FREEPORT — Susana Hancock was an internationally-competitive rower who qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, speaks five languages and has performed as a magician and spent more than a decade living in far-off places such as England, Norway and the Middle East.

Now she’s moved back to Maine and is the newest member of the Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors.

Hancock

Hancock was unanimously appointed to the board earlier this month to fill the seat vacated when Lindsay Sterling moved out of town. The term will expire next November.

“I believe that public education is a common good and that everyone benefits from a strong school system,” said Hancock, who was born in Portland, raised in Freeport and attended RSU 5 schools from kindergarten through eighth grade. “I want to involve myself in local politics.”

After graduating from Connecticut College with degrees in linguistics and Russian studies, Hancock furthered her education in London at Oxford University, the oldest English-speaking university in the world. She completed two master’s degrees and a doctorate as a fully-funded Rhodes Scholarship finalist. She returned to Maine 18 months ago and works as a political anthropologist involved in human rights research in the Middle East and post-Soviet Russia. She’s also spearheaded a civic engagement program at Democracy Maine.

Hancock taught herself cello after failing at the piano because she wanted to be good at something. She took lessons and started playing in small groups and then orchestras. One of the most rewarding things about playing the cello has been the opportunity for Hancock to play in some of the most beautiful places in the world.

“Through music, I have met some incredible people with very diverse backgrounds, and these experiences have been very grounding,” she said.

Hancock recently started studying magic for the party tricks, and because she likes learning new things. She was part of a club in Oxfordshire for two years, and now she has a couple of routines she uses to entertain people.

Being out of the loop on things related to the operation of RSU 5 has its challenges, so Hancock said she needs to hit the ground running to make sense of years of policies and discussions.

“I am very lucky to have the opportunity to work with, and learn from, such fantastic people,” she said. “I’ve also reviewed the history of current and anticipated topics, and I have met with other past and current board members to get up to speed procedurally.”

The RSU 5 board is in the process of reviewing its cost-sharing formula and is starting work on its new budget for the next school year. Councilor Sarah Tracy said the Freeport Council has been very active in voicing what it believes is the best interests of the town and Freeport taxpayers.

Tracy told Hancock at last week’s council meeting that “When you get on the board, you’ll have to figure out what’s the right decision. I’m not trying to influence you, but I hope that you (Hancock) will be open to the comments of both (the Council) and other residents who participate in the public process.”

RSU 5 includes the towns of Freeport, Pownal and Durham. Hancock said the School Board’s finance committee has been working over the past year-plus to craft new solutions that increase the transparency and fairness of the financial process, while allowing for some variability in each town’s share as circumstances change.

Hancock said two of the wonderful things about Freeport is its size and the talkative — and opinionated — people.

“I’ve been fortunate to tap into networks and connect with people, both directly involved in the schools and taxpayers, about issues,” she said. “Certainly, as with other board positions, I am there to represent people, and I encourage people to contact me to talk about issues and share opinions.”

There might not seem to be much in common between public education systems in Maine and the Middle East, but Hancock said she was able to see how public education can foster nationalism and feelings about identity.

“I spent a lot of time in areas of active conflict, where I saw how education can both be used to create feelings of exclusion, but also can generate harmony to unite disparate groups,” Hancock said.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: