Showing posts with label Briana Bizier. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Briana Bizier. Show all posts

Friday, April 12, 2024

JSMS performance of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ dazzles after Nor’Easter

By Briana Bizier

On Saturday, April 6, as Windham and Raymond recovered from the powerful Nor’easter that left much of the town without power, the show went on for Jordan-Small Middle School’s drama program.

Student cast members of 'Beauty and the Beast' perform at
Jordan-Small Middle School in Raymond on Saturday,
April 6and staged the production despite a Nor'Easter
that blanketed the area wiping out final rehearsals.
Despite missing both their final dress rehearsal on Thursday and opening night on Friday, every single member of the cast and crew arrived Saturday afternoon for their performance of the musical Beauty and the Beast.

“When I joined the drama program in 2022,” Tyler Costigan, Director and Production Designer, told the audience for Saturday’s second performance, “I had a cast of 20. This year, I have a cast of 50. That’s a lot of students.”

Along with Victoria Stubbs as the Vocal Coach and Patricia Valley as the Choreographer, Costigan has been working with these 50 students since January. Yet on Saturday, after months of practice, an abbreviated tech week, last-minute microphone changes, emergency costume repairs, and a backstage conga line warm-up, Costigan, Stubbs, and Valley took their seats in the audience as C.J. Payne, the Technical Director, turned on the lights and microphones.

The performance was now in the hands of the young actors and the student tech crew, led by Ari Green, Olivia Beal, and Jordyn Morris. The show opened with an enchantress, played by Maria Rosetti, casting a horrible spell on a cruel prince and everyone who lived in his castle. As the curtains closed on the cursed prince, Belle, played with fantastic confidence by Araia Peterson, walked down the middle of the gymnasium theatre silhouetted by the spotlight.

While the stage filled with villagers going about their daily business, Belle sang longingly about her desire to escape her small town while her suitor Gaston declared his intent to marry Belle, the only woman “as beautiful as me.”

Gaston was played to great comedic effect by Lucy Payne and trailed by a trio of adoring fans played by Emma Horowitz, Zoe Woodbury, and Layla Martin. Belle and Gaston were joined by a crowd of singing villagers, played by Sage Bizier, Michelle Buzzell, Brecken Cressey, Zoe Decker, Bella and Julia Doyon, Mikel Gilbert, Clare Goan, Ella Jacobson, Arianna Libby, Anica Messer, Miles Moreau, Mia Quinn, Leah Ronfeldt, and Alita Sargent.

Belle’s father Maurice, played by a very sympathetic Eli Delude, promised Belle she will soon be able to see all the places she reads about in books. However, in a turn of events narrated by Paige Leveille, Marley Hebert, Rian Borella, and Izzy Gonzalez, Maurice was attacked by a pack of somersaulting wolves and driven to the enchanted castle where the Beast, played by Rex Freyre with an impressive mask and a perfect blend of tenderness and ferocity, locks him in the dungeon.

When Gaston’s friend and sidekick Lefou, played by Addy Madsen, arrives in town wearing Maurice’s scarf, Belle realizes something has gone wrong and sets off to find her father. After bargaining her own freedom to set her father free, she sings of finding home, a performance that made both this audience member and the friend sitting beside me reach for our tissues.

Castle residents Mrs. Potts the teapot, played by Cadence O’Brion, Mme. de la Grande Bouche the wardrobe, played by Liza Powers, and Babette the feather duster, played by Acadia Vingers-Sirois, tried to comfort Belle with their hopes that she might someday think of the castle as home. Meanwhile, Payne’s Gaston, dejected over Belle’s rejections, was consoled by Lefou and the villagers with a hilarious song and dance that left the audience cheering long after the curtains closed.

Back at the castle, the candleholder Lumiere, played with a terrific French accent by Allie LeBoudais, tried to convince the clock Cogsworth, played with a perfect air of stiff formality by Alyssa Dismore, that their guest Belle deserved a special meal. Happily for everyone, this conversation resulted in the spectacular “Be Our Guest” performance. As Lumiere narrated, forks, knives, spoons and plates, played by Bella Anderson, Camryn Golebiewski, Riley Huff, Lauren Inman, and Julianna Vassoler, as well as several actors who had hasty backstage costume changes, danced and sang to end Act One. When the lights came up for intermission, another audience member leaned over and said, “Wow, that was really good!”

As the student tech crew moved set pieces behind the curtain and organized an entire cafeteria table’s worth of props backstage, the actors changed costumes and prepared for Act Two. When the curtains rose again, the enchanted residents of the castle expressed their hopes to be “Human Again” in song as Belle and the Beast formed a tentative friendship, and finally, shared a dance as Mrs. Potts sang the classic “Beauty and the Beast.” Again, some members of the audience reached for their tissues.

Back in the village, Gaston continued his attempts to marry Belle, this time by arranging with M. D’Arque, played to great sinister effect by Leo Roma, to take Maurice to the insane asylum. When Belle resists, Gaston decides the villagers must attack the castle and kill the Beast. The actors leapt from the stage and carried their torches through the audience as they cried, “Kill the Beast!”

After an impressively well-choreographed fight between the villagers and the enchanted castle servants, the wicked Gaston attacked the Beast. Fortunately, Belle was close behind. With the injured Beast at her feet, Belle sang about how she had finally found her home with the Beast, and this audience member cried for the third time.

In the end, Belle declared her love for the Beast, and the castle’s curse was lifted. Chip the teacup, played by Alice Thibodeau, got a round of laughs when she asked if she would still need to sleep in the cupboard now that she’s human again, and then the entire cast gathered for a final song. Both shows ended with standing ovations, cheers, and a lot of congratulatory hugs in the middle school hallway.

Despite the massive Nor’easter, 12 inches of fresh April snow, widespread power losses, and two days of school closures, Jordan-Small Middle School’s performance of “Beauty and the Beast” proved once again that true love always saves the day, and that perhaps we are all capable of a little more magic than we think. <

Friday, July 1, 2022

Student sendoff moves retiring school secretary

By Briana Bizier 

Known to generations of children and their parents as 'Miss
Mindy,' longtime Raymond Elementary School secretary 
Malinda McKinney will retire at the end of August.

