2021 RISE Honorees & Finalists

2021 Maine Honorees

Maine Honorees are submitted to the U.S. Department of Education to represent Maine for the national level RISE award.

Deb Bodge 

Deb BodgeDeb Bodge

Administrative Assistant/Secretary 
Marcia Buker Elementary School, RSU 2 

A Richmond resident to the bone, Deb Bodge received nominations from over 10 people including colleagues, community members, and families. Her long experience at Marica Buker and her vast connections in the town are a huge asset to those around her.  She is the face the entire school community sees and connects with each and every day. Deb has deep roots in the community and is described as a beacon of light by families.  She is consistently warm and friendly, helpful, and accepting of all, while keeping an exceptionally organized and consistent atmosphere.  Families describe Deb as a safe and steadying force. She is always there to lend a hand and has provided support to colleagues whenever it is needed.   

“Mrs. Bodge has been a foundation for Marcia Buker School for many years,” said one of her nominators. “Not only has she been resilient during the COVID crisis, but she continues each day to know about each child and how their worlds work. She also does it all with a smile. She is a rock for our little school and is completely deserving of such an honor.” 

“The staff, students and parents at Marcia Buker are wonderful to work with,” said Deb. “They are what make my day!  I'm honored to know that I received so many nominations from within the community. Just knowing that makes me a winner!”  

Betsy Paz-Gyimesi

BetsyBetsy Paz-Gyimesi

Spanish Family & Community Engagement Specialist  
Multilingual & Multicultural Center, Portland Public Schools (PPS)   

Betsy works with Spanish speaking students and families to ensure that students succeed. She understands that for students to succeed, their families need support to meet basic needs, to understand how schools operate, and to understand how to engage with school. From school enrollment, to food, employment, immigration and other vital assistance, Betsy meets families where they are at by building a trusting relationship and aiding them in acclimating to life in Portland. This greatly helps prepare students for school.  

“Betsy bridges the home-school divide for our families, is a fierce advocate in ensuring that students access programs and services that would nurture and advance their academic performance and social and emotional well-being,” said nominator Maureen Clancy, PPS Language Access Coordinator.  “Through linguistically and culturally appropriate outreach to families, Betsy ensures that parents understand all the information that schools, and community-based organizations and agencies provide that would meet their needs in raising and supporting families.”   

“When I started my job, I thought it would be helping families by using my Spanish language skills to support the school-family relationship and communication. My job is so much more than that,” said Betsey. “I love my job as it empowers me to build meaningful relationships with families that will address their cultural needs, understanding that for children to be successful in school their family's basic needs have to be met so that the student and family, together, are able to focus on the bigger picture and the future.”  

2021 RISE Finalists

Kelly Brown  

KellyKelly Brown 

School Nurse 
Kennebunk Elementary School, RSU 21 

Kelly Brown has been instrumental in guiding both Kennebunk Elementary and her entire district through the toughest couple of years that education has experienced. She is a positive person for students who come to her office and works extremely hard at ongoing communication between families and staff. She is a strong advocate for the health of all students and staff, both physical and emotional.  

“Kelly has been the core of our district's continued response to the COVID pandemic and has been a leader in all senses of the term. For not only our school and our district, but for the families in our community,” said nominator Kelly Wright, School Counselor at Kennebunk Elementary. “She has tirelessly worked countless hours contact tracing, creating presentations for our school board and superintendent, prepping and helping to manage pooled testing, and keeping all staff up to date with the latest guidance, all while doing her job as a school nurse.”   

“Kelly serves as a role model for not only the other nurses in our district but for the staff as a whole,” said Wright. “She has led her team of district nurses through the intricacies of this pandemic with grace and support with every step.” 

“I believe that meaningful human interactions and kindness are key to promoting the health, wellness, and success of our students,” said Kelly. “The Covid-19 pandemic has only highlighted the need for human connection, kindness, and empathy as we work together towards trying to ensure the health and safety of our communities in the moment while also working towards what will hopefully be a healthier, happier, and more normal future for all.” 

Vicki Dill 

VickiVicki Dill 

Head Cook, Food Services  
Whitefield Elementary School, RSU 12 

Vicki Dill has exceeded expectations while providing support for nutrition teammates over the past two years, all while in a dynamic school nutrition setting. Vicki understands the value of partnership and community.  She has continued to provide support for local farmers, guided middle school studentsed with the garden club, and won the state farm-to-school cook-off in spring 2021. She serves fresh Gulf of Maine fish weekly while utilizing the Maine Fishermen Feeding Mainers Program.  In addition, she provides support to colleagues through training and offering gratitude to others by offering faculty and staff meals.   

