How this leader is helping her students and staff navigate the cyber space

Eva Harvell has worked at the Pascagoula-Gautier School District since 2002 and its technology director since 2015. She shares with District Administration how she's promoting cybersecurity and digital citizenship.

Data privacy and digital citizenship: These two topics are beginning to resonate with education leaders and technology professionals around the country as schools continue to navigate through the overwhelming world that is K12 edtech. For this leader, they’ve always been top-of-mind concerns.

Eva Harvell has worked at the Pascagoula-Gautier School District since 2002. Despite her tenure and comfortability with the district, there’s no such thing as a “typical workday.” Each day is more exciting and spontaneous than the last.

For the past nine years, Harvell has served as the district’s technology director, ensuring students and staff are safe and secure while engaging with edtech and navigating the cyber space.

Like many technology leaders we’ve talked to in the past, Harvell says cybersecurity was a hot topic coming into this school year.

The district leverages a program called Infosec IQ, which allows its teachers to receive training on some of the most common tactics used by cybercriminals to infiltrate school networks, including phishing and password leaks.

“We implement it monthly in our district,” she explains. “They receive one to two videos along with some phishing test emails. Those help teachers understand what a phishing email looks like and how to handle it.”

She says it’s rarely those who work in the IT department who receive such threats. Instead, it’s their teachers who are targeted in hopes that they’ll be caught off guard.

“We have to train them to recognize the things that are too good to be true,” she says.

The district hasn’t had any incidents of a cyber breach recently, and she knows the training is working because of the email reports she frequently receives from teachers.

Data privacy and digital citizenship

Keeping students safe online has grown in importance in recent years, especially since the pandemic, as schools are tasked with navigating more edtech products and solutions than ever before. It’s a priority Harvell has always kept close to her heart.

“I think it’s grown [in importance] so much because of the amount of data that a school district has, not only about its students but its employees as well,” she argues. “We utilize that data to provide the best education we can for students. But that is a wealth of information a bad actor would like to get a hold of.”

Payroll data, for instance, is extremely valuable to cybercriminals, she adds. Students’ medical information is also highly sought after.

“It’s a lot of that information that we have to keep safe and secure so that we can keep our five-year-olds all the way up to our 18-year-olds and our adults safe so that when they walk out the door, whether it’s someone retiring or a student graduating, they know the data that they have given us throughout those years has been kept safe and secure. They’re entering the workforce and adulthood with a clean credit report.”

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Another important component in keeping students safe online is teaching them how to be responsible digital citizens. For nearly 10 years, the district has been utilizing resources from Common Sense Media while integrating a social-emotional learning aspect to ensure students not only handle technology safely but can become “good citizens in general.”

Harvell says they also use a content filtering and digital threat detection solution called Linewize, which allows them to monitor students’ search engine and email behavior.

“For example, a student may be having a panic attack or worried about their grades,” she says. “Maybe they’re nervous or embarrassed about telling an adult. If they send an email we get an alert through that Linewize student monitoring piece so that we can go and talk to those students.”

But foundational to ensuring the safety of students engaging with edtech is the process of vetting such technology properly. Harvell says they often speak with other district technology directors to learn what products they’re using and why.

“For me, the biggest thing is that social-emotional component when it comes to edtech programs,” she explains. “How are they best implementing those resources? Are they moving with the times?”


Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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