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Board Members

Saskia Adams, Board Chair

Saskia Adams has worked for KPMG, Belkorp, Inc. (privately-held Canadian conglomerate) and NetApp in the areas of Finance, Treasury, Audit and Operations.  She received her Bachelors of Commerce degree from the University of British Columbia and obtained her Chartered Accountants designation thereafter.  She now resides in Saratoga with her husband and children.  She has an avid interest in the arts and music.  She joined the Starting Arts Board in January 2014.

Ann Watts -Executive Director

Executive Director Ann Watts is responsible for the overall management and funding of Starting Arts. She seeks out arts education resources within the San Francisco Bay community, evaluating their quality and suitability for Starting Arts programs. She determines the type and number of classes offered by Starting Arts, locates facilities, acquires materials, and hires artists to instruct. Ms. Watts also solicits public/private funding to sustain and expand the number/size of programs offered by Starting Arts. She oversees and contributes to grant writing, and has begun an aggressive campaign for corporate sponsorship. Ms. Watts has successfully established relationships with local media, keeping Starting Arts in the public eye. Her planning and management skills have created a solid business foundation, but it is Ms. Watts’ energy, enthusiasm and high standards for excellence that assure Starting Arts’ continued success.

Ann Watts earned a Bachelor’s degree in English (Honors, 1982), a Bachelor’s degree in Education (1984), passed the CBEST and holds a California Teaching Credential. She has taught general education for grades preschool through 12, and served as dance teacher/ choreographer/ production coordinator for numerous extracurricular programs. Ann’s arts background includes 18 years of formal dance training, 10 years dancing professionally on stage, and serving as Artistic Director/ Manager of the Lakeshore Dance Studio (Montreal, Canada, 1982-84). Ms. Watts’ recent business experience includes co-founding an internet service company in Mountain View, CA.

Andrea Thurber -Board Member

One of Starting Arts founders and original funders, Andrea Thurber has been drawn to the arts since childhood.  Happily proficient in traditional academics, Andrea credits her elementary school arts education, including  a role as “Princess Subtraction” in a 4th grade play and participation in elementary and middle school choirs, for providing critical experiences that sparked growth in her emotional as well as intellectual intelligence. Throughout high school and college, performing arts classes taught Andrea (a dedicated non-athlete) the value of collaboration and the power of creative “team” thinking.  Visual arts classes taught her to think abstractly and encouraged her to venture outside the safe box of conventional perspective.  Even though Ms. Thurber eventually chose an academic/ career path in laboratory science, she credits her arts education with giving her the confidence to embrace uncertainty even in that rigid discipline as a challenge to be creatively explored.

Continually involved since Starting Arts’ inception, Andrea has worked with Ann Watts to help define and name the organization, gather supporters and procure funding. Her supporting roles have and continue to include: program development, website development and grant writing.  Andrea’s community minded “See a need; fill a need. Keep it simple.” philosophy and ability to clearly see the big picture while hammering out details have served not only Starting Arts. Ms. Thurber’s various incarnations include: Clinical Laboratory Supervisor, Spectra Laboratories, Fremont; founder of Las Palmas Dog Park, Sunnyvale; Parent Association President, Mid-Peninsula High School, Menlo Park; Head of Training Sub Committee, Minor Protection Committee, Presbyterian Church of Sunnyvale.

Ms. Thurber received her BS in Medical Technology from the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNYAB), is a current Board member of Starting Arts, and the mother of two children whose academic lives have and continue to revolve around the arts.   Andrea also sings to maintain her sanity.

Polly McBride -Board Secretary

Polly McBride has been involved in arts since childhood.  She studied piano and viola for many years and played in the Stockton Symphony and the University of Pacific Opera Orchestra.  As an elementary principal she developed an extended day performing arts program for over 500 K-6 students at her school in Bakersfield.  This program had a boy’s choir, full orchestra, dance studio, theatre with a full time art and music teachers. In the first year the students did a full production of Wizard of Oz and Nutcracker plus 6 recitals in different disciplines.  Upon moving to the Bay Area, she became principal of Ponderosa Elementary and was one of the founding members of the Starting Art’s team.

Since retiring from the Santa Clara Unified School District, Polly has become a small business owner in Sunnyvale.  Her store, PostNet, is a neighborhood business center. Postnet prints, ships and does all kinds of work with photos as well as notary, fax and mailboxes.

She rejoined the Starting Arts board this fall. Her energy, passion, and experience with the arts and students will help us to reach our goals.  She says, “The arts help each student be all they can be. It is our adult responsibility to make sure that they have the opportunities to develop this potential.  When children and the arts are brought together, it is a beautiful thing!

Dave Samuels, Board Member

Dave Samuels, Managing Director of CONCERT Wealth Management, has been offering his clients unbiased investment advice and analysis, based on the experience and knowledge gained through his 20-plus years in the financial services industry. Dave is a graduate of UCLA’s Personal Financial Planner Program, as well as a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU). In 2005, Dave was awarded the prestigious Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF) designation.

Dave serves on the board of the Financial Planning Association of Silicon Valley as well as the board of the Steinway Society, which promotes piano concerts. Dave is a member of the Santa Clara County Estate Planning Council, the Society of Financial Service Professionals, the Financial Planning Forum of Palo Alto, and the San Jose Chamber of Commerce.

Valued as a conference speaker and subject matter expert, Dave brings his unique perspective on comprehensive wealth management to topics such as determining financial goals and implementing the steps necessary to make those goals a reality. He is a valued resource and consultant for many accountants and tax preparation services, teaching them strategies and tactics enabling them to use options in client portfolios to create tax efficiencies that benefit their clients. Dave performs piano concerts on a volunteer basis in the Bay Area. He plays regularly at Filoli Gardens and also performs at various retirement centers.

Gayle Lewis-Rally, Board Member

Gayle Lewis-Rally is an attorney with over 20 years in the California legal profession, with experience counseling families, small businesses and currently high tech companies in the sales and licensing fields. She graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in psychology and received her JD from Santa Clara University. Gayle has her mediation certificate from the Office of Human Relations in San Jose and has volunteered as a mediator and counselor regarding neighborhood disputes, represented children in the family and juvenile court systems and was a court appointed special advocate with CASA . A native of the Santa Clara valley, Gayle lives with her husband and 8 year old son in San Jose and enjoys reading, hiking and music.

Claire Dixon, Board Member

Claire Dixon is Chief Communications Officer at Intel, where she leads the communications function.  A native Londoner, she moved to the US in 2013. Before joining Intel, VMware, Claire was SVP Chief Communications Officer at VMware. She has also worked for global multinationals eBay, GlaxoSmithKline, Unilever and Weber Shandwick.  Claire spent the first years of her career working as a professional actress, primarily in theater and comedy, including children’s educational theater.  She also enjoyed being a workshop leader teaching Shakespeare in elementary schools.   Claire has a Masters degree in Geography from Cambridge University and post-graduate diploma in Acting from the Guildford School of Acting. Claire now lives in Los Gatos with her husband and two children.