“Vicki provides an inclusive work atmosphere. She has provided training for her assistants, so staff members have the necessary professional knowledge in the event of Vicki's absence,” said nominator Mike Flynn, Director of Student Nutrition Services for RSU 12. “Vicki makes certain her assistants receive the support and guidance to be successful in the workplace.” 

"I really enjoy my job cooking for children,” said Vicki. “I love that I can create something new for the kids to try and encourage them to sample new menu items. It is my pleasure to create and serve nutritious and delicious meals to our students daily.  And to hear ‘that was the best lunch, Miss Vicki’ is music to my ears!"  

Jessie Eastman 

JessieJessie Eastman 

School Nurse 
Lincoln Elementary School, Augusta School District 

Jessi has dedicated countless hours to help keep the students at Augusta’s Lincoln School safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, from contact tracing and staying up to date on COVID- safety guidelines to being in constant contact with providers, parents, students, and staff. This is all in addition to distributing medicine to students and running to classrooms from her office all day to support non-symptomatic kids that have bumps, bruises, and minor ailments.  

“She is an exemplary clinical professional,” said nominator Virginia Shannon, Clinical Counselor at Lincoln Elementary. “The parents of our students value her opinion and seek her professional guidance in the area of student health and wellness. As a result of this, we have 61 percent of our students participating in weekly pooled testing. In a month, we increased this percentage by 10 percent. This is a result of the relationship that Mrs. Eastman has with all of the Lincoln staff and families!” 

“Working as a school nurse and seeing the direct impact health can have on a student’s education has been both rewarding and eye opening, especially during the current pandemic,” said Jessie. “I enjoy being able to provide care and education to students to make positive health choices at such a young age.” 

Leland Gamache 

LeeLeland Gamache 

Bus Driver/Custodial Staff
Libson Community, Lisbon School Department

Leland has been employed with the Lisbon School Department since 1985 serving as a custodian and bus driver, demonstrating a strong work ethic and unmatched professionalism in his 35 years. Working primarily for the elementary school, one of the most demanding schools in the district, Leland works hard to take care of the students’ many needs that occur throughout the day.  His strong commitment to his community continues outside the school, when he serves as dispatcher and a volunteer for the local fire department, in addition to the many other things he does to stay connected and serve his community. 

“Lee is always neat as a pin and always professional looking when he comes to work,” said nominator Allen Ouellette, Director of Transportation and Operations for the Lisbon School Department. “Lee is a fantastic leader and role model. Lee has been involved in the Lisbon Police Department as a part-time dispatcher, he is also involved in the volunteer Lisbon Fire Department, and for many years he ran the Lisbon Ambulance service. Lee is a tremendous role model for the district. He trains all of our new custodians.” 

“I love my school, the students, and the staff,” said Lee. “I take pride in what I do.” 

Ellen Kimball 

EllenEllen Kimball 

Food Service Staff 
T. W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School, RSU 56 

Ellen Kimball has been instrumental in finding creative ways to promote healthy nutrition in the rural school district of RSU 56, despite the numerous obstacles they have faced. Navigating setbacks such as staff shortages, she puts in the time and has the professional skills to ensure that all needs are met. Ellen provided the leadership necessary to get meals to students at home during remote learning for the entire district, out of the middle school kitchen.  

“Not only is Ellen a hard worker, but she is also a true professional that finds creative solutions and always finds a way to deliver,” said nominator Jason Long, Principal of T. W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School. “She helped to create a breakfast program using a cart for a ‘second breakfast’ so that middle school students, who sometimes are too social when they first arrive at school to take time to eat, still have access and are encouraged to eat breakfast. She also helped establish a ‘Share Cooler’ so that food is available throughout the day for students with food insecurity issues.”  

“I like the challenge of thinking outside the box and coming up with new recipes,” said Ellen. “Dirigo students are awesome, they are not only willing to try new things but also give feedback.  I am fortunate to live and work in a small community.  I like my job, and in the world today, how many people can say that?”  

