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Friday Institute and NCDPI Partner on ​​K-12 Cybersecurity and School Connectivity Initiatives for North Carolina Public Schools

A male IT specialist holds a laptop while working with a colleague on a screen with icons

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) has awarded the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation’s Technology Infrastructure Lab (TIL) two new grants to support the North Carolina K-12 Cybersecurity Program and the North Carolina School Connectivity Initiative.

“Expanding on the decades-long relationship between the Friday Institute and NCDPI, we look forward to helping North Carolina schools improve their connectivity and network resiliency,” said Ray Zeisz, senior director at the Friday Institute. 

With one of the recent grants from NCDPI, Zeisz’s team will create, maintain and manage tools that inform and automate cybersecurity functions for North Carolina public schools. They will provide strategy and expertise for the K-12 Cybersecurity Program including researching cybersecurity solutions, planning and implementation. The team will help with training and dissemination of information to help schools connect to the internet efficiently and securely.

In 2021, NCDPI established the K-12 Cybersecurity Program to organize and align the cybersecurity functions holistically across the state. The Friday Institute will analyze the program and results and help build funding models to ensure sustainability and equitable access to state resources for connectivity and cybersecurity. Ultimately, the State Board of Education will decide how to allocate funding, but the Friday Institute will provide insights and data analysis to ensure informed decisions can be made. Coincidentally, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced a $200 million cybersecurity pilot program, and the Friday Institute will help ensure that North Carolina schools maximize their use of this program. In particular, the Friday Institute will provide empirical data and insights as part of the FCC’s rulemaking process to make sure the program meets the needs of our nation’s schools while being equitable and sustainable. 

NCDPI, through appropriated funding and various partners, provides many different resources for schools to securely maintain their digital infrastructure including cybersecurity awareness training, web security services, managed firewall services, managed endpoint protection, asset discovery and identification, vulnerability management, identity and access management, and network engineering.

“Safe, successful and engaged are the desires of every parent for their students,” said Vanessa Wrenn, chief information officer at NCDPI. “These core tenets have driven the focus of the NC K-12 Cybersecurity Program. The key to success is tri-fold: funding, partnerships and resources to create an environment that is as preventative as possible. Our relationship with the Friday Institute is not only a key partnership; they also provide valuable resources to the Department of Public Instruction and our schools and contribute to DPI’s success.”

Hospitals, schools and governments are popular targets for ransomware because they comprise large, complex networks that are challenging to secure. There have been hundreds of cyber incidents in the United States that required an incident response in the last year. This is compounded by challenges schools face in recruiting and retaining personnel with the experience to secure schools against the numerous cybersecurity threats they face. NCDPI’s K-12 Cybersecurity Program aims to help all schools achieve a sound, resilient cybersecurity posture, while allowing flexibility and local control as needed.

The Friday Institute’s work on the North Carolina School Connectivity Initiative (SCI) will also continue for three more years. Since 2006, the Friday Institute has partnered with NCDPI for this initiative. The SCI provides sufficient and reliable internet access to every public school classroom across North Carolina. The program leverages the FCC’s E-rate program and the Friday Institute analyzes data and policy around this program to ensure it is used to its maximum potential by North Carolina schools. Through the SCI, NCDPI also provides all public schools with cooperative purchasing agreements, training, support, network engineering, content filtering, internet access and Wi-Fi equipment. North Carolina has been building this program for almost two decades and remains one of the most efficient users of federal E-rate funding. This is due mainly to the recurring school connectivity funds provided by the General Assembly and the support and oversight provided by NCDPI and the Friday Institute. Every dollar of state funding used in the E-rate program yields $3.44 in total value for North Carolina schools. For an in-depth analysis of the School Connectivity Initiative, completed by the Friday Institute, visit