Raymond Elementary School looked a little different this month as students, faculty and staff prepared to end the school year with flocks of pink plastic flamingos decorating the grounds outside the school and the walls of the front office. These flamingos even made it onto the heads of the elementary school students, who wore handmade pink flamingo hats to an event on their last day of school with the flamingos and a special ceremony meant to honor “Miss Mindy” Malinda McKinney, the beloved longtime school secretary, as she prepares for her retirement.

Originally from Wilmington, North Carolina, McKinney fell in love with Maine at a young age. Her family vacationed in Nova Scotia when she was growing up, and on those trips, they passed through Camden. The Pine Tree State made a big impression on her.

“I decided at age 12 that I wanted to move to Maine,” McKinney said. “So 30 years ago, I picked my kids up and moved to Maine not knowing a single solitary soul.”

She held several jobs before accepting her current position at Raymond Elementary, where she has greeted students and staff for 16 years.

“She’s the first person you see at the school,” RES Principal Beth Peavey explained. “She’s the gatekeeper, making sure the right people are in the building, and she’s so welcoming and helpful.”

Peavey has worked with McKinney for five years and, like many Raymond residents, she’s known her since her own children were students at RES.

“We’re going to greatly miss her,” Peavey said. “Her unique personality just brings joy to those around her.”

Peavey’s sentiments were echoed by Deborah Hutchinson, the former Assistant Principal at RES who worked closely with McKinney for seven years.

“Miss Mindy always put people at ease with her southern hospitality and her accent,” Hutchinson said. “She’s a wonderful, welcoming presence when you first come into the building, and she takes her responsibility very seriously. She would be like a mother bear if someone came to get a student who wasn’t supposed to, even to the point of chasing them down the hall to make sure they were supposed to be there. No one gets past Miss Mindy.”

During the last week of classes, McKinney’s front office was decorated with sparkling fairy lights and dozens of hand-drawn illustrations of flamingos from the students, including one bright pink flamingo with tears in its eyes and a speech bubble reading “We will miss you!” These colorful sketches shared space with three computer monitors, one laptop, two telephones, and a walkie-talkie.

“And I use them all,” McKinney said, gesturing toward the vast array of screens and buttons on her desk. “The end of the day is priceless. You’ve got phones ringing, the walkie-talkie going off. It’s organized chaos, and it’s so much fun.”

Fun seems to follow “Miss Mindy” wherever she goes. Her love of flamingos, the color pink and flamboyant outfits brings a welcome dose of levity to the school’s front office. 

“I act silly,” she said. “I wear my pink tutu and my headband. You’ve got to bring some oomph to it.”

This silliness is also accompanied by a genuine concern for the students that shines through each of her 16 years at RES. 

When she first accepted her current position at RES, McKinney said that she was given some advice: If you don’t know a student’s name, just call them sweetie. It was advice that “Miss Mindy” carefully disregarded.

“I said, I’m going to learn all their names,” she said and according to Principal Peavey, McKinney knows more than just the students’ names. “She knows all the names, and she also knows all the families,” Peavey said. “She’s a wonderful asset because she knows how to connect with the families. They trust and respect her, and for many families, they love her.”

This love was reflected in the many celebrations for her retirement. During the last weeks of school, there was a retirement celebration at RES’s Frog Pond Pavilion where parents and other members of the community were invited to celebrate “Miss Mindy” as well as a surprise school-wide assembly where students sang a song written by music teacher Patricia Gordon honoring her time at RES.

McKinney said that leaving her position at RES has been emotional.

“I’ve been crying,” she said. “It’s really bittersweet, I’ll miss the kids, my babies. And they really are my babies. Even the ones that can be a little naughty, every single one of them are precious.”

After moving to Maine decades ago and not knowing a single solitary soul, it’s safe to say that “Miss Mindy” has become a part of every family in Raymond. She will continue to work at Raymond Elementary School through August, and then she plans to enjoy her retirement in the state she first fell in love with at age 12. <

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Raymond looks to future with Comprehensive Plan

By Briana Bizier

What do you want your town to look like in five years, or 10 years, or even 20 years? Right now, Raymond residents have a rare chance to answer that very question as the town looks for volunteers to help write a new Comprehensive Plan.

The town’s previous Comprehensive Plan was written in 2004. That document, which is available on the Town of Raymond’s website, was truly comprehensive; it covers topics ranging from descriptions of Raymond’s historical properties and archaeological sites to designating growth areas for new developments and protecting Raymond’s many beautiful lakes and ponds.

Raymond is actively seeking volunteers to
help the town develop a new Comprehensive 
Plan for addressing future growth and
development and protecting the town's
natural resources. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE  
“It’s a pretty encompassing document,” said Rolf Olsen, a current member of Raymond’s Select Board. “It touches on a lot of different areas. Essentially, it looks at demographics, land use, future planning, and future needs.”

While the proposed future Comprehensive Plan won’t change any current zoning regulations in Raymond, it will serve as a guide for the town’s future development. The new Comprehensive Plan, as Olsen explained, will serve as a backbone for new ordinances and development.

One set of decisions that has been guided by the current Comprehensive Plan are Raymond’s zoning regulations. “The last Comprehensive Plan really helped establish the two- and five-acre minimum lot sizes,” Olsen said. “There’s three zones in town. Rural and rural residential have different lot sizes. And then there was the village residential, where we didn’t have to define lot size because it was all full anyway.”

The 2004 Comprehensive Plan’s influence can also be seen all summer long in Raymond’s pristine lakes. Many lakes and ponds in Maine struggle with algae blooms that can make their waters green, turning away swimmers and tourists alike. The 2004 Comprehensive Plan suggested several measures to help prevent algae bloom, like regular septic tank inspections as well as the preservation of any wetlands over two acres in size.

Septic tank inspections and zoning decisions might sound like theoretical discussions with little real-world impact, but recommendations like this help to guide new construction and protect current resources. Ultimately, these decisions shape the future of the town.

For Olsen, the future of Raymond is best placed in the hands of today’s Raymond residents.

“We’re looking for a real cross-section of the population to serve on this committee,” Olsen said. “We don’t want to exclude people from any group - you’ve got the senior population, you’ve got the younger population, you’ve got people on the waterfront, you’ve got people not on the waterfront, people with kids in school - really, there’s no bad person for the committee. The driving thing is people who want to see Raymond survive and go forward in a positive manner.”

