RSU 5 tech, community programs under new leadership

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FREEPORT — While students are preparing for the start of new classes next week, Jim Grant and Peter Wagner are preparing for new positions as director of technology and director of community programs, respectively. 

Also new to students and staff this year are the times school will begin and end. Freeport High School will run from 7:50 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Freeport Middle School from 7:40 a.m.-2:20 p.m.; Mast Landing School from 8:45 a.m.-3:25 p.m., and Morse Street, Pownal Elementary and Durham Community schools from 8:35 a.m.-3:15 p.m.

A new teacher contract settled in late May extended the school day by 10 minutes, which “equates to approximately an additional week of learning time and is more aligned to the length of the student learning day in surrounding districts,” according to a memo from Regional School Unit 5 Superintendent Becky Foley. 

Grant, who lives in Brunswick, started working for RSU 5 in 1996 as a tech lead at Morse Street School. After that, he moved to Freeport High School as a Maine Learning Technology Initiative lead, which “seeks to provide professional development and 21st-century tools to middle and high schools to support the attainment of the Maine state standards,” which he did for the past eight years.

“This is a great place to be. I joke with people that I live in Freeport and sleep in Brunswick,” Grant said. “I spend my days here … This is home.”

Grant officially started in his new role overseeing technology for the whole district as technology director on Aug. 20. 

With less than a week to go before the first day of school, which is Sept. 4, Grant said he is focusing on getting middle and high school students paired with a laptop through the district’s “one for one” program, hiring new MLTI tech leads and meeting with staff to determine “how technology can best support the classroom.”

“That is my role,” he added. “To fuse together technology and education … and make sure all students have an equal opportunity for education.”  

Grant said since he first began working in the district it’s been a “showplace” for how schools can utilize the technology that’s readily available to them to further education.

“To work in this district was a dream and then to have worked myself up in the district is something I’ve always aspired for,” he said. 

Having served the district for 22 years, Grant said he’s watched the technology change drastically. 

“It’s become much more mobile,” he said. “That’s great from the standpoint of being able to move with the technology, but the management of that becomes harder.”

Technology has become more “ubiquitous,” which Grant said is exactly what schools want it to be. However, there’s “maintenance behind the curtain that a lot of people don’t see which we’re responsible for.”

In his new role, Grant said he’s looking forward to getting out into the district and working with teachers to make sure that “the classroom technology is top notch.”

“There are a lot of people out there doing great things and we can assist in that and be a resource for it,” he added. “… At the base level, it’s about equity and making sure every student is on a level playing field and then to propel them on to excellence. Technology can be one of the tools used to do that.”

Wagner said he’s been in higher education for about 20 years; working for alumni relations at Bowdoin College and at his alma mater, Davidson College in North Carolina, and most recently in fundraising at Colby College.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to serve as director of community programs because of the aspect of community involvement, event planning, program management, constituent and community relations,” he said. “That’s really where my experience lies.”

Wagner, who was born in Bath, moved back to Maine four years ago and lives about a mile down the road from his new office at 17 West St. He has three sons, two at FHS and one who graduated last year.

“Our lives are very tied up in their activities,” Wagner said. “I feel really attached to this community in such a short period of time … It feels like a really good time not just to be a resident here, but to be a part of this school.”

The RSU’s community programs office offers youth and teen programming, adult and community education and childcare. 

“The work of community programs can positively affect the lives of every resident in Freeport, Pownal, Durham and beyond,” Grant said. “… If we find a need in any one of these communities or our broader community that isn’t being met, we’ll find a way to address it.”

Each area offered in the district’s community programs department is staffed by one coordinator, who Wagner on Monday said he planned to meet with later this week, along with the office’s administrative assistant, to see what they want to be as an office. The group of five has only been able to meet collectively once since Wagner’s first day on July 2.

“The things I really hope to achieve with the office is to make us a model of great customer service with real responsiveness to the needs of the community,” Wagner said.

He would also like to see them grow the adult education programming and increase collaboration and partnerships throughout the district, as well as between the office and local people, businesses and organizations. 

“I’d like to look at what we’re missing and look for the experts in that area, rather than waiting for them to come to us,” Wagner said. “I’d like to see us being even more proactive.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

RSU 5 Director of Technology Jim Grant said he hopes to fuse technology and education.

As RSU 5 director of community programs, Peter Wagner said he hopes to take a proactive approach to recognizing gaps in their programming and reaching out to experts to help fill them. 

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