Faculty & Administration
Michelle CortezMichelle Cortez holds a dual role as both MSA Director and Novato High School Assistant Principal overseeing arts, wellness, and equity. Cortez earned her BA in English and Theatre Arts from Sonoma State University and her master’s in Organizational Leadership from Claremont Lincoln University. She has worked in education and arts management throughout her career with a focus on developing projects and initiatives that bring artists and educators together to explore relevant social issues and engage young artists. As managing director of Sushi Performance and Visual Arts in San Diego, she led a collaborative process with schools and community organizations to explore LGBTQ inclusion. Later, Cortez transitioned into education full time, teaching drama and English first at O’Farrell Community School and later at Aspire California College Preparatory Academy. Cortez is committed to leveraging arts as a catalyst for developing empathy, wellness, and critical discourse. She loves the way MSA creates “a wide range of normal” at Novato High School and feels grateful for the way students, staff, and families collaborate to create an artistic haven in the region.
Shannon Miller is well versed in all things MSA. After serving as a parent volunteer in Music and Dance boosters, MSA Foundation Board member, and MSA communications consultant, Shannon now takes on the role of MSA Program Specialist. Here she is working with students, family and faculty on MSA admissions, recruitment and community engagement, while also supporting faculty and program activities. Miller holds a BFA in Journalism from San Francisco State University and has worked as a local newspaper and magazine reporter and editor for 20 years. She was also the Novato Girl Scouts Day Camp Director for 15 years. All three of her children graduated through MSA programs, and her husband, Tim, is a lighting designer who can frequently be found working with MSA student techs on MSA performances.
Philip Chidel is a veteran filmmaker and film educator with over 20 years of experience. His diverse professional background encompasses feature films, television, theatre, multimedia, interactive TV, and even live stunt shows. His production credits include several feature films, including CopyCat, The Man Who Knew Too Little, Tales from the Dark Side: The Movie, and The Exorcist III. As a filmmaker, Chidel is a jack of all trades—writer, director, editor and producer. His best known films include the independent feature Subject Two, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and is in worldwide distribution, and the more recent The Outer Wild, available on Amazon Prime Video and On Demand. As a film educator, Chidel has been teaching filmmaking and social media production at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He is also a proud MSA parent and avid sports fan.
Brooks Fletcher is an Oakland-based artist with a passion for photography and critical thinking. After receiving a BA in Communication Studies from Sacramento State, Brooks served 11 years on active duty in the US Army as a public affairs mass communication specialist trained in photojournalism and media relations. Following his military service, he earned an MFA in Photography, cum laude, from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Today, Brooks is an active member in the Bay Area’s photographic community, serving as a member of the East Bay Photo Collective and artist-run gallery Mercury 20, and volunteering as a youth photography mentor for First Exposures. As an educator, the Oakland native takes immense pride in empowering his students to express themselves creatively and develop the tools necessary to shape their community, society, and future generations. Along with teaching photography and multimedia at MSA, Brooks is also a student at California State University, San Bernardino.
Rodney Franz has taught Theatre Arts and Musical Theatre at MSA since 2009. Franz majored in theater at UCLA and graduated summa cum laude from Maharishi International University with a BA in Literature and an MAT in Secondary Education. He was the artistic director of the Iowa Theatre Company for 19 years, where he directed and designed over 50 productions, and acted in film and television in London, Rome, New York and Los Angeles. Franz also produced print advertising and television commercials in NYC and is a published poet, as well as the author of three plays and a screenplay. As a teacher, Franz is known for his ability to help student actors connect to deeper levels of themselves to produce truthful, full-bodied, dynamic work, within the ever-expanding opportunities for growth provided by our MSA Theatre Program.
Howard Gersh has had his work appear in over two dozen major motion pictures, including the Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Harry Potter franchises. Gersh most recently worked at ImageMovers Digital (a Disney Company), where he lit and composited on the CG feature Mars Needs Moms! During his tenure at Industrial Light + Magic (ILM), he helped create some of the most memorable movie images—from the Vietnam War Memorial crowd scenes in Forrest Gump to Davy Jones and his crew of computer-generated pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean. Prior to ILM, Gersh worked at Rhythm & Hues Studios in Hollywood as a digital artist on a variety of television spots, including the award-winning and iconic Coca-Cola polar bear campaign. Visit howardgersh.com for more information.