The people who do sign up for this committee should be prepared to be part of an extensive process. “There’ll be a lot of work to get done,” Olsen said. “It’s not one of those that will be just one or two meetings.”

When the last Comprehensive Plan was developed in 2004, Olsen said, the final 135-page document was the result of a lengthy process to envision Raymond’s future.

“When it was written back then, it took over a year to get it done," Olsen said. The process of approving the next Comprehensive Plan will likely involve many meetings as well as public hearings. “This plan helps guide a lot of decisions. That’s why it takes a lot of input back and forth.”

However, this is also a chance to make a lasting mark on the Town of Raymond.

“From my standpoint, it’s a chance to look at the old plan, to see what’s valid and what’s not valid, and to help set a course for the next x number of years,” Olsen said. “The people who want to see the town move forward in a positive manner - those are the people you want on there. They’re going to look at all the different things and see how we keep the character and move ahead without shutting anyone out.”

Despite the magnitude of the task, Olsen believes Raymond residents are up for the task of reimagining their town’s future.

“There’s not a lack of talent in this town,” Olsen said. “Although sometimes it’s a matter of getting them to come out.”

If you are interested in service on Raymond’s Comprehensive Plan, please fill out a volunteer application on the town website: <

Friday, August 6, 2021

She touched many lives: Windham and Raymond remember educator Jani Cummings

 By Brian Bizier

Longtime educator taught first grade and second grade for
38 years at Raymond Elementary School and later became
a member of the RSU 14 Board of Directors. A memorial
service will be held on Sunday afternoon at Jordan-Small
Middle School for Cummings, who died in April of 
respiratory failure at age 67. COURTESY PHOTO 
Every town holds its share of inspiring citizens who seem to know everyone, who manage to stay in touch with friends and relatives all over the world, and who have a gift for bringing the community together. For Windham and Raymond, Janis Elizabeth Cummings was that amazing person.

Born April 9, 1954 in Beaufort, South Carolina to Samuel Cummings and Lou Nerren, who were both U.S. Marines, Janis, known to her friends and family as Jani, and her brother, grew up traveling all over the world. Her family eventually settled in Raymond, and Jani attended Windham High School, where she was very active in drama productions. Upon graduation, she enrolled at Westbrook College and the University of Southern Maine, where she received her teaching degree.

For Jani, teaching meant following in her family’s footsteps.

“In my first year of teaching, Jani’s mother, Lou Cummings, was also a teacher,” said Bill Diamond, Maine State Senator’s from Windham. “Lou was a former Marine, she was someone I respected, and I always did whatever she told me.”

Upon earning her teaching degree, Jani joined Raymond Elementary School, where she taught first and second grade students for 38 years. She was a beloved teacher with a gift for bringing community members into her classrooms and interacting with students.

“She had this amazing way of getting you outside your comfort zone and encouraging you to just be better, in a way,” said Jessica Fay, a Maine State Representative from Raymond. “Jani was one of the first people that I met after we moved here and I opened the flower shop, so we met because of flowers. She loved flowers, and I was a florist. I didn’t have a lot of experience with young children, but one of the things that she did, is she said, ‘I would love for you to come to my class and teach Japanese floral design to my first-graders.’ Which was terrifying! She encouraged me, she kind of told me that this was something she’d really like to have happen.”

Eventually, Fay did agree to join Jani’s classroom.

“I did it,” Fay said. “I went into the class and taught the kids while they were studying Japan. That was how Jani taught. She was a teacher of young students, but she was also a teacher for the adults around her.”

Diamond shared similar memories of Jani’s classroom.

“She was a teacher in Raymond when I was Maine Secretary of State,” Diamond said. “And she’d invite me down to talk to the students. Even when I finished as secretary, I kept visiting her class.”

Fay recounted that Jani was an amazing teacher.

“She had this way with kids, and adults too, and their parents,” she said. “I think a teacher needs to be able to have a relationship with an entire family, and she really did.”

Deborah Hutchinson, former principal of Raymond Elementary School, agrees with Fay’s assessment.

“She could make the school come alive,” Hutchinson said.

Jani’s ability to form relationships extended far beyond the walls of Raymond Elementary School.

“Something that was super sweet with Jani, on a personal note was that out of the blue, you’d get a note from Jani that she was thinking of you or just wanted to encourage you” said Chris Howell, RSU 14 Schools Superintendent. “She really cared about those personal relationships and did all she could to foster them.”

For Jani, those personal relationships took many forms. She was very active in the local Democratic Party, and very supportive of women in politics.

“I can’t remember who encouraged who to run for office, but she was always very supportive of and encouraging of me when I decided to run, and when she decided to run for School Board,” Fay said.

For many, Jani was also a part of many Raymond residents’ more romantic moments.

“She was a notary public, so she married many of the people in town,” Hutchinson said. “She married my daughter and her husband and she performed the ceremony.”

Once she retired from teaching, Jani opened a bed and breakfast in her Victorian home, which was across the street from the Raymond Village Library. She loved connecting to visitors from around the world, and she also loved welcoming Raymond’s children into her yard on Halloween.

“Halloween will never be the same down in the village,” Hutchinson said. “Jani would have 300 or more kids come to her house, and she always made sure she had enough candy for everyone.”

Jani also continued her involvement in education by becoming an active and vital member of the RSU 14 School Board following her retirement.

“She had an absolute love of children,” Howell said. “She would do anything possible in her power to help a kid out and to make sure that a kid succeeded and, to go along with that, to make sure the teachers had everything they needed. It didn’t matter if it was in her classroom or doing policy and procedures for the School Board.”

Her commitment to caring for others continued throughout her entire life, even toward the end. Howell described School Board leadership meetings on Zoom which Jani attended from the ICU when she became ill.

“She couldn’t speak, because she was on a ventilator,” Howell said. “So, she wrote messages on a whiteboard.”

Jani also expressed concern for the hospital’s staff during her stay.

“Even in the ICU, Jani was thinking about the staff at the hospital,” Hutchinson said. “She asked me if I would go out and get some ‘fancy candy’ for them. So, I got a couple dozen boxes of fancy candy and passed them out.”

Jani Cummings passed away on April 24 after a courageous battle with respiratory failure. She was 67 years old.

