Board of Directors
Aara Amidi-Nouri, President
Associate Professor, Samuel Merritt University, School of Nursing; Staff Nurse, Children’s Hospital & Research Center, Oakland
Dr. Aara Amidi-Nouri is a pediatric registered nurse and Associate Professor at Samuel Merritt University School of Nursing. She has worked at Children’s Hospital Oakland for the past 20 years, and teaches pediatrics at the University, as well as at a local community agency serving low-income families, teaching parenting classes and CPR classes to childcare providers. She was a diabetes nurse consultant for Oakland Unified School District, and has created several grant-funded outreach programs for high school students interested in health careers, and provides numerous health workshops in the community. She is deeply committed to providing culturally responsive care to children and their families, and teaches extensively on this topic, and co-authored a chapter on Culturally Responsive Care in Berman and Snyder’s Nursing Fundamentals Textbook. She is a member of a number of professional associations including Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses, American Nurses Association, and Sigma Theta Tau International. Her past service includes President of the faculty governing body and Chair of the Admissions and Progression Committee at Samuel Merritt Univeristy. She was recently awarded the Strommen-Dillashaw Award for outstanding service to the University, and is also a Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow. She earned her PhD at the University of California, San Francisco, BSN and MSN from Samuel Merritt University, and a BA in psychology from Occidental College. She is the proud mom of her sixth-grade daughter, Roxy (a BlueSkies alumna, class of 2009) and is forever grateful to the BlueSkies community for helping raise Roxy.
Brooke Abola, Vice President
Deputy City Attorney, City & County of San Francisco
Brooke Abola is the proud parent of two BlueSkies graduates and has served as Co-Chair of the Parent Scholarship Committee for the past three years. She currently works as a Deputy City Attorney in the Office of the San Francisco City Attorney and has spent her legal career advising public agencies on finance-related matters. Prior to the City, Brooke was a Senior Counsel at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. She has spent significant time on pro bono work for education-oriented nonprofits, including Appleseed, the Oakland Small Schools Foundation, and the Funding the Next Generation initiative. Before law school, she taught English Language Learners at Castlemont High School in Oakland as a Teach for America Corps Member. She enjoys cooking, hiking, bridge and karaoke.
Lisa Freitas, Secretary
Lisa Freitas is an Attorney/Mediator at Sawyer Mediation and provides family law consultation and mediation services for parties with divorce, parenting, custody, support and other family law disputes, as well as cohabitation, premarital and post marital agreements. Lisa brings a diverse background to her practice as she has experience as a corporate litigator, a family law attorney, an elementary school counselor and a divorce and custody mediator. Ms. Freitas began her legal career over twelve years ago first at Fenwick & West, LLP and later at Morgan Lewis & Bockius, both in San Francisco, practicing intellectual property, corporate, securities and white collar litigation. She served on the Queen’s Bench Bar Association Board for 8 years, most recently in 2013 as President. Lisa holds a B.A. Psychology from UCLA, an M.A. Psychology from Golden Gate University and a J.D. from UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. She is married to Kris Wehner, Director of Engineering for Facebook and they currently reside in Alameda. Her stepson, Aidan, 13, is a Freshman at Berkeley High School, their daughter, Olivia, 6, is a 1st Grader at Otis Elementary School in Alameda and their daughter, June, 21 months is in the Wobbly Walkers.
Bryan Quevedo, Treasurer
Policy & Program Analyst – Economic & Workforce Development, City & County of San Francisco
Bryan Quevedo has a decade of public sector management service, with experience in budgeting, finance, grants, assessment, and strategic planning. He is currently a Policy & Planning Analyst with the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development. Bryan previously managed the administration and finances of the City of Berkeley’s Department of Public Works, analyzed the credit profiles of western local governments for a major ratings agency, managed NYPD’s budget for the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, and provided nonprofit technical assistance in El Paso, Texas. He holds a Masters in Public Policy from the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy and a B.A. in Economics & Philosophy from Claremont McKenna College. Bryan is married to Araceli Martínez-Olguín, a civil rights attorney. Their daughter Adela is a member of the Playroom, a Hamilton super fan, and an enthusiastic supporter of the musical arts.
Claire Bainer, BlueSkies Administration
Co-Director, BlueSkies for Children
Claire Bainer has been the Co-Director of BlueSkies for Children since 1995. With her mother, Anne Copenhagen, she was part of the founding group of educators who started the school in 1980 and joined the teaching team there in 1987. She carries primary responsibility for the programs, facilities, and fundraising, with special expertise in the preschool programs; she completed her Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Mills College in 1975. She enjoys teaching part time at Mills College and local Community Colleges and helping the field of early childhood education grow Claire participates on committees throughout the Oakland bay area. She is the co-author of Second Home: A Day in the Life of a Model Early Childhood Program and has written and created many booklets and teacher training DVDs . Claire has two grown children: a daughter living in Australia and a son whose two children attend BlueSkies.
