About SD Kids First

Deborah Pontillo, Ph.D.

Owner/Director, San Diego Kids First
Pediatric Psychologist PSY #18934
Child Development, Behavior, and Learning Specialist
Voluntary Assistant Clinical Professor, Dept. of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, UCSD
[email protected]
Deborah Pontillo

Dr. Deborah Pontillo is Owner/Founder and Director of San Diego Kids First. She has over 25 years of education, training, and experience in pediatric psychology and is regarded as an expert in the field of child and adolescent development, behavior, and learning.

Dr. Pontillo received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of British Columbia . She went on to earn her Master’s and Doctorate in Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles , rated one of the top Clinical Psychology training programs in the U.S. She completed her internship in the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. She then went on to complete a specialized pediatric early childhood (0 – 5 yrs) post-doctoral training program at the Developmental Evaluation Clinic at Rady’s Children’s Hospital. She opened San Diego Kids First in 2005 with the passion of identifying children’s strengths as well as their challenges, and enabling them to maximize their developmental potential.

“Every child is unique. Therefore, in order to help children overcome social, emotional, behavioral, developmental, and/or academic challenges, it is important that we do not become preoccupied with simply assigning labels. Rather, the focus needs to be on identifying the child’s individual strengths as well as their weaknesses in order to design effective strategies that suit their needs.. I work very closely with parents, schools, and other professionals in order to establish a comprehensive picture of the whole child. It is through this collaboration that the most significant and dramatic changes are realized.” – Dr. Pontillo

In addition to her work at San Diego Kids First, Dr. Pontillo holds a position as Voluntary Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California San Diego , Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, where she supervises UCSD Child/Adolescent Psychiatry Fellows in their final year of training at Rady’s Outpatient Psychiatry on their child and adolescent therapy cases. Additionally, Dr. Pontillo has also developed several online training courses for parents and teachers of children with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, entitled “Bright Stars”, and has participated in numerous speaking engagements, media interviews, and podcasts. Click here to learn more about Dr. Pontillo’s other professional activities.
Dr. Pontillo’s specialties include: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD/attention issues, learning disabilities/differences, giftedness, anxiety , emotional regulation skills training, social skills training, stress management, oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD), behavioral challenges, and other child developmental delays or concerns. She is trained in CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy), short-term solution-focused therapy, and psychodynamic therapy. She is an expert in diagnostic assessment, and conducts both abbreviated and comprehensive batteries, depending on the needs of the family. She provides consultations, treatment planning and follow-up sessions, and is directly involved in all evaluations conducted at SDKF. Dr. Pontillo also consults regularly with all staff clinicians at SDKF to ensure all SDKF families are receiving only the highest quality of care.

Dr. Pontillo holds office hours Mondays and Wednesdays for consultation and evaluation appointments in Suite 111. She is not accepting weekly therapy clients at this time.

Dr. Pontillo lives with her almost 12-year old daughter, her 8-year old-son, her aspiring therapy dog Labradoodle puppy named Maple, and her cat, Pina Colada. She speaks Spanish and English, and loves sushi and Indian food. When not working she can be found with her kids at baseball /softball practices or games, taking long walks with Maple, or visiting with her kids and friends.





Kim Brownell, LCSW

Staff Clinical Therapist (In-Office/Home Visits)
IEP/504 Expert Consultant
[email protected]
Kim Brownell
Kim is a Licensed Therapist (LCSW, LICSW) with 9 years of experience working with children, adolescents, families, couples, and adults in a variety of settings.
Kim has an eclectic background which most recently includes her work at Rady’s Children’s Hospital Outpatient Clinic as a school-based therapist where she provided services at elementary, middle and high schools in the Poway Unified School district (PUSD). This built on her previous experience within schools in New York City. Her role with both school districts was both in a clinical capacity (individual and group sessions for children with developmental, behavioral, and social/emotional needs etc.), as well as in an instructional capacity (providing workshops to teachers on how to support children with unique needs in regular education settings). Kim is our only SDKF staff member with experience designing and implementing IEP plans within the school system, and therefore through her work at San Diego Kids First, provides families individualized consultations and attends IEP meetings, to help families navigate the school district.
Additionally, Kim has worked extensively in the field of Eating Disorders in NYC (NY State Psychiatric Institute) and San Diego (UCSD Center for Eating Disorders) and continues to provide individual & Group Therapy to people in recovery from Eating Disorders, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and/or Disordered Eating.