“Jani was our conscience,” said Diamond. “No matter who you were, she was a consistent conscience for all of us. She was an example of how to live right and care for others. When she passed away, and I think a lot of people feel the same way, we lost a piece of what’s really good.”

Fay agrees.

“It’s very difficult for me to imagine Raymond without her,” Fay said.
“She really was one of those people who connected different people in different parts of the community and brought them together. She taught us the importance of community and connection. I think when we are committed to each other, and to our community, we’re honoring her.”

Howell said that he’ll miss Jani’s dry sense of humor, which he appreciated.

“I’ve heard, since her passing, just countless people in the community who’ve said she was able to touch their lives over the years,” he said. “She was wonderful presence for both communities, Windham and Raymond. I definitely will cherish the time that I had with her. And I miss her.”

A celebration of Jani’s life will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 8 at Jordan-Small Middle School in Raymond. The event is open to the public, and everyone is invited.

Additionally, Jessica Fay is inviting members of the community to donate flowers from their garden to make community flower arrangements to honor Jani Cummings through the flowers that she so dearly loved. Please call Fay at 415-4218 if you have flowers to share. <

Friday, June 4, 2021

Raymond residents set to cast ballots June 8

Raymond's annual town meeting will be conducted by secret 
balloting on Tuesday, June 8 at Jordan-Small Middle School.
A number of committee posts and a seat on the town's Select
Board will be determined by the results of the voting. Also
being voted on is the approval of the RSU 14 school budget.
By Briana Bizier

For the second year in a row, COVID-19 has disrupted the Town of Raymond’s annual Town Meeting. This year, like in 2020, Raymond residents will be voicing their opinions on the town’s proposed budget and candidates through a secret ballot at Jordan-Small Middle School on Tuesday, June 8 instead of during the traditional in-person Town Meeting.

“When we made the decision to use the secret ballot, we made it out of caution, and trying to take care of our townspeople,” said Raymond’s Town Manager Don Willard. “The whole idea of trying to do business in a pandemic is not easy. Our citizens and staff have been so cooperative and understanding of the safety protocols to keep people safe. We’re very, very appreciative of our citizens and how great they’ve been to work with us.”

Raymond’s 2020 Town Meeting was also disrupted due to the pandemic, which resulted in the town’s electorate facing an eight-page ballot to approve the budget items and ordinances that would normally have been approved with an in-person vote.

“Last year we didn’t have any serious complaints,” Willard said, “but the ballot was long, and there could be some voter fatigue.”

This year’s ballot is a bit different.

“It’s four full pages on two sheets of paper,” said Raymond Town Clerk Sue Look, and the items on this year’s ballot are not expected to generate too much strife. “It’s pretty much business as usual. There aren’t any controversial issues on the ballot, that I’m aware of.”

Look said that the budget items on the ballot, which include funding for Raymond’s Public Safety and Public Works Departments, are the same as previous years, although the specific amounts differ.

Raymond’s Finance Director Alex Aponte echoed Look’s sentiments. 

“When we were putting it together, we saw no need to make any major changes. There are no surprises in this budget,” Aponte said.

Willard agreed, and shared some positive news.

“The town is in great fiscal shape,” Willard said.

This year’s ballot also includes the annual budget for RSU 14, which needs to be approved by voters, as well as several land use ordinance updates.

“These ordinance updates are necessary, and in some cases required by law,” Look said.

Voters who wish to read up on the individual ballot items before voting can view the full warrant and the ballot on the Town of Raymond’s website.


For many Raymond voters, the biggest decision they will face at the polls on Tuesday will be choosing their newest elected representatives. Incumbent Kate Levielle is running unopposed for a three-year seat on the RSU 14 Board of Directors, and Robert Gosselin and Kevin Oliver are running to fill two out of the five open seats on Raymond’s Budget and Finance Committee.

Those three open seats could be an excellent opportunity for a Raymond resident with an interest in local politics.

“At this point, it wouldn’t take very many write-in votes for someone to be elected to the Budget and Finance Committee,” Town Clerk Look said. “That position certainly gives folks a good overview of the town and the functions. It’s actually quite interesting, and it’s a good way to see what the town is doing.”

The only contested race on the upcoming ballot is to fill the one open position on Raymond’s Board of Selectmen. Joseph Bruno, Dana Desjardins, and Abigail Geer are all vying for the position, which is a bit unusual for Raymond.

“There’s only been one other contested race for Select Board in the seven years since I’ve been here,” Look said.

The three candidates shared their platforms in the May edition of the Raymond Roadrunner as well as during a special Meet the Candidates Night on June 1 which was hosted by the Lion’s Club and moderated by Bob Fey.

This forum gave each candidate a chance to introduce themselves and to field questions from Raymond voters. The tone of the conversation was mostly jovial and collaborative, although there were a few moments of mudslinging, especially when one candidate was accused of being a Yankees fan.

“One of the things I learned growing up in Maine is to leave things better than you found them,” Abigail Geer told the audience in her introduction. “For me, that boils down to three things: Look for ways to help people, always go above and beyond, and have a heart for service. I’ve put that to work by working for organizations focused on the social good – schools, community building organizations and nonprofits. For me, this is the logical next step.”

Geer spoke of her experience as a millennial who has done everything from cleaning houses to working in school systems, and she credits her ability to bring a new perspective, fresh ideas, and a new approach to solving problems through collaboration to her unique background. Her priorities include an emphasis on internet access.

“We need reliable, steady internet,” Geer said. “It drops regularly now. We really need to think about the infrastructure we need in place to support not just those who work from home, but those who want to live in the 21st century.”

Bruno also spoke fondly of his long history in Maine as he introduced himself to the audience.

“It’s been wonderful growing up in this town,” Bruno said. “For me, I have a commitment to public service in many ways, whether it’s on the state level, being on the school committee, or on the select board. I took three years off – well, I wasn’t really off, I was on the property/finance committee – and I miss the Select Board, I miss being part of this town, I miss making decisions for this town.”

For Bruno, affordable housing is a key issue.

“We have to grow Raymond smart,” Bruno said. “We need to make sure our taxes are affordable, especially for our seniors. We need to figure out a way to make it affordable for them and for everyone.”

Desjardins also has a history on the Raymond Select Board, and he credits his renewed interest in the Select Board to the pandemic.

