Longtime school psychologist recognized for outstanding job

Imagine being surrounded by pre-kindergartners all day for more than 20 years. For school psychologist Kathryn Gundlach, it’s a rewarding, challenging job, and one she does exceptionally well.

Gundlach, who has worked as a teacher for 30 years, was named the Outstanding School Psychologist of the Year for 2006 by the Florida Association of School Psychologists.

A Hypoluxo resident, Gundlach, 52, spent the first nine years of her career teaching at Hobe Sound Elementary and Palm Beach Public School. Currently, she is a pre-kindergarten Exceptional Student Education psychologist for the school district’s central area.

“I should be burned out by now, but I’m not,” said Gundlach who deals with students between ages 3 and 5. “Every day is a different day,” she said.

She deals mainly with children with behavioral problems, learning or language disabilities or above-average IQs. Through interactive tests and verbal assessments, a psychologist can see where a student is lagging, and why.

Gundlach’s interest in child psychology started when she taught fourth-graders at Palm Beach Public.

“I wanted to know why some of my kids were learning better than others. I knew how to teach them, but I wanted to know more of the why. Why were they doing what they were doing? And how I could be a better teacher?” said Gundlach, who has a doctorate in educational leadership from Florida Atlantic University.

Her career is just as challenging now as it was when she began. The most rewarding part is putting a child on the right educational track.

Below-average learning rates for children can stem from a number of reasons, but Gundlach is certain of her objective: “Our mission is to get children as ready for kindergarten as we can,” she said.

It’s this focus that many of her peers respect. “She’s a driving force,” said Angelo DeSimone, former president of the Palm Beach Association of School Psychologists, of which Gundlach is president.

“She always advocates for the child’s best interests, looks out for the members of the association, and levels the playing field for the teachers,” he said. “She personifies what we do.”

One of Gundlach’s proudest achievements was helping county school district psychologists get recognition and a stipend for completing the training to become a National Certified School Psychologist, something they had been wanting for more than five years.

The key, DeSimone said, was in getting the Classroom Teachers Association and the Psychologists Association closely aligned.

Gundlach has been president of the Palm Beach Association of School Psychologists since 2002. She has been able to increase communication by developing a directory and an annual newsletter. Gundlach’s term comes to an end in May. In hopes of securing her seat for another year, she has her 2007 to-do list ready.

Her first priority: to increase wages by increasing state recognition of the psychologist’s role in the school system. Her second priority is getting younger people involved in the school’s psychology programs.

Young people have new ideas and energy, she said. “We need to develop leaders of the future.”

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