Sandra Gunter, a former teacher and principal in Anniston public schools, died Thursday at Regional Medical Center after a year-long battle with cancer. She was 61.
“She didn’t treat any of her students any different than her own kids,” said her son, Roy Gunter. “She made sure she turned them into productive, upstanding people.”
Gunter spent her life in the Anniston school system. A 1970 graduate of Cobb High School, she went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville State University. She returned to an Anniston classroom as a teacher by the time she was 22. During a career that spanned nearly four decades, she taught elementary school and served as principal at Johnston, Norwood and, most recently, Randolph Park elementary schools. She also returned to JSU for a master’s degree and administration certification.
Gunter’s colleagues remember her as a no-nonsense educator devoted to student achievement.
Superintendent Joan Frazier said she first met Gunter when she became principal of Randolph Park Elementary School, when Gunter was still a fifth-grade teacher there.
“She was very good at using data to drive instruction, and she did that as an administrator,” Frazier said. “She was very dedicated professional.”
Teresia Hall worked under Gunter at Randolph Park before she took over as principal upon her retirement.
“I never heard her call a teacher by their first name,” she said, calling Gunter the epitome of professionalism.
But Gunter’s professionalism didn’t diminish her devotion.
“She was a very awesome, compassionate person when it came to her students and her staff,” Hall said.
Jennifer Sims, parent specialist at Randolph Park, agreed.
“She was concerned about students, she mentored her teachers, she mentored other administrators,” she said, adding that Gunter was a fair and honest administrator.
Despite Gunter’s reputation for being business-like, Sims said Gunter could be fun-loving.
“She had a personality that could make you laugh at any moment,” she said. “Although she was a very serious, very straightforward person, she had a sense of humor that ... she could make you laugh even when you didn’t want to laugh.”
Gunter retired just eight months ago, ready to spend time with her three grandchildren.
“She had given so many years to education,” Sims said, “and she was excited about those grandbabies she had.”
Her son said the expectations she held for her students were the same expectations she held for him and his sister, LaRoyia Smitherman, as they were growing up. He noted her emphasis on good grades, respect in the community, and just being all-around good kids. She was a devoted member of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.
“There was nothing we did as kids that she was not a part of,” Roy Gunter said, adding that if he was playing football, she was right there on the 50-yard line. In all the years that he and his sister played sports, Gunter only missed one of their games, “and it almost crushed her,” he said.
When he was sent off on a military deployment, he said, his mom was there to send him off, and she was one of the first faces he saw when he stepped off the plane on his return.
“She believed in being there for her kids,” he said, “and of course, her kids extended into the community, the kids that she taught.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.