“I’ve got a lot of time now on my hands, with all this COVID, and I’ve been watching planning board meetings, zoning meetings. I’ve been living a pretty boring life,” Desjardins said. “Watching a lot of the Select Board meetings – you know, I miss it. I enjoy the interaction with the people of Raymond.”


Desjardins expressed a clear desire to keep spending and taxes low, as well as concern over zoning laws.

“Watershed issues are very important to me, and it should be an important thing for everyone else in this room and in this town,” Desjardins said. “We also need to make a decision: are we or are we not going to allow cannabis sales in this town?”

All three of the Select Board candidates shared their hopes to revitalize the relationship with RSU 14 as well as to create a new comprehensive plan for the Town of Raymond.

“When was the last comprehensive plan done? In the 90s?” Bruno asked. “That’s one of the things the Select Board will have to look at.”

Geer agreed with the need for a comprehensive plan.

“Raymond is beyond beautiful,” Geer said. “We need to know that, in 50 years, our grandkids will have the same access to this natural beauty that we have. We need a comprehensive plan to guide that.”

When asked what they would bring to the Town of Raymond, the candidates all spoke of their desire to bring people together.

“Everyone’s doing their own thing, and we’re missing a sense of community,” Bruno said. “One of the things missing in the town of Raymond is senior suppers and lunches, like we used to do.”

Bruno and Geer both expressed support for the creation of a community center in Raymond, an idea which was countered by Desjardins, who suggested creating a stronger partnership with RSU 14 that would allow Raymond residents to use the existing school buildings as a gathering place.

Geer also spoke of the importance of community events.

“There’s so much opportunity to do events that are low-key, low-cost, and have a high impact,” Geer said. “We could do bingo night, we could do karaoke night, and those could be cheap and cheerful. We need those opportunities for our youngest and our oldest residents to come together, and we’re going to get a lot of bang for our buck.”

Whichever candidate they support, Town Manager Willard promises that Raymond residents will have a positive experience at the polls.

“We’ll have a safe and well-organized, well-run election,” Willard said. “People should get out and vote, it’s important to vote, and we’ll have that organized in a way that’s safe.”

State Representative Jessica Fay said that she agrees with Willard’s call for Raymond residents to take an active role in their local government.

"Participating in Town Meetings and local elections is an important way for residents to make our voices heard,” Fay shared via Facebook. “It’s as important as state and federal elections.”

Raymond’s polls will be open in the Jordan-Small Middle School gymnasium from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on June 8. <

Friday, November 27, 2020

Gateway to Raymond wreaths help holidays shine locally

Members of Raymond's Beautification Committee
and volunteers gather to pick up evergreen holiday
wreaths to be hung along Route 302 and Raymond's
Business Corridor last year. A total of 74 wreaths 
will bring the holiday spirit to the town this year.
By Briana Bizier

Just like carols on the radio and candles in the windows, beautiful evergreen wreaths are a festive way to welcome the winter holiday season and a cheerful addition to December’s short, cold days. If you’ve driven through Raymond’s Business Corridor along Route 302 in previous Decembers, you’ve probably noticed the large evergreen wreaths hanging beneath each of the corridor’s decorative light poles. While you might be forgiven for thinking these holiday wreaths, like Santa’s sleigh, appear through a bit of holiday magic, the truth is that the wreaths are a labor of love from the Raymond Beautification Committee, the Raymond Vitalization Committee, and the entire community of Raymond.

Each fall, those two committees collect funds in order to purchase the 74 large wreaths necessary to deck the halls of Raymond’s Route 302. Maine Lakes Wedding and Event Florist purchases the wreaths in bulk, at cost, and florist Jessica Fay ties the cheerful red bows herself.

“I got involved because the Beautification Committee approached me to purchase wreaths back when my business was called Raymond Village Florist,” Fay said. “It felt like something I could do to contribute by getting wreaths for the group at cost and the same with the bows. As a retail business on
the 302 Corridor, it was really nice to see the area decorated for the winter holidays.”

Fay is still working with the Beautification and Vitalization Committees to provide holiday cheer along Route 302. "I've kept doing it because I really like the community spirit the project exemplifies,” Fay continued, “even though making 74 red velvet bows makes my fingers a little cramped! It is a good way for me to get into the holiday spirit.”

Typically, the town’s Beautification and Vitalization Committees seek the donations to fund their wreaths through door-to-door solicitations. However, like so many other aspects of normal life, COVID-19 has upended the tradition of collecting donations by going door-to-door. So, this year, community donations to the annual wreath campaign are more important than ever.

There’s no denying that 2020 has been a strange and upsetting year. The darkness of this coming December could feel especially oppressive after the individual sacrifices we have all made during this horrible pandemic, not to mention the political turmoil of this last election. These are trying times when it is especially important for us to come together as a community.

Traditionally, a Christmas wreath is made with evergreen branches to symbolize eternal life, and those branches are shaped into a circle that symbolizes unending love. This year, hanging over 70 wreaths of life and love beneath the lampposts along Route 302 is a beautifully fitting way to commemorate what brings us together as a community, and what will help us get through the dark times and into better days ahead.

The Raymond Beautification Committee and the Raymond Vitalization Committee urge you to please consider making a tax-deductible individual donation to purchase holiday wreaths for Raymond’s Business Corridor.

Checks can be made out to the Town of Raymond; please note your donation is “for the Beautification Committee” and can be hand-delivered to the Raymond Town Hall or mailed to 401 Webb’s Mills Road, Raymond ME, 04071. <

Friday, November 20, 2020

Raymond Village Library makes annual appeal

By Briana Bizier

Sometimes it feels like the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. As we adjust to working from home or working while wearing a face mask, helping our children with hybrid and distance learning, and the awkwardness of Zoom dinner parties, our community connections have become more important than ever.

The Raymond Village Library is not fully funded
by the town of Raymond and nearly half of
the library's budget comes from grants and
private donations collected during their fall
Annual Appeal, now under way.
One of those community institutions is now asking for your help. Unlike many similar libraries, the Raymond Village Library is not fully funded by the town of Raymond. Nearly half of the library’s budget comes from grants and private donations. This means that the funds used to purchase new books, pay for subscriptions, and support their wonderful librarians come directly from generous community donations during their fall Annual Appeal. Raymond Village Library cannot function without the financial support of its patrons and donors.

