Water-loving Wellington High School graduate Dr. Jennifer Galindo once had dreams of living on a boat and studying sharks. Now amid the stables, equine estates and sprawling green practice fields along Lake Worth Road, she’s making plans for maintaining and improving one of Palm Beach County’s top schools — Polo Park Middle School — as its new principal.
Galindo was named to the post in July after eight years as principal at Grassy Waters Elementary School.
“I’m very excited to come back to Wellington. I remember when Polo Park was being built. It was state of the art… and I think it still is. It’s exciting to be part of that,” she said.
When Palm Beach County’s public schools opened Wednesday, Aug. 10 for the 2022-23 school year, Galindo got her first chance this week to see the halls filled with 79 teachers, 40-plus support staffers and almost 1,200 students.
Born at Good Samaritan Medical Center, Galindo was raised in Royal Palm Beach, where she attended H.L. Johnson Elementary School and Crestwood Middle School.
After graduating from WHS in 1997 and heading off to the University of Florida, she realized that neither marine biology nor public relations were for her. So, she returned to what might be called “the family business” — education. Her mother, Barbara Terembes, was a longtime teacher, assistant principal and administrator with the School District of Palm Beach County.
Six weeks into her time in Gainesville, Galindo switched her major to elementary education with a focus on the intermediate grades, four through six. At UF, even first-year students go into schools, and that was all it took for Galindo to know that she had made the right choice.
“I fell in love with the classroom and never looked back,” she said. “My time in [Alachua County schools] let me see students from really poor backgrounds and those from very affluent backgrounds. I think it helped me to gain a good perspective on both.”
Galindo spent the first 18 months of her teaching life at Village Academy in Delray Beach before working six years at Wellington Elementary School, where she taught fourth and fifth grades. She took over as assistant principal at Grassy Waters in 2008 and became principal in 2014.
Along the way, Galindo earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UF, an educational leadership degree from Nova Southeastern and a doctorate in education/organizational leadership from the American College of Education.
“When I started, I thought I’d stay in the classroom forever. I loved seeing the growth in my students,” she remembered, but she realized that by moving into school administration, “I can impact all the students and not just the ones I’m in front of. And all the teachers. The whole school.”
The major impact that Galindo hopes to have at Polo Park is to further strengthen academically the already well-regarded school, especially in areas related to STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — with particular emphasis on information technology and engineering.
Pre-engineering magnet courses offered at Polo Park include environmental science, green construction and architecture, and exploring aerospace technology. For those interested in IT, the magnet courses include coding and computer fundamentals and exploring an IT career.
Over the last several years, the Polo Park Cyber Stallions robotics teams have won or placed well in several state, national and even international competitions, Galindo noted.
Describing herself as “very tech savvy,” she said that when the job at Polo Park came open, with the school’s focus on computing and IT, the fit seemed too good to pass up. So, she applied.
Galindo also mentioned with pride that the Stallions baseball team won the county middle school baseball championship last year, and said she hopes to see that sort of success spread to the school’s other sports, such as basketball, soccer, softball, volleyball and track.
Her role as principal, Galindo said, is to smooth the way to allow teachers and staff to do their jobs and to innovate with as little distraction as possible.
“I want to go into the classrooms, see what’s working and take that into other classrooms,” she explained.
And what clearly is working, Galindo said, is technology.
The requirements for remote and hybrid learning during COVID-19 forced some teachers to jump into the 21st century. “It was hard for some of them. But they had to learn to be tech savvy,” she said. “It also created more collaboration between veteran teachers and younger teachers. New partnerships. It bonded people.”
Though Galindo continues to make her home in Royal Palm Beach, because of the years spent in Wellington as a student and later an educator, she feels very aware of the needs of the community.
“Teachers feel the tremendous level of support from parents here… [but] there certainly is a level of expectation of excellence,” she said. “It’s not a community that settles for mediocrity. I know I’m expected to maintain that level of excellence.”
That’s a lot of pressure, and it can be daunting. Galindo said that the ocean is still her escape — usually along Florida’s west coast with her husband Herby, son Logan (12) and daughter Allison (16), who wants to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother and mother and go into teaching.
Galindo still hopes someday to swim with sharks, but for now, running with Stallions is challenge enough.