fortunate to have division leadership and a school board that prioritizes student data privacy and we did not have the challenge faced by some divisions who have to make that case before getting this kind of work off the ground. I think the challenge is changing a culture…it takes sustained effort and time. For example, educators by nature are very trusting and giving people and, thus, unfortunately, can make good targets for bad actors running phishing campaigns. Through targeted KnowBe4 phishing campaigns, our employees have become much better at identifying suspicious emails and are reaching out to us when an email just doesn’t “feel right”. 

Also, educators are very resourceful and doing “more with less” is second nature as budgets are often tight. While signing up for a free digital resource to give students quick access might seem like the best way to facilitate teaching and learning quickly, once people realize that there are curriculum, technology support, and student data privacy issues at play, they take pause. We are leveraging Learn Platform in our digital resource request workflow so that the appropriate folks review requests and ensure student data is safe, it aligns with our curriculum, and we can create accounts and handle authentication in a manageable way.

CoSN: What did you learn by going through the TLE application process?

We learned that the TLE Seal framework is comprehensive. We had never really examined all business processes and instruction through a data privacy lens and this framework forces you to do this. As we began the process, we learned that we already had many pieces of the framework in place, and the Data Privacy Plan we developed, documents all of those pieces in one place.

CoSN:  How do you refresh your student data privacy program each year? What steps do you take to ensure that the program is constantly improving?

The 2021-22 school year will be our first opportunity to do a refresh. We plan on continuing staff cybersecurity awareness and phishing training and adding a student data privacy training option for teachers. We plan to promote our digital resource request workflow more heavily, as that got a bit lost in translation during the pandemic last year. Our Data Privacy Team will continue to meet at least quarterly and we will be continuously reviewing our Data Privacy Plan as issues come up. For example, while we turned off all Google Additional Services for our students last year, we are giving parents and guardians the option to opt-in to some of those services for their children for 2021-22.

CoSN: What advice do you have for future TLE Seal applicants?

When you first look at the TLE Seal framework, it is very overwhelming.  However, in taking the self assessment you begin to realize that you are already doing some things and that starting somewhere, no matter how small at first, leads to immediate improvement. Also, I would advise folks to look at web resources and documentation developed by divisions who have already earned the TLE Seal. I found folks to be very willing to share those resources and you may save a lot of time and effort by modifying someone else’s resources to fit your needs versus starting from scratch.

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About the CoSN Trusted Learning Environment Seal Program

The CoSN Trusted Learning Environment (TLE) Seal program is the nation’s only data privacy framework for school systems, focused on building a culture of trust and transparency. The TLE Seal was developed by CoSN in collaboration with a diverse group of 28 school system leaders nationwide and with support from AASA, The School Superintendents Association, the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO), and ASCD. School systems that meet the program requirements will earn the TLE Seal, signifying their commitment to student data privacy to their community. TLE Seal recipients also commit to continuous examination and demonstrable future advancement of their privacy practices. For more information, and to apply, visit trustedlearning.org