Paulson’s journey began in 1965 as a student at Portland Elementary school, back when Richfield had eight public elementary schools. It’s ending with a sense of thanks for 33 years as an educator in a district he never left behind.
“I’m just grateful I could be here for that long, and grateful for all the great people I worked with,” Paulson, Richfield High School class of 1978, said last week as he prepared to attend his final commencement ceremony as assistant principal.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s time for someone else to have the opportunity,” he said.
Paulson will be replaced by Carrie Vala, who after two years in Nebraska, returns to the district where she previously served as director of math.
Paulson, too, sought to re-enter the district after a brief absence. After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in elementary education, he took a job at St. Bart’s School in Wayzata. Two years later, when an opportunity arose to teach fifth grade at what was then Richfield Intermediate School, Paulson pounced.
He was itching to get back into a district where his mother worked as a paraprofessional, and where his wife, Mary, would teach middle school.
After spending both his formative and professional days in Richfield Schools, Paulson is better positioned than most to note how the district and the wider world of education has changed.
“We ask a lot more of these kids academically than when I went to school here,” he observed.
Kindergarten used to be only about socialization and sleeping, Paulson remembers. “You learned how to play, and then you had a nap,” he said.
Now, “we’re teaching kids to read in kindergarten.”
As academic demands have risen, even for the youngest of students, teachers have had to change their approach, too. The way students now access knowledge has been the biggest change Paulson has witnessed.
“It used to be education was about finding information,” he said. Now that the information is in everyone’s hands, the question is, “How do you sort through that information and decide what information to pay attention to, and what’s valid and good information?”
Not a job, a ‘calling’As Paulson recalls the monumental shifts in his chosen profession, he remembers how he planned on a different career entirely.
When he graduated from Richfield High School, he was going to be “some sort of engineer,” Paulson said.
But he realized his path lay in the field of education, where he would advance to principal of Richfield Intermediate School before returning to his alma mater in 2009 as a high school assistant principal.
Paulson looked back on a life spent in the district through a lens of idealism. Explaining what the job of assistant principal entailed, he said, “It’s really working with staff and students so that students can fulfill their dreams, to be prepared to do anything they want to in the world.”
He admitted, “These are kind of lofty platitudes, but it really boils down to supporting kids and supporting staff to work with those kids. That’s what makes it a great job. And it’s really not a job, it’s more of a calling.”
In answering that call, Paulson split assistant principal duties with colleague Teresa Rosen for the past eight years in Richfield High School, where they could collaborate by shouting through the thin wall separating their offices.
“It’s kind of like losing your right arm,” Rosen said of Paulson’s departure.
According to her, the assistant principals complemented each other as they divvied up duties.
“I’m always joking about how I’m the control freak,” Rosen said. “He’s more laid back.”
She appreciated Paulson’s even-keel demeanor. “You know, he stays calm in stressful moments, and when it’s over he can add an ounce of humor,” she said.
At the same time, Paulson wasn’t an attention-seeker, according to Rosen. At a celebration where the high school faculty said goodbye to departing colleagues, Rosen remembered Paulson taking the microphone from the hands of Principal Latanya Daniels as she was about to pass it around the room.
The intervention prevented staff from sharing their memories about the departing vice principal. “He wouldn’t let anybody body talk about him,” Rosen said.
As he prepares to leave his post June 30, Paulson is eschewing grand celebrations in favor of small gatherings.
“I don’t like celebrations when it’s about me,” he explained.
As he said, his career has been about the students. And rest assured, the ones who graduated last week are doing fine, Paulson said.
The idea that today’s young people don’t compare to previous generations – “that’s just not true,” he appealed.
“I see great kids that are fighting against big odds and making really good decisions and striving and achieving. … They’re very conscious about their environment, about being inclusive to people. I see nothing but hope when I look at the future.”
As he prepares to leave the district, Paulson, a Bloomington resident, hopes to continue some sort of work in education.
“I still hope to be involved in Richfield schools in some way,” he said, confirming he is done as an assistant principal, but not as a Spartan.
Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RISunCurrent.