K–12 Schools Band Together to Boost Buying Power
Located just outside Dallas, the Region 10 Education Service Center is one of 20 ESCs in Texas, which provide a wide variety of services to districts throughout the state. Region 10 serves more than 847,000 students across 120 entities in North Texas, about half of which are considered “small,” says CTO Chad Branum.
Region 10 districts typically have a technology professional on staff, but that person may fill dual roles, and most schools lack a dedicated IT security professional. Larger districts are starting to fund such positions, Branum says, but cybersecurity remains a tall order for one person to manage.
That’s where Region 10 comes in, extending local resources with the buying power of high-volume purchases. By negotiating on behalf of multiple districts, Region 10 can secure enterprise-quality solutions at a fraction of the price that districts would pay on their own.
“It gives them the industry-leading endpoint protection solution, regardless of their size,” says Branum. “That shows the power of what a service center consortium effort can do.”
Sharing resources is a great strategy for both consistency and cost savings, says Amy McLaughlin, cybersecurity project director for CoSN.
“When you pool resources, you can make sure that a group of districts are all using a supported, unified set of tools,” McLaughlin says. “A group of districts may also be able to share a few security people or a virtual CISO.”
North Texas Schools Build In Resilience to Protect Against Ransomware
Region 10 also helps member districts strengthen their security in other ways. When districts reported that distributed denial of service attacks were a problem, the ESC came up with a solution: a massive network that connects more than 70 districts across 110 circuits, says Information Security Manager David Mendez.
“It has a 200-gigabit connection that can scale up to a terabit, and it’s all protected,” he says. “So now you have enterprise-grade DDoS protection, whether your district has 800 students or 60,000 students, at an affordable cost.”
That network is the backbone for other Region 10 services that districts can use, including Firewall as a Service and Backup as a Service.
“We built a lot of resilience to help districts should a ransomware attack happen,” says Mendez. “That was layer zero, and now we’re building on top of that.”
This layered defense helps reduce the siloed solutions that districts might implement on their own, says Branum. “All of those other pieces ultimately come together to craft a more holistic solution for our districts,” he says.
Meanwhile, the ESC partners with industry-leading experts and solutions to provide 24/7 monitoring for 15 or so participating districts — thereby filling another crucial gap, Mendez says.
“You can get bond money and find the best equipment, but who’s going to look after it?” he says. “We said, let’s create a solution that affordable for K–12 schools and also enterprise-grade.”
The security operations center’s experts also review districts’ incident response plans to ensure that local teams know how to respond when a breach occurs.
“Our approach as a regional service center has been to find those offerings that can fill a lot of gaps and adding best-practice layers into the portfolio to help mitigate risk as much as possible,” says Branum.