Liisa Hale, BlueSkies Administration
Co-Director, BlueSkies for Children
Liisa Hale has been the Co-Director of BlueSkies for Children since 1995; she started teaching there in 1990 and has been a Board member since 1987. She carries primary responsibility for administration, finance, and infant-toddler programs; her management skills were learned as the Director of Financial Aid at Mills College, where she also earned her B.A. She has been a California State Director Mentor and enjoys helping teachers and parents understand the unique needs of two-year-olds, her favorite age group. She is the co-author of Second Home: A Day in the Life of a Model Early Childhood Program. Liisa is an Oakland native, married to a computer systems programmer, and has three grown daughters, three sons-in-law, and four grandchildren who all live in Oakland; one daughter teaches high school English, one manages admissions at an independent school, and one is a civil engineer. Three grandchildren are enrolled at BlueSkies and one is an alumna in 2nd grade in the Oakland schools.
VP Western Regulatory Affairs, Calpine Corporation
Avis Kowalewski is the Vice President of Western Government and Regulatory Affairs for Calpine Corporation, an independent electric power producer. Avis is responsible for developing and advocating Calpine’s position before state regulatory agencies in California and other western states on electricity, natural gas and environmental policies. Prior to joining Calpine in 2001, Avis held several positions at Pacific Gas and Electric Company that focused on natural gas and electric regulatory policy, revenue and load forecasting and strategic planning initiatives. Avis holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a bachelor’s degree in mathematical economics from the University of Wyoming. Avis was born and raised in Jackson, Wyoming where she spent several summers as a river rafting and hiking guide. Avis enjoys hiking, backpacking, cycling, cooking, reading and singing. Avis and her husband, Mike, had two children at BlueSkies, Elia (2013 alumna) and Ada (2015 alumna).
Assistant Program Director, BlueSkies for Children
Christa Edwards is Head Teacher in the Baby House and Assistant Program Director at BlueSkies. She is responsible, under the direction of the Hedco Program Director, for curriculum development, staff development and management, and the development and cultivation of strong, positive, cooperative relationships with families beginning and/or continuing at BlueSkies. Previously she worked in publishing as an Editorial Assistant and then as a Production Editor. She also has done some public relations work. She received a B.A. in Classics from Scripps College including a term at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and has since acquired an additional 27 Early Childhood Education units from Cerro Coso College. She lives in the Temescal district of Oakland with her husband, and spends her free time camping, reading, playing games, interior decorating, occasionally exercising, and being a new mom!
Developer, Anthony Associates
Tom Anthony is a Developer and General Contractor operating under Alterre Partners, LLC, Asset Construction, Inc. and Anthony Associates, Inc. A long-time Oakland resident, Tom has represented hundreds of real estate transactions while teaming with a talented team designing, renovating and building new homes in Oakland and Berkeley on behalf of himself and his investors. Tom and his wife Francine Anthony are the parents of BlueSkies graduate Schuyler Anthony, who is now attending St. Paul’s School Episcopal School of Oakland. Tom enjoys golf, travel and coaching Schuyler and his mates, when not managing his busy companies
Housing Development Coordinator IV, City of Oakland, Community & Economic Development
Meghan Horl is a city planner currently working in the affordable housing field. For over 10 years, Meg has worked for the City of Oakland’s Department of Housing and Community Development where she provides city financing to non-profit and for profit developers to build and rehabilitate affordable housing for low income households. Prior to her work at the City, Meg worked for a private consulting firm in San Francisco that provided real estate, economic development, redevelopment and affordable housing expertise to cities and counties throughout California. Meg received her master’s degree in City Planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her bachelor’s degree in City Planning and Women’s Studies from Miami University of Ohio. Originally from New Jersey, Meg moved to California 20 years ago and lives in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland with her husband, Matt, and two children, Abby and Connor. Abby is a first-grader at Chabot Elementary (and proud BlueSkies alumna) and Connor is in the Playroom at BlueSkies.
