Jeffrey Bickford Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Bickford

DRESDEN — Jeffrey Bickford is the newest school board member for Regional School Unit 2.

Appointed Tuesday night by the Dresden Select Board, he was sworn in Wednesday to replace former member, Jeffrey Pierce, who resigned in early May.

Bickford has four children in the district, with two who just graduated, and has spent a number of years substitute teaching in every building in RSU 2 besides the Monmouth schools.

He lived for 13 years in Farmingdale before moving to his current residence in Dresden, and said he has “been in the community for a long time.” Bickford said he has coached a “majority” of students in RSU 2 through little league, T-Ball or as their Boy Scout leader.

“I don’t think it’s an understatement to say … schools have come under the microscope of the public, and rightfully so,” Bickford said. “It’s our kids and our communities, and residents who are paying for it. It’s important we have a voice, and I’m hoping I can do the job my town selected me to (do).”

Bickford is from Pittston and attended the Gardiner-area schools. After high school, he joined the U.S. Army and recently, he went to the University of Maine at Augusta and received a degree in business administration.

He worked as a substitute until the coronavirus pandemic, working through it when he could in conjunction with helping his children with their own remote learning. His wife, Leah, is an Army recruiter.

“Everyone was doing learning at home, and I was home with my six kids,” he said. “I knew what they were going through in terms of all levels, middle, high school and elementary.”

With his experience at being in front of the classroom, he was able to aid his children through remote learning in a way he admits was lucky in comparison to some families where parents were unable to stay home.

Through his experience helping his children during the pandemic and people he has spoken with in the community, he thinks parents are more invested in their student’s learning and time in the classroom more than ever.

It helped shape his ideas about the RSU 2’s budget for next year, which was a discussion point for the municipalities this past spring, especially the town of Dresden. Bickford was vocal about his stance on the budget through the unofficial town of Dresden Facebook page, and he believes the community “should have a say in what they want.”

“I have had concerns about the budget, it continues to go up each year,” he wrote, “every resident’s tax dollars are going up, and we should get a return on investment. …”

Bickford said because children were being taught at home, the pandemic was “eye-opening for most parents” about how their children were learning.

“I think in the past, the parents went to work and doing their job to provide to their family, and weren’t so reliant on (their own) education to teach the kids,” he said.

But, it has also lead to Bickford having strong opinions on what is taught in public schools.

On the same post on the Dresden unofficial Facebook page, he said the budget should be voted down, in part because “the schools are filled with indoctrination that teaches our kids to the new cancel culture, whites are racist and America is bad. Don’t believe me, go sub sometime and see for yourself.”

Bickford maintained that stance in an interview with the Kennebec Journal.

“I have seen certain teachers within the school system who feel strongly about their position instead of teaching the subject,” he said. “They’re letting their personal biases enter the classroom, and sometimes it’s hard, or they feel strongly, and I get that, but teaching a subject should stay in the subject.”

Bickford said he is referring to certain “social justice issues,” and has received comments from parents.

He said he wants to be a voice for parents if they don’t feel comfortable with something or have concerns about the district.

“I know I’ll take flack from some of the comments I’ve made, on Facebook, or people will think I feel a certain way,” Bickford said. “There is absolutely nothing I wouldn’t do for any children in the system moving forward to make sure they reap the good benefits of a good, working product, and ultimately if they want something, voices should be heard.”

His ultimate goal is to “leave the job better” than he found it.

To do this, Bickford plans to sit down with Pierce and said he has already introduced himself RSU 2 Superintendent Tonya Arnold.

Whether he will take Pierce’s spot on the committee exploring Dresden’s potential withdrawal from RSU 2, he said it depends on the town — and its residents’ — perspective.

“I will pay attention to the town’s will, and that’s what I’ll move forward with,” Bickford said. “Obviously, if there is someone in the community 100% against it, they need a voice too. I’m going to do the best I can for the town, residents and students, and they all rely on that.”

Bickford’s first school board meeting will be at 6 p.m. July 1 via Zoom.

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