Faculty and Staff

Ron Graydon - Founder, Head of School

Ron Graydon is the founder and head of school at Orinda Academy and an administrator and educator for 40 years. Ron began his career in education as the science department head, science teacher, master teacher, and co-director of Independent Learning School in Corte Madera and Berkeley from 1975-1980. In 1980 Ron started North Bay Secondary School with two other colleagues in Point Richmond. In 1981 he helped found North Bay Marin School, which is now the Marin School, and in 1982 moved back to the East Bay to form Orinda Academy at Wagner Ranch School in Orinda, which moved to its current site in 1994. At OA Ron has taught science, health, PE and social studies, and currently teaches weight training and fills in as substitute science teacher and adviser. Ron has a bachelor of science in conservation of natural resources from U.C. Berkeley, with minors in biology and social science, teaching credentials in life science, conservation, and social science from U.C. Berkeley, and a fitness instruction certificate from Cal State East Bay. Ron is also a drummer, naturalist, environmentalist, personal trainer, and photographer. He loves to work out, hike, snorkel, body surf, travel, watch A’s baseball, and spend time with his family.

Roger Wise - Assistant Head of School, Dean of Academics

Roger Wise joined the administration of Orinda Academy in early summer 2008 as the Assistant Dean, the following year took on the broader role of Dean of Students, and now serves as the Academic Dean/Assistant Head of School. Roger received a bachelor of science degree in math and science secondary education from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He holds a master’s degree in computer science education from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Roger taught math and science in public schools in Nevada, Florida and Maryland for six years. He then became a private school teacher/administrator at a small school serving very bright severely dyslexic students in grades 1-8 in Annapolis, Maryland. Roger taught math and initiated the development of an appropriate technology program to support the students. After two years of program development, he assumed the role of full-time administrator with the title of Technology Director. In 1999 Roger moved to the Bay Area to be nearer to family. He was hired as a technology administrator at the College Preparatory School in Oakland where he worked for nine years. Roger has been married to the same wonderful woman for 26 years and has 3 daughters, all adopted from China. He enjoys exploring the world with his family. Roger loves adventure - his journeys include a trip to experience extreme white water rafting in the Patagonia region of Chile, sailing his own 30 foot sailboat in a 2,100-mile race from San Francisco to Hawaii, and participating as a member of a car racing team driving a 1984 Camaro in 14-hour endurance races with as many as 200+ other vehicles on California tracks. He lives by the motto, “You can’t scare me, I’m an educator!”

Mollie Mowat - Dean of Student Life, Learning Support Coordinator, 9th grade Study Skills

Mollie is in her fourth year at OA and is now in the role of Dean of Student Life, grades 8-12. She continues to serve as the Learning Support Coordinator. It is her 18th year as an educator and fifth year serving as an administrator. In addition to her new role, Mollie teaches a Freshman study skills class and comprehensive and progressive course in health. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in psychology, with an emphasis in adolescent psych, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Mills College. Mollie is trained in Mindfulness Education through Mindful Schools and Karme Choling Retreat Center in Vermont. She grew up in Santa Barbara spending lots of time swimming and surfing the beautiful waters of the West Coast. Mollie moved to Oakland, California in 1987 and loves her “Town”. She likes to spend her free time cooking, camping, going to baseball games (Go Giants), heading out on adventures with her two rescue poodles (Frida and Preston) and husband, as well as hanging out with her family, who all live close by. Mollie is an avid meditator who is passionate about bringing this practice to our students at OA.

Chris Booth - World Cultures, Geography, Team Sports

Chris Booth has been teaching world cultures, geography, health, and team sports for the last six years at Orinda Academy. He holds a master’s degree in education, a clear credential in social science, and a bachelor of science degree in business administration. He enjoys teaching a variety of learners at OA and values the effectiveness of small class sizes. Chris incorporates a variety of kinesthetic, auditory, and visual teaching strategies in his lesson plans to accommodate a variety of learning styles to meet his students’ needs. Chris is a hall of fame member of the Tri Valley Men’s Senior Baseball League, and continues to play because of his love for America’s pastime. When he’s not playing baseball or rooting for the San Francisco Giants, he competes year round in several local tennis leagues and tournaments. Other hobbies include traveling, reading, and playing guitar. An interesting historical note: Chris is related to Mary Todd Lincoln and to two signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Norm Coleman - College Counselor, Dean Emeritus

Norm is a founding member of the Orinda Academy community beginning in June,1982 as a mathematics and social science teacher. Norm earned a bachelor of arts in political science at the University of California, Berkeley and his teaching credential at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Norm has taught every math class at OA from business math through precalculus as well as world geography, United States History, civics, physical education, and creative writing, and he created the film course in visual and performing arts. Norm formalized the student council and served as their advisor for many years. Norm also helped Mitch Goldman start the Orinda Academy basketball team and served as assistant basketball coach for ten years. He can still be found operating the scoreboard at home games. Norm has enjoyed attending a variety of school activities with Orinda Academy students and colleagues from the nearby California Shakespeare Festival to far away places like Los Cabos, Mexico. Norm enjoys time with friends and family, movies, music, and sports (particularly baseball).