Sabrina Kalleen earned her BA in Studio Art, summa cum laude with distinction, from Sonoma State University. As an artist, Sabrina works in multiple artist mediums, often combining materials to attain a desired outcome. When she was the Visual arts and Photography teacher and Petaluma High School, Kalleen collaborated with the Petaluma Arts Center on the first “High School Masterworks” exhibit. A juried show followed. She continues to exhibit her own artwork at the Petaluma Arts Center and other gallery spaces. Kalleen shares her experience as an artist, airplane pilot, builder and traveler, illustrating how artwork can be informed by the artist’s background. In 2017-18 her students envisioned, created and installed life-size sculptures depicting characters from “Alice in Wonderland” in the on campus art garden at Novato High. Sabrina encourages her students to share their artwork with the Novato High School community.
Prior to becoming the leader of the MSA Product Design program, Ben Knudson taught Physics, The Physics of Making Things at Novato High School and computer programming. A North Bay native, Knudson graduated from Petaluma High School where he played bari saxophone for the PHS Jazz Band, and received an Eagle Scout Award, the highest award possible, as part of Petaluma’s Boy Scout Troop 8. Knudson went to earn a B.S. in physics from Cal Poly and then earned a master’s in education. Before becoming a full-time teacher, he was an assistant teacher in Cal Poly’s math and science program and then a tutor with the Petaluma Learning and Guidance Center. Knudson has also worked with the Petaluma Music Festival and is an avid cyclist.
Taylor Mancini joined MSA in 2015 and loves helping students find their artistic voice and guiding their evolution as artists. Mancini studied art throughout her childhood and pursued art education at CalArts University in Southern California before moving to the University of Oregon to earn her BA in Cultural Geography. Upon returning to California, she earned a Master’s of Education from Dominican University. Prior to MSA, she taught foundation art and graphic art at Redwood High School in Marin, receiving her Special Education credential. With the position at MSA Taylor says she has realized her passion. “I finally feel like this is where I should be teaching art. I feel much more like myself here. This is what I am truly passionate about, helping kids be creative and grow and find their artistic voice” Mancini says.
Janelle Mitnick Cooper
Janelle Mitnick Cooper was trained in ballet and gymnastics. A graduate of Humboldt State University with a BA in interdisciplinary Dance Studies, Mitnick Cooper received her teaching multiple subject credential from Sonoma State University. She is also credentialed to teach K-12 dance and is a certified yoga instructor and TEFL instructor. Having taught both elementary and high school, Mitnick Cooper was a full-time dance teacher at Deer Valley Performing Arts High School in the East Bay before joining MSA in 2015. She feels privileged to be able to share her passion for dance and strives to give dancers opportunities to learn a variety of dance styles.
Rebecca Pollack directs the Creative Writing program at Marin School of the Arts at Novato High School. She received her BA in English from UCLA where she also took courses in screenwriting, leading to a career start in the film and television industry. After returning to the Bay Area, Rebecca received her teaching credential from Sonoma State University, and worked for the Napa Valley Unified School District for thirteen years as both a teacher and an instructional coach. Rebecca earned her Master’s degree in Humanities from Dominican University, where she enjoyed participating in several writing workshops. She is proud of what her students have achieved, including national recognition in the prestigious Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, as well as local recognition in the Marin Young Playwrights Festival, Marin Poetry Center’s High School Poetry Anthology, and the Mill Valley Film Festival. When she’s not reading or writing, Rebecca enjoys going on adventures with her seven-year old daughter and six-year old son, catching up on her favorite films and television shows, and enjoying all that the Bay Area has to offer.
Margaret Starr began her musical journey in the 2007 trail-blazing class of Marin School of the Arts studying choral music and musical theatre. She could not be more delighted to now be making her way home to Novato as a teacher and is thrilled to accept the choral director position! After graduating from MSA/NHS, she continued her musical studies at SRJC under the direction of Jody Benecke, polishing her performance skills through the dance and theatre programs before transferring to SSU and completing a BA in vocal performance.
She studied choral music with Dr. Jenny Bent and opera and vocal pedagogy with David Burnakus and Ruth Ann Swenson. In addition to choral and vocal music at school, Ms. Starr enjoys teaching private students of all ages in her home studio, and directs the Petaluma Children’s Chorus (currently on a Covid “pause”). Her recent stage performances include Alice in Lucia de Lammermoor, Flora in La Traviata with Verismo Opera, and Ms. Todd in The Old Maid and the Thief with Music to My Ears.
