Gunnar Paulson sat in a plane flying over Gainesville and looked down on a sea of 35,000 people.
They were lined up from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium to Gainesville Municipal Airport on a November night in 1984 — the night the Gators had just won their first-ever Southeastern Conference Championship.
Paulson, the then-UF football assistant coach, said he realized at this moment the impact he’s had on the young student athletes in his life.
Paulson was 8 years old when his father died of cancer. He said he knew he wanted to be a father figure for young men after growing up without one.
After 28 years of coaching and teaching across Florida, the 71-year-old incumbent is running for re-election to the Alachua County School Board District 3 seat.
“Right now, public education is under attack,” Paulson said. “I’m running again because I think I have the experience and knowledge to help save it.”
During the primary election, both Paulson and his opponent April Barefoot Tisher received less than 51 percent of the vote, so they will both be on the midterm election ballot.
Paulson said he can help save public education because he is the only candidate who has been in the shoes of public school teachers before. He plans on closing achievement gaps in local public schools, implementing competitive salaries for teachers and increasing arts funding.
Paulson said he is a caring and visionary candidate. Before he was on the school board, he said there wasn’t a vision for the future of local schools.
Since his election to the school board in 2010, Paulson said he has helped raise teacher and employee salaries by about $5,000, increased the number of vocational courses offered and raised overall graduation rates by 16 percent in Alachua County.
Paulson received a total of $33,805 in monetary and nonmonetary donations, according to campaign finance records.
Melissa Dougherty, 45, Paulson’s youngest daughter, said it is no surprise both she and her older sister Amy Bennett are public school teachers.
Dougherty, a Title I teacher specialist in Alachua, said Paulson never misses Sunday school classes and is nicknamed the “Walking Almanac.”
The strategic skills of a football coach are on full display in Paulson’s platform, Dougherty said. She believes her father has the drive to win.
“(Coaches) want to do the best they possibly can do, and they want to get that out of their players,” she said. “He wants the best and wants to be as great as possible for the school district.”
April Barefoot Tisher
April Barefoot Tisher wants to close the equity gap in Alachua County Public Schools.
The 41-year-old mom of four is running for the Alachua County School Board District 3 seat, which covers northwest Gainesville, to advocate for the needs of area parents. As of the most recent reporting period, Tisher collected $9,604 in monetary and nonmonetary donations, according to campaign finance records.
Tisher first realized how different a student’s experience can be in public schools after a lockdown at Rawlings Elementary School.
Tisher was volunteering at the school to provide child-care while Rawlings parents held a Parent-Teacher Organization meeting. She remembered smiling and laughing with children while making Christmas cookies, her infant daughter strapped to her chest in a baby wrap.
Suddenly, the meeting was halted by a shooting at an apartment complex across the street. She huddled in a closet surrounded by children until it was safe. She was struck by the silence from the children.
“I don’t remember anything like this happening at my children’s schools,” Tisher said.
Tisher wants to advocate for the Half-Cent Sales Tax, which is up for a vote in November, and would improve the safety of schools by upgrading their facilities, she said. The money would ensure students receive comparable experiences and also improve things such as the outdated air conditioning in classrooms.
Tisher said she also wants to advocate for programs after school that help keep students interested. She said she understands these programs are expensive and require a time commitment from parents.
She wants to create activity buses to take kids home afterward. She also wants to inform parents of available scholarships.
Her belief in public education stems from her childhood in Wilmington, North Carolina, she said. Tisher attended public school all the way through college, graduating from the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 1999.
If elected, Tisher would be the only board member with children currently enrolled in Alachua County Public Schools, she said.
“I think when you put that kind of perspective in front of other people it’s hard to ignore,” she said.
Tisher has long served her friends and family, offering constant guidance and support. This will make her an invaluable addition to the board, said Jenny Bedner, 37, a coworker of Tisher’s from Keller Williams Realty.
Bedner has worked with Tisher on her campaign over the past year and has known Tisher since their daughters were in kindergarten.
“I consider her somewhat of a mom mentor to me,” Bedner said. “Starting in preschool, she has been there for me with advice and guidance on different things in school and elementary school because she has kids in every grade.”