Gil Anspacher – Corvallis School District
In one classroom, Spanish-speaking students sit side-by-side with their English-speaking peers, with everyone using a digital textbook with the ability to toggle back and forth between the two languages.
In another, students learning math use a non-verbal application accessible to all learners to gain a conceptual, visual understanding of math concepts and processes. As Gil Anspacher describes it, the program is a window into the why of math for all students.
Elsewhere, assistive technologies—including text-to-speech, speech-to-text and other specialized apps—are helping students of all abilities learn together in a collaborative, welcoming environment.
“It’s technology facilitating equity,” says Anspacher, director of technology services for Corvallis School District in central-western Oregon. “We’re looking at students’ individual needs and how technology can facilitate learning and help students achieve at their highest potential. It all goes back to two of our board goals: equity and academic achievement.”
After joining Corvallis in 2018, following a three-year stint at Santiam Canyon School District in nearby Mill City, Anspacher hit the ground running. The first order of business: dealing with the fallout of a major system crash.
To protect against further hardware or operating system outages, Anspacher led a full-scale migration from Microsoft Exchange to G-Suite, while also updating the district’s data center to a virtualized environment with both on-premise and cloud-hosted back-up.
He and his team have also implemented Chromebooks in high school classrooms, while upgrading switches, access points and network infrastructure throughout the district.
Most notably, though, the district is deep in the work on an extensive facilities-enhancement project. Approved by voters in May 2018, the $199 million bond-backed initiative will include district-wide improvements, as well as the construction of two elementary schools.
Ultimately, all of this has set the stage for the district’s efforts—and Anspacher’s true passion—to create a “holistic educational experience” that revolves around real-world and experiential learning and adaptability.
“Gil’s vision is really about making sure that the kids not only have access, but that the equipment supports them in their learning,” says Andy Hashimoto, vice president of Insight Financial Services, which has helped Corvallis create and execute an equipment leasing strategy, budgeting and replacement plan.
“It’s not just the equipment—it’s how are we leveraging our leasing partner to strategically help the kids?” Hashimoto adds. “That’s what really drives Gil: How do we set this up to help the kids most effectively learn and the teachers most effectively teach?”
The cruciality of change management
It all starts with change management. During the G-Suite migration, Anspacher hired a professional development consultant to effectively train his staff to “become trainers themselves.” This eased the burden of the overall workflow shift, he notes, by helping educators and district staff understand the new G-Suite environment—and how to use it effectively.
Anspacher also performed a comprehensive review of the district’s technology capabilities, and spent several months analyzing his department’s workflows and staff structures. As a result, he restructured his department so that each member is dedicated to one of five essential areas: systems, networking, devices, classroom technology or data.
Technologists have also been designated to each school so that they not only handle technical issues but gain a strong understanding of the unique characteristics and needs of that school.
“We made no net change to the number of staff; we just changed what they were doing,” Anspacher explains. “What we’re finding is that each team can be more effective and proactive in their work. We’re moving from a responsive to a more strategic nature.”
His department is also working closely with the district’s teaching and learning, and facilities teams to help standardize and rethink educational spaces. For example, in elementary schools, computer labs are now flexible use spaces with mobile labs. Similarly, Anspacher explains, the hope is to transform libraries to feature more hands-on experiential learning and maker-spaces, incorporating technologies like 3-D printing.
“All of this wraps around the idea of equity,” Anspacher says. “We’re trying to ensure that every student has the opportunities for success at their highest potential. My job is to see the big picture and to ensure that all the pieces are in place for that.”
More broadly, Anspacher is helping his team understand the “why” behind their work, so that they can create—and effectively work in—adaptive environments. For example, for a student with developmental disabilities or verbal challenges, the technology is much more than a tool—it’s a means of communication and a method to learn in a way that best meets their needs.
“We have to train staff in the ‘why?’, so that we can understand the ‘what?’” Anspacher says. “Sometimes the ‘what?’ can be challenging. When you understand the ‘why?’ it can be a lot easier to jump onto that challenge.”
Indeed, jumping into challenges is something Anspacher knows plenty about.
Engagement: The primary focus
A native of the San Francisco Bay area, Anspacher has worked in the Virgin Islands and in Micronesia, having evolved from a science educator to a “design thinking”-focused tech coordinator.
Prior to joining Corvallis, he was in the much smaller Santiam Canyon School District in Mill City.
“I did everything,” he says. “I was really ready to work with a team. I went from a team of one to a team of 20.”
He joined Corvallis in May 2018, drawn to the district’s inclusive vision and the immediate challenge of solving the server crash. He’s also enjoyed the ongoing task of evolving his department through strategic planning.
And while his work at Corvallis continues to help the district gain traction educationally and technologically, Anspacher has been lauded for his leadership and vision.
“Under Gil’s leadership, Corvallis is ensuring all systems operate in a symbiotic fashion which will serve the district for decades to come,” says Ethan Barrow, account manager for Ednetics.
Anspacher worked with the Ednetics Team to design and update the data center and network to scale.
“The community can be confident that Corvallis’ infrastructure will serve as a foundation to support the rapidly changing technology landscape, and accommodate ongoing shifts in the industry,” Barrow adds. “And Gil and his team are a big reason why.”
The “why”— Anspacher couldn’t have said it better himself.
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