Kim specializes in the areas of Mood Disorders, Body Image, Self-Esteem, Life Transitions, Marriage/Family/Couples Therapy, Bereavement, Distress Tolerance, Sleep Hygiene, Stress Management, School Advocacy and LGBTQ issues.

Kim obtained her MSW from New York University in 2012 and holds a Clinical License in NY (LMSW), CA (LCSW) & MA (LICSW). Additionally, Kim hold certificates in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) (The Linehan Institute) Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) & Trauma-Focused Positive Youth Development (ENACT/Big Brothers and Big Sisters Organization), and has recently received her Gottman Certification for Couples, Marital and Family Therapy.

Prior to becoming a Therapist, Kim spent more than a decade working as a professional Singer, Dancer, and Actress in NYC Professional Theater in addition to performing in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and touring with National and International Broadway Productions. Because of her unique background, Kim takes an integrative approach to psychotherapy by combining traditional Evidence-Based models with creative, dynamic modalities. She is a firm believer of utilizing a systems approach with each patient and feels that we are best understood as a product of multiple subsystems (families, cultures, organizations, religious affiliations, academic settings).

Kim holds Saturday office appointments in our main office #111, and schedules in-home sessions on Mondays and Thursdays.


Sarah Rangel, Ph.D.

Staff Psychologist PSY # 29928
Specialist, Child and Adolescent Assessment and Psychotherapy
Bilingual (English and Spanish)
[email protected]

Sarah Rangel
Dr.Sarah Rangel joined our team in 2019 and works out of our satellite office in Suite 201. A native of San Diego, she is a licensed clinical psychologist fluent in both English and Spanish.

Dr. Rangel’s expertise is in the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents and adults in the following areas: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, behavioral, emotional and adjustment disorders anxiety, substance use, psychotic disorders, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, personality disorders, grief and loss issues, traumatic brain injuries, chronic pain management, thyroid and seizure disorders, diabetes management, and trauma.

As a staff psychologist with San Diego Kids First, Dr.Rangel offers assessments in the mornings twice a week and after school psychotherapy appointments. She utilizes evidence-based treatments (e.g., Behavioral Therapy (BT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills (DBT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), Motivational Interviewing (MI), and Mindfulness, among other therapies) while using a personalized approach to treatment.

Dr.Rangel completed her Bachelor’s in Psychology at San Diego State University (SDSU) after which she worked as a staff Developmental Screening and Services Coordinator at Rady Children’s Hospital while simultaneously working on her Master’s in Clinical Psychology at SDSU. She went on to get her Doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Washington State University (WSU).


Anna Williams, M.F.T

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
In-home Behavioral Consultant
[email protected]

Anna Williams
Anna joined the San Diego Kids First team in 2018 and works with families in their home helping parents and their children to produce lasting changes in the most naturalistic setting. She coordinates with Dr.Pontillo to ensure that the child receives the most comprehensive and collaborative services.
Anna is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with specialties in behavioral therapy & coaching, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Behavioral Management for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Anna received her Bachelors Degree at Cal State Monterey Bay and went on to finish her Masters Degree at Alliant International University School of Professional Psychology . She is an AAMFT Board certified supervisor and currently supervises while also maintaining clinical practice at Rady Children’s Hospital. She serves as clinical faculty at University of Phoenix teaching in the Health and Human Services, Psychology and Masters in Marriage Family Therapy.

Anna also practices Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for depressed and anxious teens with an approach that is more time intensive and outcome oriented and dedicates time to volunteering at the Fleet Family Support Center and VVSD offering numerous hours of pro bono counseling for sailors and their families upon returning home.

When she is not working, she loves to hang out with her family, watching sports,and exploring the beauty of San Diego.


Jacqueline Gamboa, Psy.D.

Staff Psychologist PSY # 22784
Specialist, Child and Adolescent Assessment and Psychotherapy
[email protected]

Jacque Gamboa
Dr. Gamboa is our staff psychologist who is available for mid-day and after-school appointments. She works out of our main office in Suite #111.

