BIDDEFORD — Voters here will elect seven members to the Biddeford School Committee on Nov. 2. School committee candidates run at large. Five of the eight names on the ballot are incumbents.

We asked candidates to tell a bit about themselves and what they believe is the foremost issue facing Biddeford schools. We asked incumbents to tell us the action taken during their term they introduced — or voted for — that they are most happy with, and what they would like to achieve going forward. We asked others why they believe they are the best candidate for the job, and what they would like to achieve.

Nathan Bean

Incumbent Nathan Bean said he is most proud of the work done to keep schools open during the pandemic, with PreK -Grade 8 in-person four days per week and later, the youngest learners back to school for five days a week in the spring. “We were also able to support district leadership in innovative planning to preserve smaller class sizes in our elementary grades for the 21-22 school year,” Bean said.

Bean said he would continue to support greater access to accelerated classes and vocational opportunities for 8th graders by moving them permanently to the Biddeford High School campus. He said he would support building projects to address challenges presented by the aging facility that houses the city’s youngest learners.

Married, Bean, 50, has two sons, and is assistant principal at Middle School of the Kennebunks in RSU 21 where he has worked 18 years  in various positions. He has served on Biddeford’s Policy Committee.

“If our School Committee can keep the current leadership team in place, we are well positioned to innovate in a manner that will make us leaders in the state and region, while maintaining strong fiscally responsible planning that has allowed us to serve our students and community without significant tax increases over the past few years,” Bean said.

Randy Forcier

Incumbent Randy Forcier, 39, said he is most proud of the 2020 decision to return most students to classes four days a week — striking a middle ground between suggested two-day and five-day schedules. He said Biddeford was a leader in the effort to return students to schools safely, and the schedule offered a flex day and considered the concerns of many of the district’s teachers

“Our biggest issue continues to be Covid and keeping our kids in school as much as possible,” said Forcier. “Covid is unfortunately a very divisive issue, but my hope is that we can all agree that kids learn best when they’re in school. My goal is to support our administration in making schools safe while following guidelines that allow our students to minimize quarantine time to stay in school as much as possible in the event of an infection or close contact.”

Forcier is married with three daughters, is a residential loan officer and operates Norcom Mortgage in Saco. He is president of Biddeford Little League softball, has coached other sports and was previously treasurer of the Biddeford-Saco Rotary Club.

Amy Grohman

Incumbent Amy Grohman said the challenges of working in public education during a pandemic has exacerbated the district’s teacher recruiting and retention efforts.

“Aside from Covid, I think the biggest issue facing Biddeford as a school district currently is our capacity to attract and retain teachers and staff,” said Grohman. “Like many other districts throughout Maine and across the country, we have seen hiring get harder and harder for a variety of reasons.”

She said the district can consider ways to alleviate the issue, including strengthening relationships with local colleges and universities to develop and foster a teacher pipeline.

Grohman, 50, is married, has two children, and is employed as a project manager. She is a board member at Apex Youth Connection, a member of the MacArthur Library Association, is a member of the Maine Community Fund York County Committee and is past president of Heart of Biddeford.

She said she is most proud that Biddeford opened schools, and kept them open, during the pandemic.

“While many other districts had widespread outbreaks, significant numbers of students and staff having to quarantine, and extensive disruptions to their schedules due to Covid, Biddeford has been largely able to avoid many of these situations,” said Grohman. She said she knows doing so has not been smooth or easy and is proud of the work and sacrifice of everyone in the district.

“Knowing that Covid is going to factor heavily on our actions as a school district going forward, I hope that we can continue to make decisions based on information from competent sources both in state and federal government, and in the scientific and medical fields,” she said.

Rebecca Henry

Incumbent Rebecca Henry said the foremost issue facing Biddeford schools is a need for space and improvement of current space, “especially related to JFK School,” she said.

“I hope to be an active participant in the decisions made moving forward with consolidation of BPS and the Preschool/K programs. With my background in Occupational Therapy, I feel I would be able to contribute to creating an efficient and supportive environment. Also, I would love to continue to combine work with the Project Canopy Committee to increase and improve the green spaces of the schools. ”

She said she is most happy about voting for a return to school with a comprehensive well thought out plan during the pandemic and enjoys involvement with the Southern Maine Administrative Collaborative subcommittee and collaborating with the Dayton School Committee.

