By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Maura Ryan-Ciardiello was looking forward to working on the School Committee with Raymond Sierpina, who was principal of Tilton Elementary School when she began teaching there.
But Ryan-Ciardiello, who jumped into the political scene this year as a first-time candidate for the committee, will not get that opportunity. In yesterday’s election, she forced Sierpina off the committee, as voters chose her over the incumbent.
“I was really hoping to serve with Ray,” Ryan-Ciardiello said during a family-and-friends victory celebration held at Archie’s Little River Ale House in Lafayette Square. “I learned a lot from him and was really hoping to be on the School Committee with him.
“That was my only upset tonight,” she said.
Ryan-Ciardiello finished second behind top vote-getter Joseph Bevilacqua, a longtime committee member.
In winning a fourth term, Bevilaqua received 4,757 votes while Ryan-Ciardiello got 4,664.
Coming in third and retaining his seat on the committee was Paul Magliocchetti. Newcomer Gail Sullivan placed a very close fourth in an unsuccessful bid for office. Fifty-two votes separated Magliocchetti (4,488) and Sullivan (4,436). She is a teacher at Northern Essex Community College and the University of New England. She has also been a high school principal, curriculum specialist, assistant superintendent and superintendent.
Sierpina, who finished fifth and last in the race with 3,806 votes, was gracious in accepting defeat. He said he did the best job he could by attending every School Committee meeting and working in harmony with the other members to help move the school system forward.
“I enjoyed my stay on the board, visiting schools, meeting with principals and getting to know the challenges they face on a daily basis,” he said. “I’ll certainly miss it.”
For Ryan-Ciardiello, Haverhill politics is a family affair. She will serve on the School Committee with her brother-in-law Shaun Toohey, while her father, former mayor William Ryan, retained his seat on the City Council in yesterday’s election.
“Haverhill is in our heart and in our blood,” Ryan-Ciardiello said. “My father loves Haverhill and so do I.
“We all want the city to keep getting better and moving forward and we’ll work well together as we all get along,” she said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll all agree.”
Ryan-Ciardiello is a teacher by training and currently stays at home with her children. In the past she was an instructional support specialist at Tilton School, taught second grade at Bartlett Elementary School and also worked in a family literacy program at the Nettle Middle School, teaching preschool children and working with their parents who were seeking their GEDs. She ran unsuccessfully for the Governor’s Council last year.
She said her campaign began early this summer and involved going door to door to meet residents, as well as standing outside of Market Basket stores on Sundays. She said her big white-and-blue campaign signs caught the attention of voters, who, after seeing the signs, began contacting her to ask who she was and why she was running.
Ryan-Ciardiello said she intends to be a fiscal watchdog and will push for a long-term plan regarding the district’s special education budget.
Ryan-Ciardiello takes office as Haverhill tries to replace the crumbling Hunking School, while working to improve MCAS scores and maintain a balanced budget.
“I’ll work to educate the public on the need for a vote on extending the debt exclusion and how beneficial a new Hunking School will be,” she said.
The winners in yesterday’s election will serve on the School Committee for the next four years. The committee has six members in total, with their terms staggered. That means three members were up for re-election this year and the other three are up for re-election in 2015. The mayor is chairman of the committee.