Stan Gorbatkin – Indian Prairie School District

A three-legged stool approach to technology in Illinois’ fourth-largest district

Technology, and the role it plays in schools, is becoming increasingly complex. Navigating the emergence of new instructional technologies, successfully implementing them and measuring the value can be a difficult task. As chief technology officer (CTO) and assistant superintendent of technology Services for the Indian Prairie School District (IPSD) in Aurora/Naperville, Illinois, Stan Gorbatkin applies his many years as an educator to find solutions that work for the state’s fourth-largest district.

Stan Gorbatkin - Indian Prairie School District

Taking a three-legged stool approach that starts with solid infrastructure as the foundation and builds up to devices, digital content, learning and professional development, Gorbatkin and his technology services team help weave technology into school operations and across departments. “If you address any of these three legs in isolation [devices, digital content-learning spaces, professional development] it is harder to succeed,” says Gorbatkin. “We focus on enhancing all three parts in unison, along with communication across departments and fostering strong relationships amongst our leadership team.”

Supporting fellow educators

Gorbatkin has led the technology strategic planning process for IPSD since 2010. As a member of the superintendent’s cabinet he works closely with his fellow leaders to devise a plan for IPSD’s future readiness.

Building on his 33rd year in education, including 29 years with IPSD, Gorbatkin leverages his years as a teacher, assistant principal and principal before joining the district-level administrative team. “This position was a big learning curve for me in terms of the technical aspects and infrastructure — I’m not a techy,” says Gorbatkin. “But with the support of an all-star team, we’re able to navigate through the various tech-related challenges to best meet the needs of our students during this dynamic time of change.”

His years in the classroom have served Gorbatkin well in his role as CTO. “My background helps me really understand what the needs are in the classroom. Formerly a teacher, I have a strong belief that that the most important thing is a high-quality teacher. Technology cannot replace good pedagogy — it can help accelerate learning, provided the right supportive tools and resources are in place,” he asserts.

“I have a strong belief that that the most important thing is a high-quality teacher. Technology cannot replace good pedagogy — it can help accelerate learning, provided the right supportive tools and resources are in place.” – Stan Gorbatkin, chief technology officer, Indian Prairie School District

Gorbatkin and the IPSD Technology Team take formative steps to work with the IPSD Instructional Services Team as they provide regular professional development aligned with IPSD’s tech-related initiatives. “The professional development leg must remain strong and we give our teachers the tools to access data to help inform and elevate their instruction,” he says.

This is just one of many examples of the importance of the district leaders and departments working together. Gorbatkin attributes this as a key factor in IPSD’s success.

He also notes that having a forward-thinking superintendent and a supportive School Board are key factors in IPSD’s forward progress. “Putting money into infrastructure at a time cuts in other areas were being made was a bold step, and speaks volumes to the district’s commitment to moving forward.”  District Superintendent Dr. Karen Sullivan echoed the sentiment. “We are fortunate to have a board of education that understands the importance of this work in preparing our students to be future ready.”

IPSD’s tech team offers training and support, showing teachers how to use new gradebook software or teaching administrative professionals how to register students for new classes. It all ties together; many times a new technology platform that impacts teachers in the classroom must also be adopted by administrators and the executive team. “While budget cuts have taken place over the past several years, the district’s support when it comes to technology has been and continues to be instrumental in our growth as a school. The support and professional development have helped our teachers move forward, no matter where they started,” says Tracey Ratner, Principal at Longwood Elementary School.

Additionally, the tech team supports numerous systems from the back end which support the district’s educational program. As an example, Gorbatkin’s team is working to simplify the access process for students and teachers with a new user portal. “The new single-sign-on portal picks up on what group the user is in [student, teacher, staff] and it shows them the information that is pertinent to them — everything from databases to library resources, to digital curriculum,” he says.

Seeking customer-service driven team members

As an IT professional’s direct involvement with students, teachers and staff increases, Gorbatkin has found that hiring and keeping the right people has made all the difference. He looks for not only technical skills, but also the capacity to learn new skills, situational awareness and the desire to deliver exceptional customer service and end-user support.

The right IT person is now much more than an expert technologist. “With so much going on, the question for my department is, ‘How do we scale what we’re doing while maintaining individual responsiveness and customer service?’” says Gorbatkin. “We will not seriously consider a candidate even with the best technical skills unless we have the confidence that he/she can relate to our constituencies and understand what our mission is. It’s really a balance.”

Laying the infrastructure foundation

Having some 45 Tech Services team members on staff has helped set up IPSD for new technology adventures by laying the infrastructure building blocks. “With 33 buildings, a strong backbone and scalable network has been hugely important for us,” says Gorbatkin. “Without the infrastructure ‘foundation’ of our three-legged stool approach, everything falls apart.”

IPSD has partnered with OnLight Aurora, a community fiber ISP and Illinois-based nonprofit that serves the region with high speed, low-cost, scalable fiber networks. “We’ve added more access points and greater bandwidth, which allows us to scale up on demand as we implement 1-to-1 devices in stages,” says Gorbatkin.

With up-to-date infrastructure, IPSD has set out to implement more classroom devices. Last year, over 400 sixth-grade students piloted a 1-to-1 program and now IPSD is in a full 1-to-1 environment with nearly 7,000 Chromebooks at the middle-school level. The 1-to-1 rollout is steadily ramping up districtwide. “We’re 2-to-1 at the high school (we were 3-to-1 two years ago),” shares Gorbatkin. “By 2018 the plan is to be full 1-to-1 at all levels.” Ratner shares his excitement, “At the elementary level, we are thrilled to begin the 1:1 model.  This will truly enhance our students’ future readiness and continue to show them that learning isn’t contained to the four walls of the classroom.”

Budget cuts previously put the brakes on full 1-to-1. “There was a $40 million budget cut in our district back in 2010-2011, but we refused to let a lack of funding keep us from getting our kids future ready,” says Gorbatkin. “We’re now supporting 20,000 devices throughout the district and we’ve made a big push to be more mobile/bring your own device (BYOD) friendly to help us meet some of the budget constraints. This has also helped us indoctrinate technology into the classroom culture and we’re getting teachers and students more comfortable with emerging tools before they have dedicated devices.”

With device prices dropping dramatically, IPSD is now able to make the transition to a full 1:1 model. But, any new device or program has to accelerate learning and elevate instruction, two points that are always on Gorbatkin’s mind. “As a former teacher and principal, this is the most satisfying part for me,” he says. “When I see a student more engaged in their learning because of technology, that’s exciting. At the end of the day, my team — all 45 of them — are dedicated to helping students be successful. This is something we’re proud of every single day.”

As CTO of one of Illinois’ largest school districts, Stan Gorbatkin is balancing all aspects of the three-legged technology stool — devices, digital content and learning and professional development — to move the district forward, seize more opportunities and prepare for the future.

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