BINGHAM — As the school bell rings, signaling the change of classes, Julie Richard leans against a row of lockers and chats with students as they pass.
She pokes her head into a classroom of students and stops to talk with a new foreign language teacher.
“We have a great school and I’m very excited about it,” she said, walking the hallway of Upper Kennebec Valley Memorial High School, lined with basketball trophies and wire sculptures.
It’s also one she is familiar with.
Richard, 62, is a former substitute teacher and principal at the schools in the Bingham District who came out of retirement to become principal again this year. She is also a member of the school’s first graduating class, that of 1968.
Kennebec Valley Memorial High School, which opened in 1964, has 66 students this year. Like many small schools in rural Maine, it faces the problem of dwindling enrollment and pressure to restructure, yet Richard said the small community is what makes the school great.
“This community loves their school and loves having a school in their community,” she said.
The high school sits atop a woodsy hill overlooking the town, which this time of year is filled with yellow and orange leaves. Inside, there are two hallways, at the intersection of which is the principal’s office.
It’s where Richard, who is barely as tall as many of her high school students and has a perpetually smile, can be found about one-third of the time. Unlike administrators in many districts, Richard is principal at Moscow Elementary, Quimby Middle School and Kennebec Valley Memorial High School. She said she alternates starting her day at the different schools.
“She’s involved with the whole district and able to view the system as a whole,” said Superintendent Virginia Rebar, who worked with a team of school and community members to select a new principal over the summer. “She’s not just working with one level or two.”
Richard was born in Waterville but grew up in Bingham, the second-oldest of four children and the only girl. Her brothers all live in different parts of Maine, but she says that they’ve stayed close. She has no children of her own, but each of her brothers has two, and she likes being an aunt to her nieces and nephews.
Richard graduated from Kennebec Valley in 1968 and went to college at the University of Maine, where she studied physical education and biology. From there she went on to teach and work as a dorm parent at the Good Will-Hinckley School in Fairfield before going back to school for her master’s degree in education administration at Springfield College in Massachusetts in 1982.
She said that her decision to become a teacher was based on her love for school as well as the different work environment women faced in the 1960s.
“I love school,” she said. “The role of women was also different in 1968. You could be a teacher or a nurse, and that was pretty much it. I became a teacher.”
She taught health and physical education for 14 years at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport, where she also was athletic director and varsity field hockey coach.
From 1999 to 2006, she worked as principal in the Bingham District and then went to Dexter Regional High School, where she worked as principal for four years before retiring in 2010.
Richard continued to substitute teach and stayed busy with the Bingham community after her first retirement. She is the president of the Bingham Historical Society and also was co-chairwoman of the town’s 10-day bicentennial celebration, which took place in July.
Steve Stewardm the Bingham town manager, co-chaired the bicentennial celebration with Richard. He is also a graduate of Kennebec Valley and a former student of hers.
“She’s excellent to work with and very target-oriented,” he said. “She’s a really organized person. She stays on task.”
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368