Board & Staff Bios
SEF is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors that includes parents, business leaders, community leaders and educators. The organization is fortunate to be staffed by a part-time Executive Director and a cadre of wonderful volunteers. We encourage you to get to know us and reach out if you are interested in getting involved!
Carrie Francis-Cabot, Executive Director
Born and raised in the foothills of the Kentucky Appalachians, Carrie’s parents spent a lot of time discussing (and fretting over) education. At an early age she was aware of the importance of a quality education. Attending public, private, and secular schools, Carrie finished high school in Asheville, NC, and began her journey north. After college she landed in Boston where she met her dyed-in-the-wool New Englander, Doug. Carrie’s first job was in finance at an Educational travel company and, for fun, she taught English part-time at Berlitz Institute. Both jobs fit well with her IR undergraduate degree and heightened her interest in education. While traveling in Peru, she found herself tutoring math in Spanish. Clarity! She decided to become a math teacher and returned to Boston, attained her teaching license through the MINT program, and was placed at Lawrence High School. Doug and Carrie moved from the Boston area to Salem after falling for an historic home in need of much love. Salem was the perfect fit and she began teaching at Salem High School while completing her Masters in Math Ed. at Boston University. She took a hiatus from teaching to spend more time with her two daughters, students at Carlton, and became more engaged in Salem and SEF. Carrie enjoys being an active community member and is treasurer of Parent’s United of Salem and on the Board of Advisors at the NSCDC. To the embarrassment of her daughters, she dances as much as possible, sometimes with students, sometimes without.
Kara Halas, Co-President & Development Committee
Raised in New Mexico, Kara fell in love with Salem at the age of 14 when she accompanied her mother to a conference in Boston. Deciding to explore the area a little they “got caught up” in a rotary and after a few (too many) trips around the circle found themselves exploring RT 1A. They stayed overnight at the Hawthorne Hotel (lest they have to tackle another rotary) and Kara wanted to stay forever. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be for a few years yet…Kara attended college in VA (Hollins College) and returned to NM for graduate school (St. John’s College). While traveling around the US (CA, OH, NY to name a few) for her husband’s career, Kara obtained her PhD in Organizational Management with a specialization in Leadership. And finally, she and husband George (no relation to the great football coach…unless they’re visiting Chicago in which case they milk the name connection) landed in MA. Kara is the store manager at TD Bank and has no intention of leaving anytime soon! Kara and George have no children of their own (do cats count?) but she is often mistaken for one herself. Kara loves working in the community to support the future of the town she has loved for so long. She is a firm believer that our schools are the backbone of the community: drawing in businesses, families and building for a stronger tomorrow.
Alexa Ogno, Co-President & Grants Committee Chair
Alexa Ogno spent her formative years in and around New York City. Born in Brooklyn, she moved to Connecticut when her brother played in traffic and her father got his first teaching job. A childhood of traveling, to grandparents in the Netherlands and Brooklyn, and with her parents and brother for a year in England, led to Alexa spending her senior year of high school in Alexandria, Egypt. Back home, she went on to MIT, where she studied mechanical engineering, theater, Arabic language and culture, and the Boston arts scene. She also met her husband, Peter Parnassa, during a theater production on campus. After a few years in New Jersey and New York, they sped back to the Boston area, where Alexa followed loosely in her mother’s librarian footsteps and took a job with the state library agency. Then on to designing and making speakers before settling in Salem and starting a family. With two children at Horace Mann, she satisfies her engineering side by running the Junior FIRST Lego League program there. Theatrical urges are satisfied by coaching her daughter’s Destination Imagination team. Alexa is glad to have kids who force her to try new things, as well as run through her art supplies. In her spare time, she can be found at the Salem Community Garden, tapping a maple tree or at the trapeze rig. Perhaps when the kids leave for college, she’ll run off and join the circus.
Leanne Schild, Vice President & PR Chair
Born and raised in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, Leanne believes her mid-western friendliness and ability to trump anyone else’s claim of being cold in winter are two of her strongest traits. She knows the value of good education (beyond the decade+ it took to pay back student loans) because it was a professor and mentor at her liberal arts college that encouraged her to apply for a Fulbright scholarship. That one year scholarship in Vienna, Austria turned into a decade of challenges and rewards living, working and putting herself through graduate school in a foreign country. It was while working for EF Education marketing language programs to Eastern Europeans that she made the transfer back to the US and found herself in Salem, MA in 2000 together with her very large 6’1″ Austrian souvenir – her husband. Leanne and Herbert’s twins (surprise!) are now 3rd graders at Saltonstall school after attending pre-k -1st grade at Bentley school. Leanne often wonders at her own insatiable commitment to volunteerism in Salem (including volunteer board positions with Parents United of Salem and formerly the Salem YMCA) but being PR Chair at least gives her an excuse as to why she spends too much time on social media. When not volunteering, Leanne works full time at the Peabody Essex Museum as a researcher.