Jacqueline Gamboa, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and young adults. As a San Diego Kids First Staff Psychologist, she offers after-school appointments for psychotherapy/counseling and consultation.  Dr. Gamboa also serves as an important member of the San Diego Kids’ First assessment team given her specialization in standardized testing for children and adolescents with developmental and/or educational challenges, including Autism Spectrum Disorders and ADHD.

Dr. Gamboa received her B.A. in Psychology from La Sierra University and her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology, San Diego. She has a broad range of experience working with children, adolescents, and families and is an expert in treating the following clinical concerns: Anxiety Disorders, Anger-Management and/or Behavioral Challenges, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Parenting, Family Relationships, Depression, and Substance Use/Abuse. Dr. Gamboa has provided psychotherapy and assessment services in her role as psychologist at the San Diego Regional Center, Rady Children’s Hospital Outpatient Psychiatry, St. Vincent de Paul Villages, and the College Counseling Centers at USD and SDSU. Dr. Gamboa’s theoretical approach is primarily psychodynamic, but she also offers play therapy, family therapy, motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and attachment and affect regulation-based interventions.


James Rivet, D.Ed.

Educational Consultant
[email protected]
Sarah Rangel
In 2002, StudySmart La Jolla owner and director Dr. James R. Rivet opened an Educational Consulting firm aimed at helping parents help their children get back on track in school. His private, at-home sessions provide families with customized strategies to ensure their child’s success in school. Whether it was time management, organizational skills, communication skills, study habits, note-taking, test taking techniques, or any of the other skills that often beset students in school, Dr. Rivet provided hope for families grappling with the ever evolving challenges of today’s classrooms.

We are pleased to have Dr. Rivet here at San Diego Kids First to provide our families with in-home educational consulting sessions. These sessions are for any child, teen, or family struggling with education, homework, curriculum, study habits, etc. To schedule an appointment, please email Dr. Rivet directly at [email protected]

Here is a list of some of the topics that Dr. Rivet addresses:
Education / Motivation in School / Time Management / Organizational Skills / School Choice / Learning Style Inventory / Personality Type Inventory / Home-School Communication / Discipline / Test-Taking / Note-Taking / Study Habits / Community Service /Freedom / Diet/Exercise / Conflict Resolution / Goal Setting and Vision, and many more.

Executive Biography:
Educator, consultant, and researcher, Dr. James R. Rivet has a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership. He has worked at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Follett Corporation, and served as an adjunct professor teaching graduate courses in Education. James has also taught grades K-12 in the San Diego Unified School District . He serves on several advisory committees and is a frequent speaker on education at conferences throughout the country. The philosophies of individualized learning present in his writings and lectures inspire him to offer his expertise to families and organizations grappling with the ever-evolving challenges facing children who are performing below their potential.




Madhuri Agashe

Office Manager

Madhuri Agashe
Madhuri is the Office Manager of San Diego Kids First, where she ensures the daily operations run smoothly.Since she joined the team in 2014, she has assisted in the development of the Bright Stars Video Series for Parents of Children on the Autism Spectrum, and the ABCs of ASD, Video Training Series for Mainstream Teachers of Children with ASD. She also helped to create an autism spectrum disorder parent buddy program. Formerly, Madhuri worked as a Research Technologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She has attended Clemson University, South Carolina, where her studies focused on Bioengineering.

In addition to working with us at San Diego Kids First, Madhuri is a credentialed Science teacher. She also is a great mother to two wonderful daughters!



Emma Kaplan

Administrative Assistant
[email protected]

Emma Kaplan
Emma Kaplan was born and raised in San Diego and is excited to be back after spending the last four years in Santa Barbara. She recently graduated from UCSB with a B.S. in Biopsychology and plans to pursue a career in Nursing. Emma joined San Diego Kids First in 2018 and handles appointment scheduling, manages office inquiries, and coordinates communication between patients, families, and staff.
If Emma is not working or studying, you can find her at the beach or enjoying the beautiful outdoors!

Linda Griebel

Insurance Biller/Bookkeeper
(619) 224-6343

Linda is San Diego Kids First’s insurance biller and bookkeeper, and is responsible for obtaining reimbursement for those who wish to use their out-of-network benefits for appointments at SDKF.

Linda has been a bookkeeper for mental health professionals since 1987. She has been a wonderful asset to the San Diego Kids First team since 2005 and we are so grateful to her for providing such a wonderful and unique service to our families!