This investment in our community is especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Raymond Village Library has played an essential role in helping Raymond residents navigate this strange and unprecedented time.

As soon as Maine’s COVID restrictions allowed, the Raymond Village Library began offering curbside pickup of books, movies, and children’s materials. The initial curbside pickup program was incredibly well received.

“Our pick-up was so popular we started running out of bags for the books,” said Allison Griffin, Director of the Raymond Village Library. This service is still available through phone, email, and the library’s website at

As the entire world stayed at home and much of our lives moved online, the free internet connection offered by Raymond Village Library became more important than ever. Generous community donations this fall allowed the library to provide additional outdoor seating around picnic tables so that the wi-fi was easily accessible even if the library was closed. In addition to providing internet service, the library also has a professional Zoom account, so that library events, such as the monthly book club or community classes, can be held safely online.

Some of the most perennially popular activities at the Raymond Village Library are the weekly baby and toddler story time hours. When social distancing requirements made those gatherings impossible, Children’s Librarian Karen Perry got creative. The library now offers weekly Story Time At Home kits complete with crafts, books, and songs to help encourage a love of literacy in even the littlest library patrons. These kits, as well as teen and tween crafts, are available every week and are always free of charge.

In addition to the take-home Story Time kits, Perry also created two popular outdoor Story Walks. The first, Jack in the Beanstalk, wound its way around the Raymond Community Garden this summer while the second, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, follows the store window fronts in the Raymond Shopping Center.

All of these activities are only possible thanks to the generosity of Raymond Village Library patrons. Unfortunately, even as the pandemic has made so many library services invaluable, it also has disrupted many of the library’s traditional fundraising activities. The Raymond Village Library truly needs our help this year more than ever.

The library’s 2020 Annual Appeal aims to raise $40,000. This amount will allow the library to expand staff hours in addition to continuing regular (or, regular for the pandemic) services. Donations to the Raymond Village Library are accepted in person, through the mail, or at their website: Contributions of any amount will allow the Raymond Village Library to continue providing books and activities to babies and toddlers, internet access to students completing their work online, new books to homebound seniors, and classes to all members of our community. Together, let’s make sure our library remains available for all our friends and neighbors during this difficult time. <

Friday, October 30, 2020

Halloween alternatives in time of COVID-19

By Briana Bizier

It was shaping up to be the best Halloween ever. This year, Oct. 31 falls on a Saturday, which means no arguing with overtired, costumed children about going to bed instead of eating another five pounds of candy, and no sending bleary-eyed children to school after a late night of running through the streets with their friends.

What’s more, this year there is also a full moon on Halloween night. It’s October’s second full moon, making it a Halloween blue moon. Perhaps best of all, the day after Halloween, Sunday, Nov. 1, is the return of Eastern Standard Time, giving all the little monsters and their parents an extra hour of sleep.

One socially distant way to celebrate with your
children is to drive around local neighborhoods
and view creative homes decorated for Halloween.
No matter what you do this Halloween, don't
ditch the fun. There are plenty of ways to enjoy
the occasion safely. COURTESY PHOTO
By all indications, Halloween 2020 was going to be one for the record books.

Then came COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating, that perennial favorite of Halloween traditions, as a higher risk activity. The town of Raymond, following that advice, scrapped their traditional Main Street Halloween celebration, and Windham offered a drive-through Trunk or Treat last weekend for their residents as an alternative to door-to-door trick-or-treating.

Losing the activity that makes Halloween so special for many children, and even some parents, is a tough blow. While there are alternatives to make this holiday feel special, it’s important to be honest with your children: This is a loss. It’s the latest loss in a long string of loss that dates all the way back to March, when most of us thought this whole pandemic thing would blow over in time to see the grandparents for Easter.

If your children are upset over losing their night of trick-or-treating, it might help to remind them why it’s important that we keep avoiding large crowds and close contact with lots of other people. As awful as it is to cancel celebrations, COVID-19 is worse. Even a mild case of COVID is unpleasant, and scientists and doctors still don’t know what long-term health effects some COVID patients might face over the coming years.

It might also help to remind your children that they are part of something larger. Mainers have done a tremendous job following public health recommendations and controlling this outbreak, and keeping our distance from one another, even on Halloween night, is an important part of our success. We will all miss trick-or-treating this year, but by staying home, we’re protecting the vulnerable and watching out for our community — just like a superhero. Hey, we’re all even wearing masks.

However, as my 10-year-old points out, you can’t just cancel Halloween. Most of our beloved Halloween rituals, such as decorating the house and yard with creepy, funny, or just plain weird decorations, are still perfectly safe. Pumpkins can still be carved into jack-o-lanterns, skeletons can still dance in the windows, and you can still craft that perfect costume.

When it comes to that Saturday night, full moon, Halloween 2020 celebration, families have lots of alternative options. One friend told me she is planning on making Halloween baskets this year as a spooky riff on Easter baskets. Another friend will make a candy scavenger hunt for her older children, leaving them a trail of clues to unravel in order to find their treats. My sister, who lives several states away in a neighborhood with no resident bears, plans on hiding candy in the backyard for her young children to find with flashlights.

If you have older children, it might be fun to take a full moon Halloween hike on a well-known trail, perhaps even while wearing your costumes. Younger children might enjoy a similar hike before the sun goes down, and parents can always offer candy as a reward, or as a bribe, for a hike well done.

Additionally, it is still possible to plan socially distanced trick-or-treating drop-offs with friends and family in town. The CDC recommends giving individual bags of treats instead of letting children paw through an enormous bowl of candies. If you coordinate beforehand, you could drive to houses where family and friends have set out tables of individually wrapped Halloween treats. Just be sure to wash your hands before you dive into those peanut butter cups!