Matthew Verplaetse teaches Instrumental Music at Marin School of the Arts. Prior to coming to MSA, Verplaetse taught music in public schools in Indiana and Colorado for 11 years, 7 of which were part of the nationally recognized Performing Arts Department of Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, IN. Verplaetse earned his undergraduate degree in Music Education from Butler University in Indianapolis, IN, and his master’s in Music Education from Ball State University in Munce, IN. In addition to his teaching career, Verplaetse continues to enjoy performing as a saxophonist and clarinetist.
KJ Dahlaw is a dance artist and educator, parent and resident of Richmond, CA. They have an MFA in Dance from Saint Mary’s College of CA and a BFA in Dance Performance from Northern Illinois University. KJ spent four years teaching ballet, modern and jazz dance at the University of Nevada Reno before moving to the Bay to finish their graduate degree. Currently, KJ teaches dance in the youth program at ODC in San Francisco and with the East Bay Center of Performing Arts in Richmond, CA. As a teaching artist KJ is interested in cultivating curiosity, presence and aliveness in the dancing body.
Scott deTurk has worked in theater, film, television and recording, as a composer, arranger, orchestrator and musical director. deTurk has nine published musicals and collaborated on the award-winning musical The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, produced in Los Angeles. He has also worked as a writer and composer for numerous commercial clients, including Disney, Time Warner, HBO, ESPN and ABC. As a composer, musical director and accompanist, he has worked with numerous Broadway performers, including James Barbour, Armelia McQueen, Josie DeGuzman, Yvette Lawrence, Beth Malone, James Clow, Terri Bibb, Catherine McPhee, Lynn Winterstellar, DeLyse Lively, Eddie Mekka, Barbra Luna, Matt Cavanaugh, Max Von Essen, David Burnham and Tony winners, Beth Leavel and Cleavant Derricks.
Lacey Escabar is a classical ballet instructor and former professional dancer with the San Francisco Ballet Company. She received her training at Dance Theater 7 in her hometown of Fairfax, California and then went on to continue her dance education at the San Francisco Ballet School. There, she was awarded the first-ever Richard Barker Scholarship Award in her years as a trainee. Upon entering the company, Lacey had the opportunity to work with ballet’s leading choreographers and performed in numerous national and international tours. Lacey has also worked extensively in film, television and print. She absolutely loves teaching and is thrilled to be a part of the MSA community.
Haley Morgan Miller
Haley Morgan Miller is a dancer, choreographer, teacher and creator from the San Francisco Bay Area. Haley began her training at Marin Ballet and Marin School of the Arts. Haley went on to study at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, graduating summa cum laude with the class of 2020, holding a BFA in Contemporary Dance. Haley has performed work by Mark Morris, Juel D. Lane, Michael Figueroa, and Jun Kuribayashi. She gained exposure from Flying Low & Passing Through and worked on repertory of Rami Be’er, Akram Khan, and Kidd Pivot. On top of the joys of teaching and thrills of performing, Haley is passionate about creating dances that explore interdisciplinary collaboration and modern technology.
Peter Ornstein taught Cinematic Arts for six years and served as Director of MSA for the last three before retiring in 2018. He is obviously unclear on the concept, as he returned in 2019 to teach Photography. Prior to teaching, Ornstein worked for CNN for 25 years as an assignment editor, director and field producer. He maintains that the excitement of photography lies in the intersection of what the photographer puts into their finished photo with all that the viewer brings when first gazing upon it. The result is often an artistically magical moment.
From performing with Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Aretha Franklin and Lavay Smith to mentoring musicians at MSA, Bill Theurer is a trumpeter who has performed on the nation’s most iconic stages from The Hollywood Bowl to Broadway and brings his experience and love of music to MSA students. When he’s not working with MSA Jazz musicians, Theurer teaches private lessons and performs with artists like the Marcus Shelby Orchestra and Jesus Diaz, among others.
Thunes is a bass player who currently plays with the Bay Area band The Mother Hips. He brings real-life band and contemporary music experience to MSA Rock Band students. He has worked with Frank Zappa and Dweezil Zappa, toured with FEAR and Steve Vai, and recorded with Wayne Kramer, Andy Prieboy, Mike Keneally, Marty Schwartz, The Waterboys, and others.