Lauren Finn - Chemistry and Physics

Lauren is the chemistry and physics teacher at Orinda Academy. She received her Bachelors of Science in chemistry from UC Santa Cruz with highest honors in the major. Her research background is focused on the dynamic intersection of chemistry and physics. Lauren likes to take a hands-on approach in her classes, with plenty of demonstrations, videos, and labs. She explains concepts by building analogies to concepts students are already familiar with from their everyday experiences. In her free time, Lauren likes to read in cafes, listen to radio shows at home and plays with her three cats.

Samantha Gaskin - Yoga, Dance, Cheerleading

Samantha Gaskin has studied ballet, tap, jazz, and hip-hop for over 18 years. She has been dancing since the age of five and hasn’t stopped since. While in high school and college Samantha was a member of the cheerleading and dance team along with performing in shows collaborating jazz, hip-hop and contemporary for local R&B and hip-hop artists. She performed for many years on the competition team at Dance 10 Performing Arts Studio in Alameda, California under the direction of Pam Drake. In 1999, Samantha made the prestigious Oakland Raiderette Cheerleading team where she performed for three seasons under the direction of Karen Kovac. In, her second season as a Raiderette, Samantha was selected to perform on an exclusive cabaret variety show team where she performed at special corporate and charity events. In 2003, she represented the Raiders in Bosnia and Kosovo to entertain for the troops overseas. From 2008-2010 Samantha served as head coach for the San Ramon Valley High School freshmen cheerleading team. As coach she led her team to first place in several local competitions. In 2013 Samantha graduated from UOP with a B.A. in marketing and opened Sunshine Dance and cheer studio in Livermore, CA. The studio continues to grow and she teaches students ages two years old to adults. Samantha’s passion for dance and her love of educating children is evident in her teaching style. She has been teaching dance, yoga and coaching cheerleading at Orinda Academy since 2013 and works to inspire and nurture all of her students. Samantha's philosophy is to provide a fun and exciting atmosphere while educating students with proper dance technique.

Lisa Graydon - Office Manager, Administrative Assistant

Lisa Graydon has worked for Orinda Academy for 30 years as the office manager and administrative assistant. She has developed many new office procedures through the years and enjoys finding more efficient ways of running the office and keeping the office organized. A few of her responsibilities include light bookkeeping, registrar duties, keeping families informed, personnel procedures, assisting the staff, school nurse responsibilities, and purchasing. She has an A.A. degree from Chabot College in Hayward. Lisa has lived in the Bay Area all her life. She enjoys nature, birds, photography, baseball, Hawaii, traveling, and babysitting her 3 year old grandson, Graydon.

Vicky Guarracino - Environmental Science, Biology

Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Vicky first arrived at Orinda Academy in 1999 to teach middle school science and math as well as earth science and environmental science. It was here at OA, teaching environmental science, where her passion for ecology and conservation blossomed. She first traveled with OA students to Costa Rica in 2003, working with leatherback sea turtles, and participated in that trip for three years. She took the 2006 group of students to the Galapagos Islands, where the main highlight for Vicky was walking in the footsteps of Charles Darwin (one of her heroes) and seeing Lonesome George before he passed. Being able to share meaningful conservation projects with her students is the true gem of her 18-year teaching career. Vicky left OA in 2006 after the seven-year itch set in and traveled to Missoula MT, Salem MA, Cambridge MA, Santa Monica CA, and Las Vegas NV teaching in each city. Now she is back teaching biology and environmental science and hopes to get the Costa Rica trip started up again to help students be exposed to real meaningful scientific research.

Janet Harrison - Admissions Director

Janet earned a BS in Microbiology and spent the early portion of her career working in bench science and medical research projects at the Texas Medical Center. She returned to school and received a MS in International Education with an emphasis on Peace Studies. She has worked in a variety of capacities in an independent school setting from admissions, to college guidance, to the Head of Upper and Middle school at a private school in Texas with an international boarding program.