Finally, as we navigate yet another seasonal holiday that has changed dramatically due to COVID, be sure to remind your children - and yourself - that this too shall pass. Pandemics don’t last forever, and someday, we will all trick-or-treat beneath the rising moon once again. <

Friday, October 16, 2020

Raymond residents weigh withdrawal from RSU 14

If approved by Raymond voters in a referendum
on Nov. 3, Raymond would withdraw from RSU 14 and
form a new school district. Under the proposal, Jordan-Small
Middle School and Raymond Elementary School would separate
from RSU 14 and the new district would hire a new
superintendent and create a new school board.
By Briana Bizier
For more than a decade, students at Raymond’s elementary school and middle school have been part of the RSU14 school district, sharing their school administration, buses, and educational resources with the neighboring town of Windham. This November, however, Raymond voters will decide if they wish to withdraw from RSU 14 in order to oversee their own schools.
Under the proposed withdrawal plan, known as Question One on Raymond
’s November ballot, the town of Raymond would form its own SAU, or School Administrative Unit. Raymond would lose its seats on the RSU 14 school board, and Raymond’s new SAU would form an independent school board that would then hire a superintendent on a three-fifths position to administer both Raymond Elementary
School and Jordan Small Middle School. Although a three-fifths superintendent position might sound odd, it is how Raymond schools operated before consolidating with Windham in 2008. The new Raymond school board would be responsible for everything from bus schedules to classroom technology to negotiating with the teachers’ union.
Raymond’s high school students can currently choose which school they wish to attend, and this would continue under the proposed withdrawal plan, as long as the chosen high school is able to accept the
new Raymond district’s tuition payment. Currently, 80 percent of Raymond’s high school students attend Windham High School. There is no plan to build a new high school for Raymond.
If the withdrawal plan is approved by voters, RSU 14 would transfer six buses and four vans to the new Raymond school district. RSU 14 would also continue to provide transportation for students who live in Raymond and choose to attend Windham High School.
In some ways, the seeds of this proposed withdrawal were sown back in 2008 when Windham and Raymond first merged as part of a state-wide initiative to consolidate school districts. For some Raymond students and their parents, this process did not go smoothly.
Frank McDermott, who came to Raymond in 1968 to serve as the principal of Jordan-Small, which was then then Raymond’s only school, praised Raymond’s school system.
“We were a Blue Ribbon School,” McDermott recalled, referring to a national educational award

