New Principal Mary Paine, center, speaks and laughs Friday with student Madilynn Kindelan, left, and her sister, Makelle, and father, Zachary, after school outside Marcia Buker School in Richmond. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

RICHMOND — The playground is right outside Mary Paine’s window at Marcia Buker Elementary School.

For moments throughout the day, she can take a look outside and, as principal, see what she calls “young scholars” laughing, talking to one another and solving problems. To Paine, the students at Buker are the “future of education.”

“It’s a big responsibility we have, but that’s it,” she said. “It’s an amazing experience to be a part of.”

Paine has held a variety of positions at Regional School Unit 2, but this is her first stint as a full-time principal. She filled in for a while last year for then-Principal Tom McKee, which made Paine realize she would enjoy the role as her main responsibility.

“I didn’t want to leave (the principalship),” she said. “I love it, and I loved the work of helping and problem-solving. I just didn’t want to leave.”

McKee decided at the end of the 2020-21 school year to head back into the classroom, and for a short period, Troy Kendrick took on the role before having the same realization as McKee. Once he decided to step down, Paine stepped into the position last Monday, only days before school began.

“I was telling the kids who were worried about leaving their parents, ‘I’m new, too,'” she said.

Before Paine filled administrative roles in RSU 2, she worked as an educational technician, or ed tech, at Messalonskee High School in Oakland-based RSU 18, then as an English teacher in the district for 15 years. After that, she worked on policy and legislation for the Maine Department of Education, before working under a superintendent in the Lewiston School District.

She then landed in RSU 2 as an assistant superintendent, as a temporary superintendent, then back to being an assistant superintendent under current Superintendent Tonya Arnold.

Now as principal, Paine will make $74,461 through her contracted year of Aug. 30, 2021, to June 30, 2022. As assistant superintendent, she made $106,000, according to contracts supplied by Arnold.

“The board fully supports Mary’s transition to this new role, and I know she is very excited to take on this challenge,” said Jon Hamann, chairperson of the RSU 2 board of directors. “She is a dynamic leader that I know will fully commit all of her efforts to ensuring the best educational experience for the students at Marcia Buker.”

Paine went to college later in life as she raised her three children, and never thought she would be a teacher.

She originally wanted to be a physical therapist and went to the University of Maine at Farmington. She then changed her major to secondary education.

Paine said the mentoring she has received and her other experiences in education have “built” her for the role of assistant superintendent and now principal, even though she never thought she would be in school administration.

“Then a door opened up and I walked through it,” she said. “This is the best door I’ve walked through so far. I really mean it. This was a dream come true, coming to Buker.”

Paine said her true passion lies within education, and one of her favorite parts of teaching is watching students and what they can teach her. Her first group of students at Messalonskee High School taught her much about how to speak and engage with them.

“This has been the most joyful thing, surrounded by children,” she said.

Paine said beginning as principal during the COVID-19 pandemic has not been as difficult as some might think, although it has caused some issues in terms of public gatherings she would have liked to hold to get to know the students and their families. Instead, she plans to utilize other means of communicating with families.

Paine said learning to recognize and getting to know students while they wear protective masks have proven challenging.

“I’ve been trying to spend time with students when they’re outside and when they’re at lunch — times they don’t have to have their masks on,” she said.

Among Paine’s goals, she seeks to focus on how teachers educate and help students learn so she can help make the school even stronger.

“I really want parents in the community to know their children are coming to an excellent place,” she said. “Being a part of it, I feel a great joy. If I felt like it was a struggle to get staff to care more, that would be different. And that’s not happening.

“Our group of people are sharing this awesome thing: To think we are shaping the future of people and the future of learners.”

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