In a push to create good digital citizens and integrate technology into classroom curriculum, Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School announced Monday that it has hired Smita Kolhatkar, a former educational technology teacher on special assignment at Palo Alto Unified School District, as its new director of technology and innovation.
Kolhatkar, who has worked in education for 11 years, is recognized for bringing "maker education" -- a hands-on, collaborative approach to problem solving -- into the classroom. While at Palo Alto school district, she implemented the 1:1 iPad and Makerspace programs at Barron Park Elementary School and organized districtwide Code Fests in 2015 and 2016. She also previously taught the after-school program Young Programmers at Hausner.
She will work with faculty, as well as a team of specialists to integrate maker education and computer science in the classroom.
David Zimand, head of school at Hausner, said the school was familiar with Kolhatkar's work and felt that "her expertise, her wisdom, her practical know-how, her warm personality — all of those things fit together well with our team, our needs and the strength of our program and the places we wanted to go with it."
Zimand said Kolhatkar will provide an opportunity to weave together "all the strengths of a community-based, values-based pluralistic Jewish education" with "all the creative inspiration of our region.
"Smita is going to help us help the whole team realize that vision of … giving our students roots but also giving them wings, (and) connecting them to their community and their heritage while making sure they have opportunities to develop their independent-thinking skills and that they're ready to face all the challenges of the future," he added.
Kolhatkar said she hopes to bring Hausner to the next level from where they are to "make every student feel like they are innovators every day.
"Digital tools are becoming more and more salient in our lives," Kolhatkar said. "The question is, 'Do students know how to use them responsibly? They can all go on Google and type in a word, but... if the search brings up something inappropriate, do they know what to do, how to handle it? … Do they know when to go on their device and when to not? We want to make sure technology is used meaningfully and efficiently, and the fact that every student is a good digital citizen at the end of the day."
Kolhatkar holds a master's degree in engineering technology from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, as well as a master's in educational leadership and administration from Santa Clara University. She started working at the Palo Alto school district as a substitute teacher and was hired as an elementary school teacher before transitioning to the position of educational technology teacher, which she held for five years. This summer, the State Board of Education appointed Kolhatkar to serve on the California Computer Science Standards Advisory Committee.
Though Kolhatkar said she loved the Barron Park community and the role she was given at Palo Alto Unified, "it was time for me to look for something new."
Former Literacy Teacher on Special Assignment Heather Cleland will take over Kolhatkar's position in the Palo Alto school district. Palo Alto Unified spokesman Jorge Quintana was unavailable for comment.