granted to Raymond in 1988. “We had the opportunity to send teachers to national conferences and bring back great ideas. For a school system as small as it was, we really were very fortunate. That helped us do what we needed to do. It helped change the view of what Raymond schools were and could be.”
McDermott also confirmed that the 2008 transition from being an independent school system to being part of RSU14 was rocky. When the two school districts merged, McDermott recalled that Raymond lost funding for some of its programs, including a teaching position in Raymond’s computer lab.
Yet Jani Cummings, a longtime Raymond resident who taught at Raymond Elementary School for 38 years, said there were also benefits when the Raymond schools merged with Windham. “Raymond teachers used to buy our own paper,” Cummings said. “We had a very limited amount of supplies. I spent an average of $1,400 a year on my classroom, every year. The first thing that happened when we merged with Windham is that every teacher got the Reading Street series, which was $5,000 worth of books and equipment per classroom, just for reading.”
Students attend an outdoor class at Raymond Elementary
School in September. SUBMITTED PHOTO
It’s like any marriage,” Cummings continued, referring to the educational partnership between Raymond and Windham. “There’s the honeymoon stage, and then there’s the ‘you don’t make rice like my mother stage.’ But you learn to work together, and then you can’t imagine not working together.”
If the union between Raymond and Windham schools is a bit like a marriage, then it also has hit a few rough patches, especially with regards to spending. According to a “Frequently Asked Questions” section of the Town of Raymond’s RSU 14 Withdrawal webpage, Raymond was initially slated to fund 45 percent of the construction of a new     middle school in Windham.
The RSU14 school board also broached the idea of closing Jordan-Small Middle School in Raymond if a new middle school was built. However, that plan was abandoned when the RSU 14 school board reached a new agreement where Raymond’s share of the school budget is based on Raymond’s population, and any new construction will be funded entirely by the town doing the construction.
Proponents of Question One worry that this agreement is not being upheld. They point to the construction of a new town garage in Windham as evidence that Raymond taxpayers are being asked to fund projects which do not support Raymond students. In addition, the FAQ document continues, RSU 14 purchased modular units for classroom and office space in Windham instead of using available rooms in Raymond schools.
However, despite the partnership ’s rocky start 12 years ago and the recent spat over funding, many Raymond parents and educators argue that Raymond’s educational union with Windham is highly beneficial for students of both towns.
Raymond students have a lot more opportunities as a result of Raymond merging with Windham,” said Susan Brackett, a fourth-grade teacher at Raymond Elementary School whose two daughters attend
Windham High School and Jordan-Small Middle School. “For example, Windham and Raymond currently share a variety of positions, such as a superintendent, literacy coach, math coach, specialist teachers such as P.E. and music, and numerous special education positions. This means our students are taught by highly qualified full-time staff.  Before the merger, we were only able to hire part time specialists, which resulted in a lot of turnover.”
Cummings, who is currently serving as a member of the RSU 14 school board but emphasizes that her opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board as a whole, agreed with Brackett’s assessment.
“Having taught at RES when Raymond was a standalone district and then when it was part of RSU 14, I know that we are currently getting the best of both worlds,” Cummings said. “Small class sizes at community schools with access to the wide-ranging resources of a large district, all at a lower cost than if we were to withdraw.”
The costs of Raymond’s withdrawal from RSU 14 are a concern for both parents and non-parents alike. The proposed school budget on the Town of Raymond’s webpage shows a slight decrease in the town’s overall budget if Raymond forms an independent school district. However, this number does not include the estimated transition expenses of the withdrawal, which are slated to cost the town $600,000 in the first year.
Additionally, some Raymond residents expressed skepticism about the proposed budget.
Parent Kaitlin LaCasse noticed that the proposed budget does not include funds to address the many challenges of COVID-19, and Cummings expressed concern that the budget does not include a fulltime facilities director or an administrative assistant for the new three-fifths superintendent position.
Similar towns that have withdrawn from larger school districts have seen an increase in their property taxes. In 2014, the towns of Old Orchard Beach and Dayton voted to separate from the Saco school district. Both Old Orchard Beach and Dayton saw tax increases the following year, according to an article in the Portland Press Herald. The town of Sebago also withdrew from its school district in 2017. Subsequently, Sebago’s 2020-2021 tax budget rose by 4 percent to support their increased school budget.
An increase in property tax rates was also an issue in the 2015 election when Raymond residents first voted not to leave RSU 14. In that election, 71 percent of those who cast ballots opposed the 2015 withdrawal proposition.
“I served on the Raymond Withdrawal Committee in 2015, and it was as clear then as it is now that Raymond students would have more educational opportunities by remaining in RSU 14,” said Raymond resident Bob Gosselin. “Additionally, as the chairman of the Raymond Budget and Finance Committee, I can’t in good conscience support an effort that will in all likelihood raise costs for the town and for our taxpayers.”
However, not everyone is opposed to an increase in Raymond’s tax rate if the funds go to support the new, independent SAU.
“We have the tax base,” said McDermott. “Raymond can afford anything it wants. I don’t want to pay any more property tax than I have to, but I’m willing to pay it for the greater good.”
That greater good, McDermott continued, would include a world-class school system. “The reason I support this withdrawal,” he explained, “is that I hope it will allow Raymond to go back to what we were. I could see us having almost an Academy-type school in which every student was taken care of to give them the best education possible. Raymond is in a position where it could be a beacon, the leading town, in the Lakes Region. And to do this, you build the best school system possible.”
Cummings, however, expressed a different set of reservations about shifting the funding of Raymond schools solely onto the Town of Raymond. Town budget meetings can be notoriously contentious. Cummings recalled one year when two gentlemen almost came to blows over the school’s proposed budget.
“We went to the Town Meeting every year, and it was always scary,” Cummings told me. “The budgets got less and less because we were worried they wouldn’t pass. It was very stressful. We didn’t know until the budget passed if we would have a job next year.”
She admits that the school budget for the combined district still needs to be approved every year, and a degree of annual uncertainty persists for the faculty and staff of RSU 14.
“But the stability of our district now is something to fall back on,” Cummings said. “We have a larger population, and the taxation can be spread farther.”
Several Raymond residents expressed a sense of irritation as they experienced the déjà vu of explaining their opposition to the same withdrawal proposal that local residents rejected in the voting booth four years ago.
"I, along with my friends and neighbors, am frustrated that we are once again needing to explain to the Raymond Withdrawal Committee that RSU14 is working well for all parties involved,” said Alissa Messer, a Raymond parent and community volunteer.
Messer spearheaded the five-year effort to install the new playground at Raymond Elementary School, a project that involved cooperation at all levels of the district and incorporated the U.S. military. Messer was also the first to approach the RSU 14 board and request that stop-arms be installed on district buses, a concern that sparked a tremendous amount of collaborative fundraising work by the Windham PTA and the Raymond PTO. Numerous businesses, families, and a terrific group of children from Windham Odyssey Angels worked hard to raise a great deal of money in order to install the stop-arms.
“I have seen firsthand how the entire Raymond/Windham community works to support each other, from coming together to build a playground that generations of students and community members will be able to enjoy, to working to install stop-arms on our buses to keep kids safe,” Messer said. “It would be a mistake to think we could meet our community's needs while going it alone. I support our teachers and our kids, and I feel we are better together.”
Teachers also expressed concern about what Raymond stands to lose if the current partnership with Windham breaks down.
Brackett worries about the potential loss of Title 1 funding for Raymond schools. Title 1 funds are now used at Raymond Elementary School to support reading and math coaches in the classroom because RSU 14 as a whole qualifies for the federal assistance program. Alone, Raymond would not qualify for Title 1 funding and would need to either increase the town’s funding to the schools or eliminate those classrooms and reading and math coach positions.
For some parents and teachers, the current COVID-19 pandemic makes this difficult decision a bit easier. This September, when many schools around the nation were either converting to distance learning or offering in-person classes on adjusted hybrid-type schedules, all of the families in RSU 14 were given the choice of attending school either in person on a hybrid schedule or joining the district’s new online distance learning program.
“The district basically set up an entirely new school for remote learning,” said Raymond parent Kaitlin LaCasse. Her son Charlie is in a remote education second-grade class composed of students from both Windham and Raymond. Kate Griffin, who leads the virtual second grade classroom, is a teacher at Windham Primary School.
In Charlie’s half-hour reading group, there are three teachers split between 22 kids,” LaCasse said. “Raymond on its own would not have the resources to offer this option. One of the biggest benefits of being part of an RSU is that ability to share resources.”
Brackett echoes that sentiment.
“Separating from Windham results in a lot of unanswered questions, because we will have to start all over again,” she said. "Due to the unpredictability of our current world, I do not think it is beneficial to add one more unknown circumstance that will directly impact the lives of our children and students.”
Parents, teachers, and community members on all sides of this debate clearly have the best interests of Raymond students in mind.
For former superintendent McDermott, withdrawing from RSU 14 is the superior option.
“I really think that we owe our children the best possible education,” McDermott said. “I can see the difference education makes in people’s lives, and I want to see Raymond go back to the way it used to be.”
I have five kids,” McDermott continued. “Betty and I were and am so proud of our kids because of who they are and what they’re able to do. A lot of it, I give credit to the Raymond school system. My kids got a tremendous education here. They went out and made a mark in the world, and they started in a small, rural school system.”
Cummings, however, believes withdrawing from RSU14 is not the answer.
“I spent 38 years of my life teaching the kids of Raymond, and I’ve spent four years on the RSU 14 school board,” Cummings said. “So I’ve spent 42 years of my life caring for the kids of Raymond. If I thought this was a better idea for the kids of Raymond, I would be on my knees crawling to get this option. But this is not a good idea for the kids, and it’s not a good idea for the teachers.”
For Kaela Gonzalez, a Raymond resident and the mother of three young children, the choice is anything but clear. 
“I have followed the informational meetings closely and those who oppose the withdrawal have brought up valid points,” Gonzalez said, voicing concerns shared by many parents with children in the Raymond school system. “On the other hand, the proposed additions with withdrawal such as free lunch for pre-K through 4th grade sound like a good step forward. There are so many factors to consider and with so much at stake for my family, it is a hard decision to make.”
It’s a hard decision that all Raymond residents now face as Question One on their ballots next month. If the union between Raymond and Windham schools truly is like a marriage, it’s no wonder the question of withdrawing from RSU 14 quickly becomes emotional for proponents of either side.
 And, as with a marital breakup, the residents of Raymond must ask themselves: What’s best for the children? <