If you’ve lived in Forsyth County for any substantial amount of time, you probably think of Forsyth County Schools when you hear the name Paula Gault.
Having lived here for almost 23 years with four children, I was certainly familiar with Paula’s name and her excellent reputation. I remember reading about her career, from new school openings to her becoming superintendent and then retirement in 2008.
We have always been pleased with our school system. In my mind, Paula was really something of an education rock star.
Imagine my surprise when I received a handwritten note from her thanking me for a recent column I wrote about Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, where she serves as chairwoman. I immediately went out and bought some thank-you notes to reply.
I asked her to call so we could meet for coffee. I was so pleased that she did, and we recently sat down for a nice chat. It didn’t take long before I opened my notebook and began writing.
I was surprised to find out that Paula was born and raised here in the county and is a sixth generation resident.
“My dad was in the poultry business, and when he went to fight in World War II, his father kept it going,” she said. “It was the poultry business in this county that allowed so many of us to go to college.”
Attending the University of Georgia, Paula laughed at the thought that there were more people in the dorm than in her entire high school.
“It was so different from the life I was used to. There were 11,000 [students enrolled], which just seemed like so many.”
During her freshman year, “it was the first year Vince Dooley was there coaching,” she said.
Paula said she “loved, loved, loved” her college years. She majored in elementary education.
She married and moved back to Forsyth County, having two daughters, Kelley and Kristin.
She began teaching preschool at Cumming First United Methodist Church, moving to second grade education at Cumming Elementary.
During this time she went through a divorce and decided to go back to school.
“I loved school and went on to get my master’s in early childhood education at North Georgia [College],” she said.
In 1983, Paula remarried. Her husband, Stan Gault, later became a Superior Court judge in the Bell-Forsyth circuit.
“Stan always encouraged me in my career; he believed strongly in continuing education and felt that it was important for everybody to do.”
With her husband’s blessing, Paula pursued additional education at UGA.
Paula then served as assistant principal at Big Creek and Chestatee elementary schools for a year and a half before moving fulltime to Chestatee.
In 1993, the system’s superintendent asked her to move to the central office to head up special curriculum programs.
“I really wanted to be a school principal,” she said. But as was typical of her, she went where she was needed.
Paula said those in the school system recognized the coming boom in the county’s population.
“We all believed and wanted Forsyth County to be a top-notch school district. We knew with the right leadership we could achieve this.”
Paula said that the No. 1 concern was for the schools themselves.
“The state mandated a strategic plan, Vision 20/20; their priority was a strategic plan for the county,” she said.
Paula felt fortunate to be on several committees that decided how things should proceed in dealing with the rapidly-growing county. “There were so many forward-looking people I had the privilege to work with.”
Paula said that as part of a $55 million bond referendum, $8 million earmarked for technology “really laid the ground work for our future.”
The system focused on building schools.
“It was such an exciting time building and opening all of those schools and seeing all of that technology in the classrooms” she said, adding that they learned something new with each opening.
When the position for superintendent opened, Paula threw her hat in the ring. In January 2001, Paula became Forsyth County Schools superintendent and served for seven years before retiring.
During her tenure, the system opened 13 schools. Paula gives much of the credit to her staff.
When her husband suddenly died in 2003, Paula was devastated. “My friends, family, church and staff were how I got through it,” she said.
You’d think retirement would mean a break from leadership positions, but Paula began serving as vice chairwoman on the board of CASA, eventually becoming chairwoman.
“CASA was a good fit for me. I am all about supporting children and there is also the court aspect,” she said. The organization recruits volunteers to speak on behalf of children moving through the judicial system.
In addition, Paula partnered with friend Kathy Callahan to start a Stephen Ministry program at Cumming First Baptist.
“Stephen ministers meet one on one with folks who are going through a tough time,” she said. “They are highly trained to be good listeners and just walk with them on their journey.”
The volunteer ministers help people in the entire community, not just her church, she said.
It was a pleasure getting to know Paula, and our community is blessed to have had her leadership during such a time of growth. With her continued community involvement, we are all still benefiting.
A true family person, Paula remarried Robert Hughes in 2006.
The two graduated from Forsyth County High School in 1964 and hadn’t seen each other in 30 years. Their first date was at their 40th class reunion.
Combined, the couple has five children and 12 grandchildren.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.