Annie Wright Schools are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization governed by a voluntary Board of Trustees. The Board is made up of parents, grandparents, alumni and community members whose time and expertise contribute to the operation of the schools.
Michele Cannon Bessler, MD is pleased to have joined the Annie Wright Board in 2015. Michele has worked in the Tacoma community now for over a decade in the role of a community pediatrician and is particularly impassioned with building relationships with families to help achieve optimal health and growth in all areas of development. She also is deeply rooted in volunteer roles in her Browns Point community and serves on the Mary Bridge Children's Foundation Board. After medical training and education in the midwest and east coast, she and her husband Robert Bessler settled in the Pacific Northwest to raise their three children (AWS Classes of '14MS, '20 and '18MS), where Rob co-founded and continues to act as CEO of Sound Physicians, a physician-driven health care company. Michele serves as the Strategic Planning Task Force Chair and also serves on the Board’s Trusteeship Committee.
Jim Defebaugh, Partner, Align Real Estate and Maritczak & Defebaugh, LLC, and former Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer of TrueBlue, Inc., joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2014. Jim recently retired from TrueBlue after 15 years of service, which followed 22 years at Kmart / Sears, most recently as Chief Legal Officer and Chief Compliance Officer. Jim also served on the Museum of Glass Board of Trustees for 6 years. Jim and his wife, Kristina Maritczak, have two children, Miles '25 and Katya '26, at Annie Wright. Jim believes that AWS is at the top of the list of crown jewels that Tacoma has to offer at both the national and international level, and serves as Vice Chair of the Board, Chair of the Governance Committee, and on the Executive Committee.
David E. Overton joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2018. David manages a fourth generation forest products business in Mason & Kitsap Counties and serves on community boards focused on community building and environmental stewardship. David and his wife Katherine Steuart have three children: Caroline '26, Henry '29 and Elizabeth '31, at Annie Wright. David serves on the finance and building committees.
Lisa M. Hoffman, professor at UW Tacoma, joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2016. Trained as a cultural anthropologist, Lisa has been at UW Tacoma in Urban Studies since 2002, holding a number of administrative leadership roles as well as being faculty. She and her husband, Bill Driscoll, currently have two children at Annie Wright and are passionate about supporting Tacoma and equal opportunity across Pierce County. They love the outdoors, their family animals (2 dogs, 1 snake), and the arts.
Percy Abram joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2016. Percy is the Head of The Bush School, an independent K-12 school in Seattle, and was previously Head of Gateway School in Santa Cruz, CA. He earned his BA in economics from UCLA and holds Master’s degrees in Education (UCLA) and Sociology (Stanford) as well as a PhD in Education from Stanford. Percy currently serves on NWAIS's Board of Governors and has served on the Board for the California Association of Independent Schools. At AWS Percy serves on the Head’s Support & Evaluation Committee.
Sally (Peterson) Atherton '66 joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2017. After attending Annie Wright from 1952-66, she received her BA (Colby College), her MS (Trinity University, San Antonio), and her PhD (University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio). During her career, she studied herpesvirus infections of the eye and brain at universities in Florida, Texas and Georgia. In 2014, she became Senior Associate at Health Research Associates to coach biomedical faculty on NIH grant writing skills. Sally serves as a member of the Development Committee.
Diane Bai, MD, joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2020. She is a practicing gastroenterologist at Franciscan Health Systems in Tacoma, co-founder of South Sound Women in Medicine (SSWIM), and served as Medical Director of Service Excellence at Franciscan Medical Group. Prior to moving to Tacoma, she was Clinical Assistant Professor at UW Medical School, Medical Director of Gastroenterology Department, and a member of the Board of Trustees Finance Committee of Pacific Medical Centers in Seattle. She grew up in China and California. After receiving her medical degree at UT Southwestern, she completed her residency at Columbia University and GI fellowship at Duke University. Diane and her husband, Clay Zhang, are strong believers in the Annie Wright educational philosophy of nurturing young people to become principled, creative, and reflective thinkers and communicators in the close-knit AWS global community. They have two daughters, Sasha '23 and Hannah '25.