Brittany Layman 

BrittanyBrittany Layman 

School Nurse/Health & Wellness Coordinator 
Earl C. McGraw Elementary School, RSU 22  

Brittany is truly an inspirational game changer for RSU 22 and Maine's children. Her leadership has always been appreciated but in the past two years, it has been essential—not  only to the success of the school, but to the survival of RSU 22 as a whole. Brittany works hard no matter what she is doing, whether it is collecting vaccine data for state reporting, nursing PK-2 students at the McGraw School, calming and counseling scared parents, contact tracing, managing two school gardens, writing grants to restore the RSU 22 hoop greenhouse, serving on the board of the Maine School Garden Network, or coaching volleyball at Hampden Academy.   

“Mrs. Layman worked tirelessly last year to keep our school and district safe during the pandemic,” said nominator Christine Boone, Assistant Superintendent of RSU 22. “She spent hours researching, brainstorming, problem solving, modeling, and educating staff, students, the school board, and the community. She continues to do so this year in her role as Pooled Testing Coordinator.” 

 “I wake up every morning excited to go to work and I am so fortunate to work in the best school district in the state,” said Brittany. “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of our public schools and the support we offer our school community from academics to vaccine clinics and clinical advice.  Though we are tired, we are strong, and will continue to work hard to keep our school buildings open and safe.”  

Martha Thompson 

MarthaMartha Thompson 

Education Technician, Carpentry 
Portland Arts and Technology High School, Portland Public Schools (PPS) 

An educational technician at Portland Arts and Technology High School (PATHS) for the past 8 years, Martha Thompson has served both the Careers in Education program and the Carpentry program. Her enthusiasm to learn new skills in order to better serve students shows her commitment and high level of professionalism and hard work.  Those around her attest that she brings her job to a higher level and over achieves at all she does.  

“Martha is flexible and understanding when asked to cover other programs, even if she is unfamiliar with the curriculum,” said nominator Eva Rodd, Portland Arts and Technology High School Instructor. “As the building technology coordinator, she has been instrumental in helping our staff to navigate the unsteady waters of remote learning, as well as other technological tools that we need in order to do our jobs well.” 

“Portland Arts and Technology High School is by far the most dynamic and inspiring educational setting I've ever worked in,” said Martha. “I love connecting with our students and accessing the wealth of expertise that makes up our staff. It's an incredible place to work and contribute, and I look forward to being part of the ongoing rise of career and technical education.”  

Melinda Williams 

MelindaMelinda Williams 

Special Education - Education Technician 
Sanford High School, Sanford School Department 

Melinda is described as the periscope in the Sanford school community due to her strong pulse on the needs of students and staff.  She has worked in the Sanford schools for over 20 years where she has coordinated Cinderella's closet which provides formalwear to students. Through this initiative, students have access to a variety of options for events such as prom.  She can often be seen serving as a class advisor many times, providing academic support and intervention, or filling in for the administrative assistants. She is always described as having a smile on her face and kindness in her approach.  

“She understands the economic struggles of our community and helps others to see there is always a solution to a problem,” said nominator Matt Nelson, Sanford Superintendent of Schools. “Students share with her personal information they likely do not share with others because they know there is no judgement. She is constantly on the lookout for where she can make a difference in the lives of students and staff to not only fulfill needs but go above and beyond.”  

“I look forward to making every student feel comfortable and feel loved and cared for each day,” said Melinda. “Every student in the building can come to me and talk about their needs and wants, and I try to take care of them.  I enjoy all the students and take pleasure in watching them grow and feel less anxious. I am very fortunate to work in a caring and supportive school community.”  

Paula Quirk 

PaulaPaula Quirk 

Main Office Clerk 
Waldo T. Skillin Elementary School, South Portland Public Schools  

Paula has been a valued member of the Skillin Elementary School community for over 20 years.  While Paula has served in a variety of roles over that time, she currently serves as a main office clerk, supporting students, colleagues, and families. 

During this time, Paula has put in the time, innovation, and dedication to get the job(s) done. She is described as a resident archivist with a vital institutional memory, the first voice and face most people encounter at Skillin, and a fierce advocate for the students and families.  

“Paula has worked in district summer programs including this past summer, with all the other challenges, and has been the point person with other district clerks for our new online registration system,” said nominator Bethany Connolly, Principal of Waldo T. Skillin Elementary School. “She is a dedicated, loyal, and committed member of the Skillin and South Portland community!” 

When asked about her job and this honor, Paula simply said: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind!”