Chloe Jhangiani - Coyote Coast Counselor

Chloe is a Virginia native who has fallen in love with the Bay Area for its natural beauty and cultural richness. Chloe is an Associate Social Worker who received her degree from Smith College. She works in a relational way, incorporating mindfulness, and the arts into her therapeutic work. Chloe has worked in clinic and school settings with children, youth and adults of all ages. She feels particularly drawn to working with teenagers and young adults because of the particular struggles and opportunities they encounter in exploring their identity and finding their own, unique place in the world. When not working, Chloe loves exploring new trails with her dog, sea kayaking, painting and cooking.

Kathryn G. McCarty - Drama

Kathryn G. McCarty currently teaches drama at Orinda Academy and Contra Costa College. She taught for 6 years at College Park High School. She has also taught at Kids n Dance studios and for the cities of Orinda, Walnut Creek, and Concord. Sharing her passion for theatre with others eager to learn the art is very much a part of Kathryn’s life. As Artistic Director and Founder of Galatean Players Ensemble Theatre, Kathryn has received critical acclaim for her work as director of "Falsettos" and "Making Mary," for which she won Shellie Awards for Best Director, and Best Musical Production. She is also a recipient of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors Arts Recognition Award (2011), and has been nominated for an Arty Award for direction. Before settling in the Bay Area in 1990, Kathryn worked at the prestigious McCarter Theatre at Princeton University as well as the Chicago Company of "Forbidden Broadway" and for the company of "Marry Me A Little," directed by Mick Leavitt. She has also toured Europe extensively over a two-year period as Production Stage Manager for the Broadway Musical Company's "West Side Story." Kathryn has appeared in numerous theatrical works, as well as both film and commercial work. As a playwright and proud member of the Dramatist Guild of America, Kathryn has seen her works produced at theatres throughout the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Chicago. In June, 2015, her play “The Ladies Quintet” was performed in New York City. In August 2008, Kathryn’s book Defining Form & Other Plays was published. For additional information, visit kgmccarty.com.

Angela O'Brien - Math

Angela has been teaching in various positions at Orinda Academy for over five years and is currently teaching five sections of math at OA. Angela is originally from Iowa and graduated with distinction and honors from Iowa State University with a degree in Chemistry. She has lived in California for 29 years and has previously taught in Livermore. When she is not teaching or tutoring math, Angela can be found bike riding, exploring California, reading, or spending time with her three grown children and granddaughter.

Erin O'Donnell - American Sign Language

Erin has been teaching American Sign Language at Orinda Academy for five years and is teaching three levels of the course. Erin is from Santa Cruz, CA and graduated from CSU, Northridge with a degree in Child Development, but didn't find her professional passion until she started teaching/tutoring American Sign Language. Erin has been teaching all levels of American Sign Language over 12 years. When Erin is not teaching, she enjoys traveling, spending time with her boys, doing mosaics, camping, and hiking.

Barbara Owens - Front Office Administrator, Receptionist

Barbara joined the Orinda Academy staff in the summer of 2016 and is the front office administrator and receptionist. She is a licensed cosmetologist/esthetician and a professional cake decorator but didn't find her professional passion until she started working with students. After her son was born, she started an in-home daycare and continued on as a director for a large childcare facility for 15 years, worked with a subsidized childcare program for 7 years, and was an office manager at a private high school before coming to OA. Her son is now 27, she also has a daughter who is 25, and she has been married to her soulmate for 32 years. She recently purchased a vacation home in Twain Harte where she grew up and spends most of her weekends there relaxing, hiking, skiing, and camping. But most of all, she loves spending time with her family

Jeff Quittman - Western Civilization, U.S. History, Civics, Economics

Jeff has been teaching at Orinda Academy for the past 30 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and liberal studies and a master's degree in history from San Francisco State University. As head of the Social Studies Department, he developed and teaches courses in Western Civilization, U.S. History, civics and economics. Jeff’s classes are marked by a broadly humanistic approach to the ideas, events, peoples, and extraordinary individuals that have shaped the world in which we live. Jeff exposes students to a wide variety of instructional methods and uses a variety of learning assessments. Jeff strives to promote each individual's critical thinking skills and creativity, while instilling an appreciation for the rich variety of past and present experience and the multiplicity of ways in which they connect to and illuminate one another. In addition to his duties as a teacher, Jeff is a student advisor and assists with the basketball team. Every spring he organizes and leads the very popular Educational Adventures trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. He has also organized and chaperoned numerous student events including end of the year senior trips to Disneyland, Santa Cruz, and Monterey. In his free time, Jeff enjoys spending family time with his wife and daughter. Jeff's other interests include travelling, baseball, tennis, movies, and above all reading literature and history, preferably at his favorite outdoor café while sipping a latte.

