Casa di Mir’s Board of Directors plays a critical role in establishing the school’s strategic direction and ensures that goals are met. Parents within the school compose most of the board; alumni parents, community members, and staff hold seats as well. The 2016-17 Board of Directors includes:
Jessica Lee-Messer has been practicing law since 2000. She practices exclusively in the area of family law, including litigation, collaborative practice and mediation. Prior to forming Lee-Messer Greenberg Wanderman, LLP, Jessica practiced family law in San Mateo, California and in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Jessica serves on the boards of Collaborative Practice Silicon Valley and Casa di Mir Montessori School. She was the 2009 and 2010 Co-Chair of Collaborative Practice San Mateo County, the 2012 President of the SMCBA Women Lawyers’ Section, and the 2015-2016 President of Collaborative Practice Silicon Valley.
Jessica selected Casa di Mir for her son in 2009. Her younger daughter now attends Casa, too!
“I joined the Board in the Fall of 2010, hoping to contribute my enthusiasm for Casa and my previous board experience to the school, and to further get involved in the Casa community.
“Evidence that the non-violent communication skills the kids are being taught really are being absorbed is particularly meaningful to me. One Casa moment I experienced this, was when I was the lunch cleanup volunteer in P2 on a Friday, and a Kinder (‘Susie’) came over to Ms. Cathy, quite upset, stating that another Kinder (‘Steve’) had hurt her feelings. Ms. Cathy just replied that she should talk to Steve about it. Susie immediately whirled around and said, ‘Steve! I feel sad when you say you are going to eat my dog, because I love my dog!’ A perfect ‘I’ statement! If only I could get adults to do this. (Steve sheepishly looked embarrassed and apologized.) If everyone learned non-violent communication (NVC) from such an early age, the world would be a better place, I am convinced.”
Martha Ryan is Director of Business Process Transformation at Maxim Integrated, a $2.5 billion semiconductor company based in San Jose. She has been a finance professional at Maxim for the past 17 years serving as Director of Cost Accounting and Director of Business Unit Planning. Prior to working at Maxim, she was an Annual Giving Officer at Bowdoin College and at Dartmouth College. She has a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College in African History and an MBA from the University of Washington.
Martha joined the Board of Casa in 2010 hoping to lend her fundraising experience to Casa.
“My husband, Neal, and I enrolled our daughter, Vayl, in a Montessori school in Dallas, Texas when she was three because it sounded interesting. Nine years and three Montessori schools later, we are thrilled with our decision to ‘go Montessori.’ I continue to serve Casa even though my daughter is now in high school because I am passionate about Montessori in general and Casa in particular.
“As a family, we spend a lot of time in Puget Sound enjoying the hiking, kayaking, crab feasting, biking and strolling in the rain.”
Catherine Ambrozewicz joined the board in 2016. She has a BS in Mathematics from McGill University, and an MBA from INSEAD in France. Her professional background is in corporate strategy, including as a consultant with Bain, as well as in actuarial analysis in the insurance sector. Since moving to the Bay Area three years ago, she has become an executive leadership coach and facilitator. She has a particular interest in working with women to uncover their authentic leadership presence and helping them find deeper meaning in their work. She joined the Casa community in 2016 when she enrolled her twins—a son and daughter—in the primary program.
“We chose Casa for our twins because we saw something really special and unique: it is a school that has so much heart, and feels like home.
“We are all raising our children in a time of great innovation, as well as great volatility and divisiveness. In order for our children to thrive, they need to grow into confident, creative, resilient—and also fiercely compassionate—leaders. This is what I believe Casa prepares them to become.
“I felt called to join the board because I wish to help preserve what’s most special about Casa, and I am full of inspiration for how the school can continue to evolve.”
Nikki Larkin is a stay at home mom and has been in this role for the past 10 years. Prior to being a homemaker and mother of 2 boys, she was in advertising for 14 years serving as National Sales Manager for a promotional product manufacturer. She began her career in financial services. She earned a bachelor’s degree from California State University Chico in Liberal Studies and a minor in Tourism.
Nikki joined the Board of Casa in 2016 hoping to lend her business and marketing experience to the school.
“Both my husband Sean and I attended Montessori schools as preschoolers. Seven years ago our oldest son Collin was ready to start preschool and we enrolled him at Montessori in Dana Point CA. Since then, both of our children Collin and Blake are now entering our their fourth year attending Casa. They continue to benefit from the Montessori principles. We appreciate its value in the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive.
“Our family time is spent playing games, baking, swimming, biking, fishing, art projects and family movie night. One of our best times of the day is dinner. We pick a question on a topic and go around the table with answers. The last person who has the answer gets to pick the next topic.”
Julie McDonald joined the board in 2017; she had previously served on the board in 2008 after her youngest child graduated from Casa di Mir. Julie has over 20 years of experience in human resources, and works at Cadence Design Systems as a Senior Human Resources Business Partner.
In her spare time, she is a volunteer puppy raiser/trainer for Canine Companions for Independence; is a host-family for the San Jose Giants baseball team; and has recently joined the City Lights Theater Company as a volunteer.
“I have always valued the warm and nurturing environment at Casa di Mir. It is an inspirational place where I have seen so many children blossom and grow. I was fortunate to have had both of my children attend Casa di Mir from 1994 through 2007, and have enjoyed watching the tremendous growth of the school since that time. I am pleased to join the board and to be part of Casa’s continued success.”
Dave Oesterreich joined the Casa di Mir board in 2014, bringing to bear knowledge and skills gained from over 15 years of management experience in the semiconductor industry. He holds a BS in Computer Engineering and MS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois.
Dave was moved to join the board soon after his son enrolled at Casa, after reflecting on the remarkable, favorable contrasts between the Casa environment and curriculum, and those of the public school he attended in Chicago.
In his spare time, Dave can often be found in the garage working on automotive projects or at the track volunteering as a driving instructor.
Wanda Whitehead, one of the founders of Casa di Mir, has been teacher and Head of School for the past 25 years. She serves as a member of the Board. After teaching elementary school in Palo Alto Unified over a 16 year period, she discovered the Montessori method, received her AMS Elementary 6-12 certification and led the development of Casa di Mir Montessori School moving to a full-time Head of School position in 2007.
“I have been in education for 42 years, I can whole-heartedly say that I have never been more passionate about education that inspires learners to take flight while providing essential life skills to empower children. I see the Montessori Way as innovative, practical, creative, while providing a global perspective that can create leaders for a sustainable, just future.”