Stephanie Cook ’88 joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2016, after having served on the Annie Wright Schools Alumni Board. Stephanie owns South Sound Dental Management, offering management services to dental professionals and organizations. After graduating from Annie Wright in 1988, Stephanie received her bachelor's degree from Smith College and a Masters degree in Business Administration from Seattle University. Stephanie’s daughter Lauren is in the Class of '23. Stephanie serves on the Governance Committee.
Bob Crist joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2015. Bob has been a healthcare executive and entrepreneur for more than 25 years and was the co-founder of the DesignRx family of companies, now a division of EnvisionRx/RiteAid. Bob currently serves in a business development role for Embryo Options, LLC, a company he co-founded in 2016. Bob is an honors graduate of both Washington State University (BA), and Seattle University (JD), and serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the WSU foundation. Bob has three daughters at Annie Wright, Lexie '25, Abbie '18MS and Ellie '20. Bob serves on the Development Committee.
Jeffrey E. Davis, CEO of Davis Property & Investment (DPI), joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2018. Under Jeff's direction DPI has become one of the most active privately owned commercial real estate developers and asset managers in Washington State. Mr. Davis and DPI are also very active in the local non-profit community, serving on the board and/or donating resources to several local organizations. Jeff is dedicated to giving back to Annie Wright for all that Annie Wright and its staff have given to his children, Jaeger '18MS and Olivia '24, over the years.
Laura Edman joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2015. Laura has worked with non-profit organizations for more than 30 years and brings a wealth of leadership and development experience to the Board. She is a third-generation Tacoman and she and her husband George are parents of two Annie Wright Middle School graduates, Tal Edman '01MS and Andrea Edman '06MS. Laura serves as Chair of the Development Committee.
Tony Escobar joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2015. A Pediatric Surgeon at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and a Medical Director of Pediatric Surgery and Pediatric Trauma, Tony completed his Pediatric Surgical Residency at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, State University of New York, where he served as the Chief Resident his final year. Tony and his wife, Kala, have two daughters, Ela '20 and Mia '22 and a son, Antonio '29. Tony serves on the Board’s Evaluation Committee.
Judy Forkner ‘63 joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2015. With a career in publishing, Judy worked as an Assistant Editor at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in New York City. After raising two children, Judy worked as the Director of Development at the Greenwich Health Association in Greenwich, Connecticut, and Public Health Research Institute in New York. Judy now spends her retirement with family and volunteering with Planned Parenthood, Phoenix Art Museum and the Nature Conservancy. She also serves on the AWS Global Alumni Board and Board of Trustees Development Committee.
Janelle Guirguis-Blake MD joined Annie Wright Schools' Board of Trustees in 2019. A clinical professor of family medicine at the University of Washington, she practices and teaches full-scope family medicine with a focus on underserved populations. She has been working since 2003 with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality where she has served in the capacities of chief medical officer, program director, and technical advisor for the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). Since 2013, she has worked as a principal investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research leading systematic reviews in the area of preventive medicine for the USPSTF. Her areas of expertise include health policy, guideline development, and evidence based medicine. She received her medical degrees from Dartmouth Medical School and Brown University School of Medicine, then completed her residency at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine and health policy fellowship at the Georgetown School of Medicine. Janelle and her husband, Jeff, have two daughters, Natalie '25 and Norah '28.
Manuel La Rosa joined the Annie Wright Board of Trustees in 2020. He is an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon who graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago and is in private practice in Tacoma & Gig Harbor. He served as an Affiliated Instructor at UW and was president Washington State Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, where he served as President. He is passionate about advancing education and creating individual economic freedom. Manuel and his wife Silvia have two children, Sebastian '13LS and Sofia '23. Manuel will serve on the Head's Support and Evaluation Committee.
