Leadership & Board

School Fuel is made up of an Executive Director, a Board of Directors and Officers, an Advisory Council, School Ambassadors and an ever-evolving volunteer force.

Executive Director

Susan Mathews
Susan is the executive director and a founding member of School Fuel. Susan previously worked as an attorney in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. for several years. She received her law degree from Yale Law School and her undergraduate degree from Ohio State University. Susan has been involved as a volunteer in public schools since she was a college student. Her favorite projects before joining the board of School Fuel have included working as a leader in a world events course for high school students, and serving as a literacy volunteer in an urban elementary school in Washington, D.C. Susan, her husband Christopher, and their three children have lived in Novato since 1999. Her three children attended Novato High School, Olive Elementary, Lynwood Elementary, Hill Middle, San Jose Middle, and Sinaloa. She has served in PTA leadership positions at each of her children’s schools. She has also served as a member of the NUSD Superintendent’s Advisory Team, and is an officer for the Marin County schools foundation known as SchoolsRule-Marin. Support for public education has been a family tradition in Susan’s extended family, which includes several public school teachers, administrators, and support staff.

Board of Directors

Kate McNear, President
Kate joined the School Fuel Board in 2017. Kate has lived in Novato since 2003. She and her husband, Dan, have two children who currently attend Novato High School, and previously attended Pleasant Valley Elementary, Lynwood Elementary, and Sinaloa Middle School. Kate has been an active school volunteer since her oldest son started kindergarten in 2011. She has served on the Pleasant Valley PTA Board, the North Marin Council PTA Board, the NUSD GATE Leadership Team, the NUSD District Advisory Committee, the Bond Implementation Committee, and the Budget Advisory Committee. Kate also chaired the campaign for Measure G, the Novato School Facilities Bond in 2016. Kate is an attorney who grew up near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, received her B.A. from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and her J.D. from the University of Washington.
Tamara Ressler, Secretary
Tamara joined the board in 2015. She lives with her husband in Novato with their two young boys. She graduated from Novato High School and Sonoma State University with a degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Finance. She works for Bank of Marin as a Branch manager of both the Ignacio and Grant Ave. locations, and has had a career in banking for over 25 years. She chose to work for Bank of Marin because of their community commitment to give back. Since Tamara joined the bank, she began volunteering and gained insights into Novato and became more involved in the community. After helping with Tour of Novato, she decided she wanted to do what she could to help Novato schools as a board member of School Fuel. Tamara has lived in Novato since 1996.
Ricardo Rivas-Avalos, Treasurer
Ricardo became a board member in 2015. He attended public schools in Sonoma County from 3rd – 12th grade and went on to graduate from Sonoma State University in 2012 with a degree in Business, with a concentration in Accounting. He moved to Marin County in 2013 to join Bregante + Company, LLP to advance his career in public accounting. The managing partner of Bregante is one of the founding members of School Fuel, which led to Ricardo becoming familiar with the organization and its mission of enriching the public education for every child in the Novato Unified School District. Bregante also encourages its employees to become involved in the community and volunteer for causes they feel strongly about. Ricardo believes in the popular saying that “you must be the change you want to see in the world” and decided to join the board to contribute his grain of sand in helping the local public education system and aid with the development of our future leaders.
Hope Blackman, Vice President
Hope joined the School Fuel Board in 2019. Hope grew up in Southern California and graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in Art History. Hope moved to Marin 7 years ago and has lived in Novato 4 years. She has a daughter who attends Novato High School and a daughter who attends San Jose Middle School. Hope has served on the Novato High School PTA Board for the past 3 years. She has helped with Academic Boosters to support the students at NHS. She has been involved in multiple fundraising events at NHS and one at SJMS. Hope is passionate about making sure art, music, libraries and other enrichment programs stay active in our local schools.
Heather Sammons
Heather joined the board in 2020. She is a native of Novato, who attended San Ramon Elementary, Sinaloa Middle School, and San Marin High School ’96. She went on to get her B.S. from the University of Arizona in ’00. She found herself back in Novato with her husband to raise her three children; the oldest is at Lu Sutton Elementary where the other two will join her in a few years. Heather currently works at the Buck Institute and has almost 20 years of experience in fundraising and events.
Stephanie Ericksen
Stephanie joined the School Fuel Board in 2022. Originally from snowy upstate New York, she completed a BS in Marine Science from Stockton University in New Jersey in 2004. After working as a field biologist for New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Fish & Wildlife, National Audubon Society, and Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, she found that what was most rewarding was sharing her passion for science and the environment with kids. She completed a Masters in Education in Curriculum Studies with a focus on science education at the University of Hawaii Manoa in 2013. Stephanie volunteers with the Rancho school garden and is also responsible for the creation and coordination of Rancho Elementary’s first Earth Day. Stephanie has three children, two who attend Rancho, and one who will be there someday.
Penny Janiak
Penny Janiak joined the board in 2022. She moved to Novato in 2013 with her husband, Mike and two children who are now students at San Marin High.  Penny grew up in the Midwest where she attended Oklahoma City and Del City public schools and later studied Broadcasting at Oklahoma Christian University. Penny is a writer with a broad work experience including roles such as international radio host, Corporate Management Trainer, Director of Development for a state wide AIDS charity and Legal Assistant. Here in Novato she has served as a board member for the Pleasant Valley PTA, Elementary Art Cart creator, School Site Council Secretary, Sinaloa Middle School PTSA board member, cheer parent coordinator, multi school Website & Social Media Editor, Blue Ribbon Parcel Tax Committee member, Yard Supervisor, Office Tech, Write Club creator and Library Media Specialist. Penny is a vocal supporter of art, music, libraries, athletics and student equity as foundational blocks of public education.

Advisory Council

The Advisory Council’s function is to support and enhance the work of School Fuel’s Board of Directors by providing advice and counsel to the Board in areas such as fundraising, finance, investments, volunteerism, marketing/advertising and communications with the community at large. Advisory Council members act as a liaison between the Board and the Novato community. Advisory Council members also provide the Board with connections to local organizations, business leaders, etc. for the purpose of fundraising, volunteerism, and recruitment of new Board members.

  • Sylvia Barry, Realtor with Coldwell Banker
  • Jeff Belingheri, Managing Partner, Bregante + Co., LLC
  • Mary Jane Burke, Superintendent Marin County Office of Education
  • Berta Campos Anicetti, public health educator and former School Fuel board member
  • Sabra Drohan, former School Fuel board member
  • Dale Kline, former School Fuel President, Director of Tour of Novato, veteran advocate for the children of Novato
  • Mimi Nielsen, 16th District PTA President, former School Fuel board member
  • Kerry Mazzoni, Public Policy Advisor, former California Secretary of Education
  • Joyce McCarron, School Fuel founder and former board member
  • Amy O’Connor, former School Fuel board member
  • Regina Bianucci Rus, CPA and former School Fuel board member
  • Edward Sangster, Partner, K&L/Gates, LLP
  • Sarah Sangester, community leader and former School Fuel Board Member
  • Elizabeth Sleath, community leader and former School Fuel President
  • Jennifer Treppa, former School Fuel board member and former NUSD School Board Trustee
  • Shelley Vasquez, graphic designer and former School Fuel board member