Katherine Saxby - English 3/Honors American Literature, French

Katherine is a veteran teacher of English and French who came to Orinda Academy in the fall of 2000 after eighteen years of teaching in Texas. Her current duties include teaching English 3, all four levels of French, and serving as an advisor to seniors. Katherine holds a master's degree in English from Texas A&M University, a bachelor's degree in French and English from Stephen F. Austin State University, and a Lifetime Secondary Teaching Credential from the State of Texas. By now, you've probably figured out that Katherine grew up in Texas; however, you may not have deduced that, until age sixteen, she lived in Aztec, New Mexico (Home of the World's Only Restored Great Kiva). Currently a resident of Alameda, Katherine lives in a 1908 Colonial Revival cottage that has been charmingly and carefully restored by her husband (with a little help from his wife). Katherine also finds time to pull weeds, cook vegetarian meals, read French novels for her book group, and grade papers. She strives to encourage originality and clarity of communication, and she is proud to be part of the Orinda Academy community.

Molly Smart - Stage Band, Instrumental and Vocal Music, Digital Music Production, Music History

Molly Smart started teaching at OA in 2008 after finishing her master’s degree in ethnomusicology at UC Berkeley. She grew up in Wyoming, and received her bachelor’s degree in Music Composition and Asian Studies from Amherst college in 2002. Molly moved to the Bay Area shortly thereafter, and has been playing and singing in various bands ever since. She has taught with the Marin Children's Chorus, with the Nihonmachi Little Friends bilingual Japanese school, and undergraduate level music theory courses at Cal. She teaches two sections of stage band, guitar/bass, digital music production, popular music history, and assists English language learners in ESL support. Molly is a singer who plays and gives lessons in piano, guitar, bass, ukulele, drums, and flute, but really needs to start taking some brass lessons if she is ever going to start that one-woman band. Her big project each year is putting together the Spring Arts Fest, a collaborative performance put on by the music, dance, drama, and art students. Molly plays gigs around the bay area throughout the year with her band Ghost & The City, enjoys being crafty on the weekends, drinking too much coffee, and traveling as often as she can.

Laura Turnbull - 8th grade English, English 1 and 2, Development Director

Laura joined Orinda Academy in the fall of 2015 in a dual role as teacher of English and Director of Development. Laura began teaching in 1987 and has also worked in website development and nonprofit event planning and fundraising. Born and raised in Missouri, Laura moved to the Bay Area in 1991 and currently lives with her family in Berkeley. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Romance Languages, a Missouri teaching credential in French and Spanish, and a master’s degree in English. She has taught students of many ages from middle school through adult in ESL, English, French, Spanish, and history in public and private schools, community college, university extension international programs, and as a private tutor. Laura is the proud parent of a hilarious and smart teenager and a rescue dog named Roxie. When she’s not working, Laura enjoys cooking, gardening, hiking, interval training, and spending time with her friends and family.

Megan Vieira - Math

Megan has a BS in Chemistry and a BS in Math from the University of Oregon, and an MS in Physical Chemistry from UC Berkeley. She has taught math and science at UC Berkeley, Lane Community College, and subbed at Lincoln County Schools in Oregon. She has tutored all levels of math and science, from middle school through intro college level, for almost two decades. She likes connecting math concepts with real-world experiences and loves being able to use the small class size to tailor to each individual student's needs. When she isn't teaching, Megan is hanging out with her two kids, riding bikes and sewing clothes.

Andy Widess - Art and Yearbook

Andy Widess started out at Orinda Academy in 2005 as a student, and graduated in 2008. It was there, while taking art, that he discovered his love of photography, adding that to his other favorite mediums. For as long as he can remember, art and design have always been very important to him. Whether it is drawing, painting, bookmaking, or three-dimensional projects, he enjoys the process of learning those techniques, and what goes into making the final product. He went on to study motion graphic design at Ex’pression College for Digital Arts, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree and the honor of salutatorian. After working in the freelance industry, Andy is excited to return to Orinda Academy and have the opportunity to share his knowledge for creating dynamic art. Andy also enjoys trips to art museums, working in the garden, and bowling.

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