Kindergarten Teacher, Alta Vista School
Riana Hensel is a Kindergarten teacher at The Academy of Alameda. She is beginning her ninth year teaching this fall. Riana has the distinguished pleasure of being the first AOCS (the former name of BlueSkies) alumna to serve on the Board of Directors! In fact, she is still friends with some of her classmates from 30 years ago. Her journey as an educator has seen her teaching every age from 2.5 year-olds to Seniors in High School. Her love of young children was cultivated during her two years teaching at Hilltop Children’s Center, a Reggio Emilia inspired preschool in Seattle, and solidified during her Master’s work at Mills College. Riana reconnected with her Oakland roots while working on a Teaching Credential and Master’s at Mills, focusing her studies on issues of race and racism writing a thesis titled, “A Qualitative Interview Study of Teachers’ Experiences Addressing Race and Racism in Their Early Childhood Classrooms.” She lives in a co-op in the Elmwood neighborhood of Berkeley and enjoys cooking, being outdoors, listening to audio books narrated by Australians, exploring the world and spending time with her 101 year old grandma.
Regular Education Teacher & School Program Coordinator, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital
Maggie Greenblatt is currently the Coordinator of the Hospital School Program at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland (BCHO) where she has worked since 1986. Her first eleven years at the hospital she served as a Child Life Specialist in which she focused on facilitating healthy adaptation to hospitalization through education and psychosocial interventions. Working in the Child Life Dept. requires a foundation in Child Development as well as understanding and advocating for patients as they navigate the intricacies of the hospital environment while they face a myriad of issues related to illness and potentially prolonged hospital stays. In 1997, Maggie returned to Mills College to gain her Multiple Subjects teaching credential. After completion of this program (1998), she went back to the BCHO to work in the Hospital School Program, one of several programs under the umbrella of the Child Life Department. Maggie has long been a champion of quality education for ill children and is currently a member of the Association for the Education of Children with Medical Needs (AECMN). Her son, Aaron is an alumna from the 1999 class and Maggie attributes much of his continued preference for group based learning to his early experiences with the phenomenal teaching staff at BlueSkies. He recently graduated from University of Oregon. She and her husband, Shinei Tsukamoto enjoy hiking, cooking, traveling and a nice network of friends. She is close to a number of BlueSkies parents from Aaron’s class. During their periodic gatherings she has felt first-hand that a good preschool environment supports and fosters life-long friendships between the parents as well as those of the children.
Director of Quality Enhancement and Professional Development in Oakland Unified School District’s Early Childhood Education Department
Drew Giles is the Director of Quality Enhancement and Professional Development in Oakland Unified School District’s Early Childhood Education Department. He is an author, educator, and advocate for ECE. In 2014, Drew collaborated with Dr. Jean Feldman as they co-authored the ebook, “Teacher Survival Guide: What They Didn’t Teach You in College,” to assist educators with proven powerful tips, tricks, and strategies to help in any early childhood classroom. Drew holds an M.A. degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Colorado-Denver and a B.S. in Journalism from the University of Colorado-Boulder (Go Buffs!). Drew has worked in a variety of ECE and Kindergarten settings throughout California, Colorado and South Korea. He enjoys cooking, yard work and traveling. Drew lives in the Lincoln Highlands neighborhood in Oakland with his husband, Zach, with their two cats — Gunnar and Grif.
Deputy Director for the Center for Child and Family Studies
Julie Nicholson, Ph.D recently joined WestEd as the Deputy Director for the Center for Child and Family Studies. For the past ten years, Dr. Nicholson was an Associate Professor of Practice in the School of Education at Mills College. While at Mills she directed the Leadership Program in Early Childhood, co-directed the Joint MBA/MA Educational Leadership Program, and served as chair of early childhood. She has served as director of the Center for Play Research since 2010 which was founded to examine play across the lifespan and issues of equity and social justice. Dr. Nicholson’s research, journal articles and books emphasize social justice and equity in several areas including leadership, play across the lifespan, kindergarten readiness, teachers’ use of data, consequential validity in ECE assessments, pre-natal-8 systems reform, and gender expansive children. Dr. Nicholson has actively participated on several local and state level policy committees addressing child care and early care and education including Oakland’s Starting Smart and Strong Initiative and Alameda County’s Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge Advisory Committee. Dr. Nicholson serves on the Board of Directors for the Association for Childhood Education International, ACEI California, and was the past President of the Board for Amigos de las Americas in San Francisco. She is the proud parent of three teenage daughters and lives in San Francisco, California.
Elementary Principal Alameda Unified School District
Board of Directors Advisory Panel
Retired Founder of AOCS/BlueSkies for Children
Child Care Coordinator, Alameda County
Retired ECE Director First 5 Alameda County
Chief of Planning & Strategic Advancement, La Clinica de la Raza
Senior Consultant, San Francisco Foundation
Dr. Diane Santas
Clinical Psychologist, Assistant Clinical Professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Psychology
Mary Clare Heffron
Clinical Director, Early Childhood Mental Health Program, Children’s Hospital, Oakland
Consultant, Organizational Development
President/Co-Founder, Rebuild the Dream
Adult Educator; Retired PreK Elementary Teacher