It came as no surprise when the district appointed its technology powerhouse, Chris Kauter, as the new district administrator for instructional technology. He replaces Anastasia Tzortzatos.
A Sayville resident and graduate of Deer Park’s Class of 1998, Kauter has taught at Deer Park High School for over a dozen years, mainly focusing on social studies. In 2013, he was one of only 50 worldwide educators selected by Google to attend the prestigious Google Teacher Academy in Chicago, leading to his status as a Google Certified Teacher and trainer.
Last year, with funding from a $5,000 STLE teacher effectiveness grant, Kauter’s leadership came to the fore in his new position as a part-time instructional technology coach. He was so successful in helping teachers integrate technology in their classrooms in a meaningful way, that despite the conclusion of the grant, the Board and administration decided to expand Kauter’s role to a full-time K-12 instructional technology coach, and then as district administrator for IT. Using software and programs to enhance the learning process, and providing teams of teachers with professional development and helping them create projects for their students’ benefit, Kauter proved invaluable in the district’s continued efforts to move technology in the classrooms further into the 21st century.
“Teachers come to him and say, ‘I have this idea,’ and Chris helps them figure out how to implement that idea in a way that is meaningful and alleviates some of their stress about some of the technologies,” said Kimberly Skillen, district administrator for secondary curriculum and instruction.
In addition to teachers, he has been working with other administrators and guidance counselors to develop systems that help the district track students in a more efficient way and allow staff to share information. His methodology provides substantive enhancements, going beyond delivering professional development to the teachers. Kauter will visit classrooms and shadow the teachers, troubleshooting and working side by side with them to ensure that the technology is working successfully. After a few times, he can walk away, and the teacher is now confident to do it on their own.
“A lot of our teachers are excellent instructors, but technology isn’t always something they feel very comfortable with and they may sometimes shy away from integrating a project on their own,” said Skillen. “Now they are able to work with Chris to make it happen – he’s been their support. It’s been a great initiative and we are seeing excellent results.”
One of the major technology projects overseen by Kauter involved John Heeg, a social studies teacher at the middle school. To facilitate his classroom’s Socratic seminar, they used Google Apps for Education and a program called Doctopus to individualize groups.
“I loved this project because we are using technology as the vehicle, but it’s not the destination,” said Kauter. “The destination is a discussion, which is high-level thinking, critically analyzing and using research, so the kids can feel confident backing up their claims.”
For his innovative work on the initiative, Heeg was recently honored with the Bright Light Award from Suffolk ASSET.
Another important tech project, also at Robert Frost, focused on students building websites in teacher Scott Surdi’s classroom. Kauter and Surdi used a Google add-on program called SiteMaestro to distribute individualized, shared Google sites to the students, choosing from four different predesigned templates.
Kauter assisted another Frost teacher, Seth Margolin, to digitize applications for the National Junior Honor Society using Google Forms. Switching from the old paper version to a predesigned template, students now can submit all their information via Google Drive, with the data prepopulating into the template. This makes it easier for the NJHS Committee to review each application, and emails are automatically sent to each of the club advisers to verify the information provided by the students.
At JFK, Kauter helped teachers Angela Giannotti and Melissa Price to utilize Chromebooks with assistive technology for fourth-grade special education students. In prior years, these students had created picture books by picking a topic, researching it, finding accompanying pictures and then constructing an actual physical book using predesigned sketchboard templates to indicate layout. Kauter took their existing templates and recreated them on Google Drive, enabling the students to make a digital storybook by dragging and dropping text and pictures.
“The kids were really motivated and excited about it,” said Danielle Sheridan, district administrator for elementary curriculum and instruction, regarding Kauter’s work at JFK. “His integration of technology in elementary research projects brought the work to a new level, and it helped the students feel sophisticated about the work they are doing and connected to the world of technology.”