WINTHROP — Trisha Audette and her son, David, are just a couple of people who have seen the benefits of adult education programs.

David recently earned his diploma after taking part in the Monmouth/Winthrop Adult & Community Education, and he will start with the TechHire IT Employment program in the spring.

Trisha Audette hugs her son, David, after his graduation Jan. 11 from the Monmouth/Winthrop Adult & Community Education in Winthrop. Both are alumni of adult education programs. In April, they stood up for the program when the town waas considering a proposal for its elimination.

“Not every person learns the same way, and a great environment is a life changer for so many people,” Audette said. “My son went from completely failing every subject in every grade … and when he started the adult ed program, it was the exact kind of atmosphere he needed.

“This type of programming was able to help both my son and me,” she added, noting that she received a diploma from an adult education program in Bangor. “I had my son at age 18; I was able to get a really great job because of my degree.”

Less than a year ago, though, the Winthrop/Monmouth program was in jeopardy of being eliminated.

“The program was running a long-standing deficit that wasn’t apparent to those running the program — or the council — until it was a crisis situation last year,” said Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the Winthrop Town Council.

The budgets that had been approved and guided operations were not balanced with an equal amount of revenue, and the funding provided did not support the level of services offered.

Regional School Unit 2’s administration also had eliminated funding for the program from its 2017-18 budget. The previous year, the district had contributed $5,000; and in prior years, that amount was in the range of $10,000 to $15,000.

To compound matters, the programs director, Marcia Cook, died at the beginning of 2018.

Enter Josh Farr.

The Monmouth resident is the program’s new director, envisioning it growing into a community learning center where anyone would feel comfortable. While it does serve as an alternative learning program for students to earn a high school diploma, Farr wants to show the community that it offers much more than that.

“Any education and lifelong learning can strengthen a community,” he said. “It’s already a strong community here in Winthrop.

“I think the more you do for people in terms of education only helps,” Farr added. “It helps the individuals, it helps the business, it helps the economy and ultimately builds stronger connections.”

Winthrop Schools adult eduction director Josh Farr on Jan. 11 at the Winthrop Community Learning Center.

He has spent most of his career in higher education and student services, working primarily with students in transition — those in their first year, newcomers who speak English as a second language, and students preparing to enter college or vocational education.

Dr. Cornelia Brown, interim superintendent of Winthrop Public Schools, thought Farr’s background would serve students in the high school equivalency programs well.

“Higher education is an asset for us,” she said, “and (Farr) understands how to get kids into higher education.”

“The Winthrop School Committee is pleased to have Mr. Farr agree to direct the Winthrop adult education program,” added Virginia Geyer, chairwoman of the Winthrop Public School Committee. “We hope to be able to continue to offer valued programs that positively contribute to our community.”

Audette, who was on the volunteer committee assigned to hire a new director, said Farr stood out to her because “he seemed very knowledgeable and excited to help our community and the adult ed program.”

He knew the financial situation of the program before taking the position, but it is the kind of work Farr wants to undertake.

“I felt like even though I knew there were challenges ahead, this is part of my community,” he said, “and I want to do my best to make it sustainable.”

The town of Winthrop agreed the program had value and is increasing its contribution from $25,000 annually to $55,000.

“The council was strong in its support that this program continue as it provides a vital component of our educational system,” Fuller said. “This need hasn’t changed, and so we’re committed to working with the Board of Education, Josh and the superintendent to find a way to make the program sustainable going forward.”

The program also receives a state subsidy, federal grant money, tuition from enrichment classes and money from its proctored examinations. Farr thinks the program is in good shape this year to be sustainable.

“This year it means we need to start living within our means,” he said, “and we need to start showcasing what we do here and be more visible to the community.”

As for the future, Farr thinks the program will have the opportunity to undertake new ideas. Among those, he hopes to work with the YMCA and offer family literacy programs with Bailey Public Library. Farr also wants the program to be a resource connection for employers, as well as people who need a gateway to other services, such as the state labor department or food assistance.

Winthrop Schools adult eduction director Josh Farr on Jan. 11 at the Winthrop Community Learning Center.

He hopes, too, that it may regain support from RSU 2.

“We should spread the support for these programs beyond a single town,” Farr said, noting that in the past six years a little less than 30 percent of the HiSET graduates have been Monmouth residents. “I believe such a broader collaboration with RSU 2 would be a great success.”

Brown sees the program becoming sustainable.

“Josh has a good level on what staffing is needed and what kind of local funds are needed to make things run,” she said.

Closing the program wouldn’t provide savings to the school, in Farr’s opinion, and the town would only recoup its annual contribution of $55,000 if it was halted. Plus, he said, the community would lose the opportunities the program provides.

“I think we’re a pretty good deal for the investment,” Farr said. “I hope the town thinks so, too.”

His effect has already been felt by staff.

“He’s been very innovative and has been handling everything we’ve needed to have handled,” adult education teacher Claire Hersom said. “There was such conflict, and things are different now, and there has been good change.”

Though he grew up in Tilton, New Hampshire, Farr spent summers with his father in Manchester. He has a master’s degree in higher education from the University of Maine and has worked around the country at private and community college institutions, including a stint as a dean of a campus in the Marshall Islands.

Married with two sons, ages 11 and 16, Farr spends his spare time as a volunteer with the Monmouth Fire Department, and he is a fan of science fiction and fantasy. He hopes to continue his education in school finance, and is enrolled in a finance class this semester.

“Learning something is always what I’m looking for,” Farr said.

Abigail Austin — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @AbigailAustinKJ

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