Judson ISD Adopts Alertnow Service for Increasing Parent Communication

phone dialing 911Judson ISD Technology Services and Instructional Services are pleased to announce a new service to the parents and employees of Judson ISD.  The new service is called Alertnow and will have three primary uses:

  • Automated absence notification
  • Mass emergency calling for school closings, delayed openings, lockdowns, disasters, etc
  • School to parent communication to inform about open houses, back to school nights, PTA meetings, water main breaks, HVAC issues, health issues, bus issues, report card distribution, incident notification, testing information, school hours, registration, start of school, and reminders for actions required of parents like field trip forms, etc.

The Parent Advisory Council (PAC) and Board of Trustees were very supportive of Technology Services as we researched and presented information to these groups about these systems, prior to choosing Alertnow through a competitive bidding process. The PAC and Board were very adamant about the need for Judson ISD to increase our communication with parents and a system of this type would help to further this goal.  The Alertnow service will be implemented in the spring of 2007 as Principals and their designee are trained in using the system.  The system features a user friendly web-based interface that allows users to easily schedule calls for delivery to parents.  The system will be able to call all of the parents within Judson ISD within 10-15 minutes, in addition to being able to send email and text messages.  Another wonderful feature will be the ability of the system to utilize text to speech technology and automatically translate messages into Spanish for parents based on their home language.  The system will also allow Judson ISD to call employees in the case of school closing.  More information on the system is available at http://alertnow.com/

Technology Services Excels at Salinas

Desktop and Infrastructure Services were part of the Judson Team working over the Holidays to open Salinas Elementary School.Desktop Services in cooperation with Intech Southwest deployed 137 computers and peripherals at Salinas Elementary School over the Christmas holidays.  Thanks to the network switches and phone system installed and configured by Infrastructure Services, the computers were ready for use on the network when teachers arrived.  The deployment at Salinas was completed in 1 ½ days with no major problems reported.  Technology Services plans to use the Salinas deployment as a model for this summer’s anticipated bond computer deployments.

Fighting the ‘Spam Hydra’

Judson ISD uses LightSpeed System's Spam and Internet content filtering software - Total Traffic Control (TTC). The following explains in detail how spammers are altering their approach and what can be done by school district to combat the growing threat.

The Many-headed Hydra of MythologyTo many of you, this message will sound like we are beating a 'Dead Horse', but in actuality, we are still waging a very fierce battle with a multi-head monster that simply refuses to succumb! We are speaking of Spam Email - the ever present scourge of the Internet.

Lightspeed product developers and support engineers are continually examining samples of NEW spam exploits and are continually tweaking spam id patterns, updating lists and databases of known spamming sources and testing new methods to improve spam detection at the most rudimentary levels. Yet the spammers are investing as heavily, if not more so, in developing circumvention techniques to defeat the protections that we have with the TTC Spam Mail Blocker, and it seems as if this Hydra is growing a new head, almost daily.

No Longer 1000 Words - One technique that seems to have grown in popularity recently is the "Image Email", a seemingly innocent email envelope that contains little or no suspect text in either the subject or body fields, yet the email contains an embedded image file that carries the spammer's real message. Knowing that image-recognition methods are very expensive to develop and implement and that the processing overhead is equally prohibitive in most school or business environments, the embedded image has quickly become the preferred method for disguising spam. Spammers have found that by simply modifying a single pixel within any image file that they can thwart file signatures that are used to identify and block spam images. Simple scripts are used to quickly make minor alterations to images, just as they are used to relentlessly generate the seemingly innocent subject text and source addresses that complicate identification methods. A good image signature that can block email during one spam campaign is virtually worthless by the next delivery campaign. But, there are effective methods to keep even this exploit under control.

Automatic Whitelisting - This property (General properties page) builds a list of 'acceptable' email source addresses based upon mail actually exchanged between your users and the outside world.

Send Spam Mail Summary to Users - This property (General properties page) lets your users monitor their blocked spam and whitelist those addresses they prefer not be blocked. These Whitelist entries are unique for EACH user.

Use Spam Patterns - Diligently reviewing spam files that are forwarded to us, we periodically create Spam recognition patterns to identify new spam campaigns, and with the 'Critical Update' process, these new patterns provide additional blocking as quickly as they can be generated.

Check Unknown Mail Servers for Open Relays or Proxies - Most legitimate mail will come from mail servers that are properly configured and maintained, but spammers can easily locate and exploit improperly configured or unprotected servers and use them to both relay and proxy the spam traffic. By enabling this option, your TTC server will query unknown email sources to determine if they are acting as open relay servers or proxy servers.

Block Mail using greylisting - This Advanced properties option simply sends an undeliverable message to the source email server, which requests that server to resend the message. If the server responds in a timely manner (expected of 'well behaved' and managed servers) the mail item is delivered, otherwise the original is treated as spam and filtered. This option should be in place if the 'Challenge' option is NOT enabled.

Block mail from unresolvable IP Addresses - This Advanced properties option performs a Reverse DNS lookup test to determine if the source address is a legitimately registered domain. If the address cannot be proven legitimate within a limited period of time, the mail item will be blocked.

Whitelist Entries - If you are aware of 'ListServ' sources that your users consistently receive newsletters and other group dispatches from, you should manually add their addresses to the Globlal Whitelist table.

Blacklist Entries - A major source of spam is from foreign language domains and if your email traffic rarely includes exchanges with foreign countries, you can block a major portion of spam by doing a wholesale blacklisting of foreign language domains.

Remember that blocking spam is a process that requires subtle adjustment and re-examination over time. Though 100% elimination of spam in a network of 100's and perhaps thousands of diverse users, is a lofty goal, it will always be likely that the spammers will find another way to circumvent your protections - but only minimally and ONLY temporarily.

Texas STaR Chart Results

The Texas School Technology and Readiness (STaR) Chart is an assessment tool based on the four key areas of the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology (LRPT) 2006-2020.  These areas include

  • Teaching and Learning,
  • Educator Preparation and Development;
  • Leadership Administration and Instructional Support, and
  • Infrastructure of Technology. 

It is divided into two groups: Campus and Teacher STaR Chart.  The Campus STaR Chart must be submitted by campus principals prior to December 15, 2006, in order for the district to submit the District Technology e-Plan for the state’s approval. In addition, the Teacher STaR Chart must be submitted by campus teachers prior to December 8, 2006, to receive Title II, D funds.  These tools are designed to assist campuses, teachers, and the district to identify their growth in accomplishing the district and state technology goals.

In comparing 2005 STaR Chart data with this year’s data, the district is showing marked improvement in the area of Teaching and Learning specifically under Impact and TEKS.  Under Educator Preparation and Development, all areas have improved slightly with the greatest improvement shown in the area of training and budget.  In the areas of Administration and Instructional Support and Infrastructure of Technology, the perception of our campuses is that improvement is still needed.  The Technology Services Department has incorporated goals and strategies to address these areas of concern in the District Technology Plan.  Through the addition of personnel in all divisions, we plan to further improve the services in these areas.