Pam Boardway, CPA, Treasurer
SEF Board of Directors
Ben is a lifelong resident of Salem born in 1980. He attended schools in Salem throughout his entire school career, including college at Salem State. As of 2014, Ben is an active volunteer that is currently involved with non-profit organizations that relate to the categories of education, culture, environment, recreation, and law enforcement. His involvement in the educational field includes his board membership on the Salem Education Foundation, board membership on the Stephen Korumpas Scholarship, and board membership on the Salem High School Athletic Hall of Fame committee. His involvement in the cultural field is board membership and chair of the communications committee for Salem-Ota Cultural Exchange. His involvement in the environment is his participation of being a beach keeper for Salem Sound Coast Watch and web developer for The Salem Beautification committee. His involvement in recreation includes his 17+ consecutive years of coaching Salem Little League Baseball and volunteering as the multimedia coordinator for the City of Salem’s Park & Recreation Department. His involvement in law enforcement dates back to 2001 when he assisted with designing a PowerPoint presentation that was presented in the U.S. Pentagon, and currently provides his multimedia expertise and equipment for the Salem Police Department to help reduce violence for special occasions.
Heidi is the daughter of public school teachers, and has spent her professional career in and around public education. She began her career as an education reporter for local and national media outlets, ending eventually at the Boston office of the Associated Press. Tired of the unpredictable schedule and long hours she left to manage the media relations for the Massachusetts Department of Education, planning to spend a year working in their press office before returning to journalism. One year turned to a decade as Heidi transitioned to manage the agency’s communications and eventually was named Chief of Staff. As a key member of the agency’s senior leadership team, she helped to write the state’s winning Race to the Top application, and worked closely with the Commissioner to develop, implement and communicate about all of the state’s major education initiatives.
In 2011 Heidi left the state agency to join Education First, a national education consulting group, where she has worked on and managed a wide array of projects focused on the implementation of core reforms and stakeholder engagement and communications. Her clients have included the U.S. Department of Education’s Reform Support Network, the Core to College Learning Network, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Harvard’s Strategic Data Project. She also briefly worked with the Salem Public Schools, leading the district’s Middle School Success Initiative, and helping to organize and plan for community forums related to Salem’s turnaround efforts.
Heidi earned her bachelor’s degree in professional writing from Emerson College in Boston. She and her husband Dave live in downtown Salem with their two boys. They are active members of the community and can often be found biking through town, eating popcorn at the Willows, standing in line for breakfast at Red’s and walking their dog at the Common.
Lisa Lavoie was born on a farm in Hollis NH and after stints in the People’s Republic, Chicagoland, the National Capital area, and Ithaca NY, has lived in Salem since 2008 with her husband and twin fifth-graders who attend Horace Mann. Lisa holds a PhD in Linguistics and regularly works in speech synthesis and speech recognition. She also teaches Phonetics at Emerson College. Education is everything to Lisa because she’s a lifelong learner and a lifelong teacher. After serving two years on the Salem School Committee, she realized that she needed more background on K-12 education and that wanted to teach in public school. She is now working on a Master’s in Teaching English as Second Language at Salem State. She volunteers in Salem because she wants every resident to enjoy the city’s amazing cultural richness and diversity. In her spare time, Lisa loves to cook, ski, and read, and she directs the Learn to Skate program for Salem/Swampscott Youth Hockey. You can also find her calling Bingo on Monday nights for Youth Hockey
Dr. Michelle Pierce
Born and raised in a small oil town in rural western Pennsylvania, Michelle is the proud product of public schooling and the daughter of a high school history teacher who retired after 35 years in the classroom. She attended Wellesley College on an academic scholarship and was fortunate to take advantage of their year-long study abroad program in France. Upon graduation, she returned to her home state to pursue an master of arts in teaching degree at the University of Pittsburgh and then spent four years teaching French and Spanish to 9th-12th graders in a suburban high school outside of Pittsburgh. Michelle returned to New England in 1996 to begin her doctoral program in literacy, language, and cultural studies at Boston University. Over the next four years, she taught in a family literacy/ESL program in Chelsea and conducted research on two-way bilingual education in Cambridge. In 2000, Michelle accepted a faculty position in Salem State’s School of Education, where she has served in numerous administrative roles, including department chairperson and assistant coordinator of the university’s Honors Program. A Fulbright Scholarship afforded her the opportunity to teach abroad in Chile and further hone her Spanish skills during the spring of 2009. She remains active in schools through teaching and research and is particularly committed to the diverse populations in Salem and Lynn. A resident of Salem since 2002, Michelle was delighted to become Salem State’s representative to the Salem Education Foundation, where she is able to bring together her commitment to education and her love for the Salem community.