Martha Lantz joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2020. She is an attorney with more than 25 years of public sector experience, initially with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office and, since 2009, as a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Tacoma. Martha has served as a Board Member and volunteer for many local organizations, including the Grand Cinema, the Tacoma Pierce County YWCA, the Greater Metro Parks Foundation, and the Annie Wright Schools Parents’ Association and as an elected member of the Pierce County Charter Review Commission in 2016. She and her husband Andy Fitz have two children, Owen Fitz '12MS and Allison Fitz '19. Annie Wright has been instrumental to the growth and development of her children and Martha is excited for the opportunity to serve as a member of the Board.
Damani Leech joined the Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2020. Damani is the NFL’s Chief Operating Officer of International, driving international fan development, player development, sponsorship and consumer products, as well as leading the planning and execution of International Series Games in key markets. Prior to his time at the NFL Damani spent 17 years at the NCAA national office in various roles. Damani, raised in Tacoma, is a graduate of the Annie Wright Middle School and serves on the Board's finance committee.
Marjorie Oda-Burns '66 joined Annie Wright Schools' Board of Trustees in 2019. After attending Annie Wright as a boarder from Hawaii and graduating from Pembroke College (the former women's college of Brown University) Marjorie completed medical school at Yale, with only seven women in her graduating class. After her internship at Stanford, Marjorie spent her career as an orthopedic surgeon in California while pursuing an active interest in medical ethics. Marjorie and her husband John's daughter, Theresa '04, also attended Annie Wright.
John Parrott first joined the Annie Wright Schools' Board of Trustees in 2010. In 2017 John returned to the board as Chair. He worked for Saltchuk a local NW company were he served as President at Foss Maritime and prior to that as President of TOTE Maritime Alaska. A strong believer in communities and education, he serves on both local and national non-profit boards. John has a BS in Marine Transportation from the US Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point) and an MBA from Seattle University. He and his wife, Lynne, an active member of the Parents' Association, Strength to Strength campaign chair and Gator Gala auction chair, have three children, Thomas '14MS, James '16MS and Anna '22.
Merritt (Klarsch) Pulliam, photographer and writer, joined Annie Wright Schools' Board of Trustees in 2018. Merritt worked for 20 years as a television producer and writer specializing in promotion. She worked for PBS/KCTS 9, Harpo Studios, and Birdhouse Creative before starting Merritt Pulliam Photography in 2012. She continues to write professionally. She spent nine wonderful years as a student at AWS and graduated in 1992. Merritt is passionate about Annie Wright's tradition of excellence and eager to help sustain its future.
Marilyn Strickland joined Annie Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2018. She is the President & CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and served as Mayor of Tacoma 2010-2017. Marilyn is an advocate for education that is inclusive and gives students the opportunity to explore the world. She and her husband Patrick Erwin were married at Annie Wright's Raynor Chapel.
Aliya Merali Virani '96, educator and school administrator, joined the Anne Wright Schools Board of Trustees in 2016. Aliya has worked in independent schools for the last 15 years in various capacities, from teaching elementary grades to serving as Curriculum Director, Director of Inclusion and Community Building, and now Director of Admissions at a school in Vancouver, BC. She obtained her Master’s in Elementary education from NYU and a Master’s in Private School Leadership from Columbia University. Annie Wright inspired Aliya's love of learning and service. Combining her love for travel and service learning, she co-founded an international summer program called Global Encounters where she continues to be a Program Director and admissions lead. Aliya serves on the head's support and evaluation committee.
Strategic Plan 2016-2021
The 2016-2021 Strategic Plan, affirmed by the Board of Trustees in April, 2016, took nearly 18 months to develop, with input from more than 140 people in the community, including students. This vision statement informed their efforts: Annie Wright Schools will be internationally recognized as educational leaders where tradition meets innovation and every student is inspired to make a profound contribution in the world.Learn more about the Strategic Plan.