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Lisa Lavoie selected as newest member of Salem School Committee

The people have picked Salem’s newest School Committee member by proxy. Nine proxies, to be precise.

That was the number of School Committee members and city councilors who voted for Lisa M. Lavoie during a special joint meeting of the School Committee and the City Council on Monday, more than a month after Lavoie missed being put on the committee directly by Salem residents in last month’s municipal election.

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School Committee member Kevin Carr Jr. was elected to the City Council in the municipal election, setting up Monday’s special meeting to find a replacement to serve the two years remaining on his term.

There were three School Committee seats on the November ballot: Lavoie, 44, finished fourth with 1,763 votes, ahead of Sean P. O’Brien (1,659) and Francis M. Vigeant (1,322). At Monday’s joint meeting, she beat O’Brien by three votes and Vigeant by seven.

“The people have spoken. They have heard [the candidates] for the various debates for the last year and not just one evening,’’ Ward 2 Councilor Mike Sosnowski said when pledging his support for Lavoie at the meeting in the City Council chamber, during which 17 officials cast votes.

“There’s a lot of hard work [ahead], there’s a lot of things for me to learn about and understand,’’ Lavoie said in an interview after the hearing. “I don’t know where the skeletons are. So there’s going to be that work of figuring out what’s buried where and where we can move forward.’’

Between the city election and Monday night’s meeting, the state named Salem an underperforming, or Level 4 district, because the Bentley Elementary School was tabbed as a “turnaround’’ school due to chronically poor test scores.

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“I’m a person who loves a lot of data,’’ said Lavoie, who has two children at the Horace Mann School. “One of the things that makes me happy is looking at a lot of data and finding what the generalizations are there. So I have a feeling I’m going to be able to do that a lot in the future. I have personally done a lot of teaching and I know there are times when you just have to go off the plan and find something new; it may not always work but it can often be fantastically successful. And I think we have a chance here to look at other maps or go off the map. So I’m really excited about that.

“It’s not a rubber-stamp kind of thing. We have to make changes. I’m looking forward to that and helping make the best kind of changes.’’

Despite his youth, O’Brien, 22, gave Lavoie a run for her money. Educated in the Salem public schools, O’Brien handed in his last final exam at Salem State University yesterday and is poised to graduate next month. Many councilors and committee members were impressed by how diligently O’Brien has attended not only School Committee meetings but subcommittee meetings as well.

“He might not be the most experienced and he might not have the most degrees, but he’s young and energetic,’’ said Nate Bryant, a School Committee member who voted for O’Brien. “He knows the school system and has been to just about every meeting and can hit the ground running. I’m looking long-term. I think the best person for long-term consensus building, who will listen to what we have to say and offer fresh ideas, is Mr. Sean O’Brien.’’

But ultimately the majority of the officials thought O’Brien would have plenty more chances to run for School Committee in the future.

“Of course it’s bittersweet, because when you run for office you run to win,’’ O’Brien said in an interview after the meeting. “But the mark you leave is more important, and I think I’ve left a big mark on this election cycle - to prove no matter your age, as long as you know what you’re doing and you put 100 percent into it, you can achieve it.

“I’ll definitely be back. I’ll be running for office in the future but at this point I haven’t decided where or when,’’ he said.

Rounding out the candidates were Darek Barcikowski and Ken Sawicki, who didn’t win any votes, and Heather Leclerc, who filed papers but was not at the meeting.

Vigeant received two votes. Some officials were concerned about a conflict of interest because he runs an educational consulting firm.

“I want to hire him more than I want to put him on the School Committee,’’ Mayor Kim Driscoll said jokingly during the meeting. “I hope this isn’t the end of your relationship with the Salem public schools,’’ she told him.

Driscoll ultimately supported Lavoie.

Besides pointing to her Election Day tally, Driscoll noted Lavoie’s Ivy League pedigree. Lavoie graduated from Harvard University and also has a doctorate in linguistics from Cornell University.

Justin A. Rice can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com.

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