Henry is an occupational therapist at Child Development Services Preschool in Biddeford, is an adjunct faculty member at the University of New England and is an occupational therapist at Southern Maine Health Care. Married, she has two children in the Biddeford school system.

Michele Landry

Michele Landry said navigating Covid continues to be the foremost issue facing the school department.

“As restrictions change, we must adjust where necessary to keep children physically in school and academically engaged,” said Landry. ” I also believe that we need to have conversations with our students to understand how this pandemic is affecting them mentally and how we as a school system can support them.”

Landry, 49, is married and has two children, a daughter in college and an 18-year-old son at Biddeford High school. A certified public accountant, Landry said she previously worked in public and private sector accounting and has been a stay-at-home-mom for 20 years.

“My children have grown up in the Biddeford school system. I have volunteered in classrooms, on parent boards and committees, in various roles at my children’s activities and at our church,” said Landry. “My daughter graduated pre-Covid and participated in music and theater. My son is currently a senior athlete. I believe that the varied experiences of my children, as well as the many relationships that I have built with parents, teachers, and administrators, will help me to weigh multiple perspectives while working with other committee members to determine what is best for the children in our district.”

Lauren Schuyler-Giddings

Lauren Schuyler-Giddings, 37, said when she was growing up, her family led the Maine Irish Children’s Program, bringing Catholic and Protestant youth of Northern Ireland to live with families in southern Maine for six weeks each summer

“From the age of 6, the Maine Irish Children’s Program taught me firsthand that we are one global community; that our similarities will always far outweigh our differences, and will always bring us together,” said Schuyler-Giddings. “I have relied upon the cross-community conflict resolution skills I learned from this program in many arenas of my life, both personal and professional. I believe this has put me in a place to help the Biddeford School Department advance and solve the complex problems it faces.”

Schuyler attended local parochial schools and Biddeford High School and studied communications at the University of Southern Maine. She has been an employee at Saco Parks and Recreation for 18 years. Married, she has two children in the Biddeford school system.

“This position has helped me gain a deep appreciation for the essential network of services that any town provides for its people,” she said. “The school department is at the core of this network.”

“The School Committee has a challenging road ahead. We must address the continuing pandemic, staff shortages, and the quality of the school facilities,” said Schuyler-Giddings. “I hope to be a part of the solution and am ready to take on these obstacles. Biddeford has made great strides forward, and I feel we can do even better. I will advocate for continued funding for our expansive system of programs, more efficient cooperation with other city and state services, and an accelerated and diverse curriculum.”

Lisa Vadnais

Incumbent Lisa Vadnais, a 12-year School Committee member, said serving for the last 18 months has been a challenge and the board has had to make many difficult decisions.

“I feel I made those tough decisions keeping the best interest of staff and students in mind,” said Vadnais. “There were so many plans to move this district forward but those plans had to be put on hold so we could focus on keeping students in school and keeping staff and students safe. It absorbs so much of our time and energy.”

“We must now realize that there’s been a gap in learning for those that did not do well with remote learning,” said Vadnais. “We need to focus on developing ways to tighten that gap. I also believe some of the behaviors in our schools are due to the lack of structure students have had the last 18 months. We need to start creating ways to bring back that structure and work at developing programs to get students where they need to be.”

Vadnais, 60, is a BHS graduate and has been a teacher at Saco Middle School for 30 years and owns a fuel business with her husband. The couple has three children. Vadnais has served on the finance committee for all 12 years of her School Committee tenure, chaired the school board for two years and served on its curriculum committee for eight years.

Though students are in school five days a week, Covid is still in the picture, she said, and challenges and uncertainty remain.

Vadnais is looking for better programs that focus not only on students’ education but also on their mental health. “We all know it’s an issue, not only in our schools but in our community,” she said.

Recruitment and retention of all school staff should be a focus, she said. As well, Vadnais said she has always supported Biddeford Regional Center of Technology and would like to add more programs, including culinary arts — which is under discussion.

Meagan Desjardin’s name will appear on the ballot for Biddeford School Committee, but when contacted, she said she is not actively campaigning due to a serious family medical issue that developed after the deadline to remove her name had passed.

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