By Kim Siebert MacPhail
At the final School Committee meeting before voters elect her replacement at the Town Elections on Saturday, March 9, Anne Bickford was bid a fond and grateful farewell by colleagues.
“You’ve had a twelve-year tenure and what I think everyone recognizes is that always what you do is for the kids,” said Committee member Abbie Seibert. “You are very analytical. You can look at a situation very quickly and sort it out, always looking for a solution for everyone. You are graceful under fire—and we’ve had some dicey situations to demonstrate that. And you always do this with good humor and caring about students—and also caring about staff. That always comes through.”
“I’ve learned a lot about the process, the policies, the analysis, the politics,” said relative newcomer to the Committee, Brad Hafer. “It’s been beneficial for me to have you here, but I think it’s been beneficial to the town to have your contribution for 12 years which—a little back-of-the-envelope math—is about 240-plus School Committee meetings and at least as many liaison meetings. If you add all the hours together that you’ve contributed, we should all be so thankful. I don’t know if people realize the effort.”
“You have done truly an outstanding job for the youth and for Bedford,” added colleague Ed Pierce. “One of the things I’ve heard again and again over time is, ‘This is for the benefit of the kids;’ or ‘How are the kids being impacted?’ Your desire to have the best education system we can afford has been admirable. Your ability to analyze and understand and put the concepts into a simple summary is outstanding. You are going to be missed, but we honor you for all your contributions.”
“I’d just like to add a little something here,” said Superintendent Jon Sills. “During my time here in Bedford you’ve been on the School Committee, so we’ve had a long run together. What I’m about to say is in no way a reflection on the other members of the committee and what they bring, but I have to say that it’s hard to imagine doing this job without you as chair. You have an incredible capacity for seeing the big picture and dealing with details that I’ve never seen before. I’ve never known anybody that could do those two things with equal depth and facility and ease and grace.
“That’s such an important thing for our schools because our values are so important and the ability to communicate those and to have the political acumen that helps to guide a school committee and town through tough budget times is just critical. You do that with all the detail and all the evidence that’s needed to support the argument.
“So, to me, you’re an anchor and a rock,” Sill continued. ‘You’ve brought immeasurable strength to this committee and I want to thank you on behalf of all the faculty and staff members in Bedford who you’ve championed and understood how important they are to our kids.”
Bickford thanked everyone for their words, saying that she has been privileged to work alongside talented and dedicated administrators and committee members.
She then turned to Ed Pierce, who will now take over the role of chair, and gave him a book of school committee minutes from 1899-1913.
“This was in Jon’s office,” Bickford said. “It’s all handwritten in this little book. It’s roughly a hundred years ago of the same time period that I’ve been serving and it’s absolutely fascinating to read about some of the same things we’ve been dealing with.
“The 1894 school census. . . shows 167 children that attended the schools at that point in time,” Bickford continued. “But the issues that they’re grappling with have such a similarity. They had an enrollment surge going on, such that in 1903 they said that all third and fourth graders would [attend school on alternate days], and they commissioned the superintendent to find a new school and that school was Union School.
“In 1904, Union School opened and from then on they had a whole series of capital issues that they had to deal with, just like we do. For instance, in 1909, should they put plumbing in? Did they want to have electricity in Union School in 1911? In 1912, there was a big controversy over a telephone: should they—or shouldn’t they—have a telephone?
“There were [community relations issues, school choice issues, math curriculum changes], discussions with Charles Jenks about where the fences would go around the Union School so the cows could still graze, and the selling of the windmill that was right in back of the school and who was going to get the revenue. On transportation issues, they paid $8.00 a week for Mr. Fitch to take the students on a barge—I don’t know what the barge was—but later on there were issues of unruly students on the barge, just like there are school bus discipline issues today.
“I think what reading through this book did for me was make me realize that we’re all on a continuum here,” Bickford concluded. “There’s a long, hundred-year-plus history of people sitting at this table, working with the superintendent, working on behalf of the students of this town. You can see the foundation [in this book] of what we have here now.”