Departing School Committee, Bickford Says Commitment to Education Puts Bedford “In a Good Spot”

Anne Bickford
Anne Bickford

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

After twelve years of service on the Bedford School Committee, Anne Bickford took a moment to reflect upon her tenure, tracing the arc of her involvement as, first, a volunteer in the classroom and then on several education-related committees before taking the step to run for office. Bickford also emphasized that Bedford’s long-term, wide-based support for education is a source of strength and pride for those who live here, as well as for those who serve the town.

“The question of how I got started on the School Committee has two tracks: One track is moving to town and discovering a school system where there was a chance for continuity to build on one year to another, which was so opposite of how I grew up. The other is a track that dealt with some specific interactions I had with the schools that made me want to help and made me want to see what I could do to change some things.

On the first track is my background: I grew up as a military brat. By the time I was in 9th grade, I had been in 8 different school systems so, to me, the notion that you actually have a town where you begin in kindergarten and have some reasonable assurance that you’re going to build on that and continue on a path to 12th grade was so very different from what my own education had been.

There are a lot of benefits that come from moving from system to system—like adaptability and other things—but by far, I saw [Bedford’s educational configuration] as a pretty unique thing from my world, because I hadn’t grown up in New England and it wasn’t part of my background.

I began [my involvement in the schools] the same way many parents do by volunteering within the classroom at Davis because it was fun and I wanted to be involved. That led to involvement in helping to develop and revise the bus specifications [when the transportation contract was coming up for renewal]. That was an area that fit with my professional side and with my background.

So I assisted [School Committee members at the time] Ellen Waldron and Michelle Matteo in a small task force in order to go out for bid with that [contract.] One[thing] led to the other and I became familiar with what the role of School Committee was –which I would never have known because I was brand new to town and viewing things through the eyes of a parent [only].

When my oldest was at Lane, there were some things that happened—as things can happen—that were, to me, things that could be improved upon: specific actions and interactions that led [me] to want to lend my time and effort to try to help things out for all kids. This led me, eventually, to the Blue Ribbon Gifted and Talented Task Force with Dr. LaCroix, who had just come here, and  then to the Middle School Advisory Council and, after that, when there was an opening, to run for the School Committee.

I think that [there’s] a pathway that’s open to many, many people. What is terrific about Bedford is that there are these chances—when your kids are first coming into the system—to intersect and to find out what’s going on and to be a part through BEST and volunteering at the circus or through some of the celebrations that are unique to each school like Davistown or the Colonial Fair—all those different points of intersection where parents can see what’s going on and be part of what’s going on. You can volunteer time and can get to know more about the system, as a system. That’s when people start to think, ‘Maybe I there’s something here I can do, too.’

What is maybe not unique about Bedford— but it’s nice about Bedford—is that you can translate your area of expertise into how you volunteer. There are many, many ways to contribute. If there are other things you like to do or things you’re good at, then there are certainly many avenues.

It doesn’t necessarily need to be somebody coming forth in the future [to run for School Committee] who already knows everything—nobody knows everything about School Committee when you first join. But, I think if people come from a mindset of the value of public education— they want public education to be the best it possibly can be and are committed to making that happen in our town, [they have] a skill set the involves problem-solving and listening skills—and some math skills because of the budget—then I hope that people would take a look at any upcoming vacancies and say, ‘Hey, you know, I can do that. I think I can make a difference here.’”

Moving on to the “big picture” of where education in Bedford stands today, Bickford continued:

“One of the things I still want to see happen, I want there to be some certainty about the funding for Hanscom students and so I’ll continue to work on the [Strategic Communications] Committee [at least until] the current Chapter 70 legislation that’s been proposed is through and passed. I think we should, as a town, provide Hanscom kids with this education because they deserve it— and their parents deserve it—and also because it’s incredibly valuable for all the other kids in Bedford who have been here since kindergarten on to be part of that.

This question should be solved because these [Hanscom] students should never become a football or have negative connotations about their presence in the town because it would be a loss. If we’re looking for ways to support our nation or how we can support the mission of the military—which Bedford has done for so many years- if we can solve that problem [of funding], then it’s no longer a yawning question.

We are at a time of change in Bedford that comes about just because some of the things that have been the big initiatives over the last 12-14 years are at a turning point.

On the facilities side—which have all been rebuilt since 2000—where we will be next is what’s needed in terms of fixtures and furnishings that will need to be replaced—sort of the on-going capital maintenance that’s needed to keep the buildings in tip-top shape will become the focus. So that’s a change point.

There are some enrollment challenges going on right now that we believe we can meet –they’ll be part of Town Meeting this time— specifically needs at the schools to reconfigure some spaces in  order to make it through this enrollment bubble that we are facing right now. Bedford High School’s enrollment right now is higher than it’s been since 1980. The projection is that this bubble will go along for a couple of years and will settle itself out and not continue to rise—and as long as that happens, we should be able, with some creativity, to [manage.] The question that’s still out there is the Middle School and whether we might need a small addition [there.]

We’ll have to keep an eye on this. As the housing stock turns over more in town, there’s a certain amount of population growth that’s factored into the models, based on housing turnovers but that’s always just a projection. We’re at the margin of capacity….The model assumes a certain amount of [housing] turnover that will bring children in, whether it’s a small Cape house with two bedrooms or whether it’s a five bedroom teardown….

These changes are part of the fabric of Bedford and they’re not only going to affect the schools but other parts of the town as well. It’s just that they affect the schools first. {The schools are] the canary in the [coalmine] when it comes to changes. The schools feel the changes because they have to serve [a certain] number of students with [a certain] number of staff. We feel it immediately when people move in. Some of the other changes that come about in other parts of town through time are more gradual….

It’s actually a ‘good news’ story: For all of us, whatever happens on the real estate is a sign of strong Town and School services and people wanting to come here to a desirable town. There are so many ways that Bedford is a wonderful place to raise children….

I think we’re in a good spot. We have a very strong system. We have seasoned administrators who are committed to education, who know Bedford well, who understand the history of where we’ve been and have clear goals about where we’re going. We have a town that has a long and deep history of supporting public education….

I spoke at my last School Committee meeting about being part of a continuum but the piece that I didn’t get to is that it has been an incredible honor to be part of that continuum. There’s a tendency to look at your own time and think that it’s exceptional –that it’s different from all other times. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think that every person who has ever served on a Town board—a Selectman or a School Committee member or a Finance Committee member—has contributed to this continuum that is ‘Bedford.’

Being able to be a part of something and feel as though my skills could be put to use to make a difference in the quality of life in the place where I live has been a tremendous honor.”

 


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