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Wings for Every Child

Barbara Bensoussan

Esther Gutwein started her career as graduate student doing psychological evaluations. Today she manages education supervisors. Throughout it all, she’s strived to help every child succeed

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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Mrs. Esther Gutwein has been implementing or overseeing evaluations for the DOE in New York for over 25 years, and rose through the ranks to become first a supervisor, then a manager of supervisors. This places her almost at the very top of the totem pole for the DOE school psychology department

E very Jewish parent wants his child to succeed in school. With some kids, that’s a no-sweat proposition; they take to school with the ease of birds taking flight. Others, however, just can’t seem to lift off the ground.

Figuring out what keeps a child from succeeding in school is the province of the school psychologist. She’s the one who administers the tests that indicate areas of strength or dysfunction. She makes recommendations for addressing any weak spots: resource room, speech therapy, occupational therapy, tutoring. Few yeshivos have their own school psychologists on staff, but when a child seems challenged, parents in New York have the option to apply to the Department of Education (DOE) for an evaluation and possible therapy.

Mrs. Esther Gutwein has been implementing or overseeing evaluations for the DOE in New York for over 25 years, and rose through the ranks to become first a supervisor, then a manager of supervisors. This places her almost at the very top of the totem pole for the DOE school psychology department. It’s an impressive accomplishment in a department comprised of nearly 1,000 school psychologists.

But Esther isn’t the type to flaunt her titles, or anything else, for that matter. A Flatbush mother and grandmother, tastefully dressed with a short wig and a bit of makeup, she looks like someone you’d sit next to in shul or run into at a shidduch meeting. She’s warm and welcoming, yet dignified and discreet.

The mantel of her home is decorated with old family photos, which give a clue to the family background that shaped Esther. Two remastered photos of her father’s parents take pride of place for a special reason: “My father was one of the first Jews captured during the war, and one of the last to be released,” she says. “He was from Belchatow, Poland, outside Lodz, and during the entire war he kept those photos hidden in the sole of his shoe. They were so precious to him that when the shoe fell off in front of the Germans, he ran out of line to retrieve it. One of the Germans was about to shoot him, but his comrade said, ‘If that Jew is so crazy he’d risk his life to run after it, just let him be.’ ”

 

Esther’s father and one of his siblings survived the war; so did her mother and one of her siblings. Esther was born in Frankfurt-am-Main, but her parents came to the US when Esther was two, and settled in Boro Park.

Her father worked in Manhattan in real estate, putting in long days and losing many hours to the commute. Ultimately, he decided to move the family to the West Side, in order to have more time with them. His distinguished personality left a deep mark on Esther. “He was wealthy before the war,” she relates, “but he used to tell us, ‘There are three things no one can ever take away from you: the emunah and love you have in your heart, and the knowledge you have in your brain.’ For my parents, education was everything.”

Her parents made sure their children were educated; by the time Esther got married, she’d earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a Hebrew teacher’s certificate. She wasn’t intending to go to work; she wanted to raise a family. When that didn’t work out right away, she decided to go back to school for graduate work, training as a school psychologist. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 568)

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