Board of Directors

Amir Kia, Chair

Amir has been developing and operating senior living communities in the Bay Area for the last twenty years.  He is a founder of AgeSong and now a Principal of Spirit Living Group, a real estate development and management company.  His work has received the American Society on Aging’s National Award for Excellence in creating exemplary programs.

Amir is a graduate of Wharton and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley where he has also taught.  He served eight years as Trustee of the Starr King School for the Ministry, a Unitarian Universalist seminary in Berkeley.  He loves the outdoors and walked the Camino de Santiago along the northern coast of Spain, hiking 850km in 30 days just before turning 40.

Amir was born in Tehran, grew up in the Bay Area and lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.

Ari Kelman, Director

Ari is the Jim Joseph Chair in Education and Jewish Studies at Stanford University. His research focus is at the intersection of Education and Jewish Studies, with an emphasis on the myriad ways in which people cultivate ethnic identities and practices.

He is the author of Station Identification: A Cultural History of Yiddish Radio (California, 2009), the editor of Is Diss a System?: A Milt Gross Comic Reader (NYU, 2010), and a co-author of Sacred Strategies: Transforming Synagogues from Functional to Visionary (Alban Institute, 2011). He is also the author of a number of articles about contemporary Jewish identity and culture, among other things.

Ari has a PhD in American Studies from New York University and BA in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz.

Kryss Speegle, Director & Chair of the COVID-19 Task Force

Kryss Speegle has held business development, production and education roles in the wine industry for nearly 20 years. She currently leads corporate sales at O’Neill Vintners & Distillers, where she uses her expertise in product scaling and global wine market dynamics to build strategic supply partnerships.

One of the world’s 416 Masters of Wine, she also holds a WSET Diploma and an MS in Food Science/Enology from UC Davis. Kryss and her family live in El Cerrito. She loves Ocean Beach, Victorian novels, exploring new cities and lingering on the Golestan campus while picking up her daughter.

She is very conscious of the importance of all the human senses and how inadequately we develop most of them. She believes that Golestan is the intentional way in which the environment and curriculum enrich the five senses from an early age, from the scent of fresh mint to the sound of different languages.

Leila Makarechi, Director

Leila Makarechi is passionate about working across sectors and countries to make impact. She currently leads international government strategy and partnerships at Coursera–the world’s largest online education company. Previously, she helped start and scale up Microclinic International, a global health organization. She has also worked for the Latin America bureau of the United Nations Development Programme.

In her free time, she volunteers as a Practitioner in Residence and Big Ideas Judge/Mentor for UC Berkeley’s Blum Center for Developing Economies and serves as a Board Member for a grassroots youth-led NGO in the Dominican Republic. Leila has lived in seven countries across four continents. She and her husband couldn’t be more grateful that Golestan is teaching their son to be a kind global citizen.

Saad Khan, Director

Saad Khan​ is the co-founder of Uprising where he focuses on stuff that matters. He and Uprising have invested in purpose driven companies like Lyft,, Devoted Health, ClassDojo, GoodEggs, Lending Club, SV Academy, Long Term Stock Exchange (LTSE), Virta Health, UpWorthy, LandIt, Watsi, and earlier in his career Jobvite, DianRong and Evolution Robotics (now iRobot). He was formerly a Partner and led all digital media / software investments at CMEA Capital. Prior to that, he was at​​ where he helped build incubator 1.0 in the valley.

He was one of the producers on multiple Grammy-winning jazz projects with Arturo O’Farrill “The Offense of the Drum” (Grammy in 2015 for best Latin Jazz Album) and “Cuba: The conversation continues” (Best Instrumental Composition in 2016). Most recently, he was a producer on Ted Nash’s “Presidential Suite,” winner of the 2017 Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.

Saad has guest lectured at the Stanford Design School and the UC Berkeley Business School. He’s mentored at StartupWeekends in post-Revolution Egypt, at the Google Developer Conference in Saudi Arabia, and has been a frequent speaker at the U.S. State Department.

Saad serves on the Board of the SETI Institute, co-founded by Jill Tarter, the scientist who was the inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in ‘Contact‘ (written by Carl Sagan, one of the early Board Members of the Institute). He loves storytelling, all things Sufi, and is down to play ping pong anytime. 

Yalda Modabber, Co-Founder, Executive Director

Yalda, is a former molecular immunologist, and later consultant to for-profit and non-profit organizations. As an undergraduate, she majored in Psychology, with an emphasis on Child and Developmental Psychology, finishing a dual degree in Experimental Psychology and Human Biology.  Yalda went on to pursue a career in biomedical research and spent eight years at Harvard Medical School, first as a research associate and later as a graduate student. In 2000, Yalda changed career paths and became a consultant for startups, Fortune 50+ corporations and non-profit organizations as a strategist and evaluator.

In 2005, Yalda posted an ad on a local listserv in Berkeley, in search of a Persian language immersion program for her first-born son Kian, then two years old. She received a response from another mother that led to a weekly parent playgroup and eventually became Golestan.  Yalda was hired as Golestan’s full-time Executive Director in 2008 and is an active board member for several organizations in the education, human rights, and humanitarian sectors.

Advisory Board

Ali Partovi, Advisor

Ali is an Iranian-American entrepreneur and angel investor. He is best known as a co-founder of, iLike, LinkExchange, and is an early investor and advisor at Dropbox, Airbnb, Facebook, Uber, and Zappos.  Ali is also an early promoter of bid-based search advertising.  He is currently the CEO of NEO, a communal venture fund, and serves on the Board of Directors at FoodCorps.

Galorah Keshavarz, Advisor

Galorah has spent most of her professional career working as an advocate for immigrants, refugees, and at-risk youth.  After graduating from UCLA, she spent a year teaching inner city at-risk youth in South Central Los Angeles.  After completing law school, she dedicated her career to litigating civil rights cases, consumer rights cases, and mass class action lawsuits on behalf of Plaintiffs.  Galorah is the founder of a boutique immigration law firm with a focus on providing services to those who do not have access to our legal system. She dedicated a large portion of her practice to advocating on behalf of asylum seeks, Dreamers, unaccompanied minors, and women who were victims of violence.

In 2014, she traveled on an aid mission to Zaatari camp in Jordan, the largest camp for Syrian refugees in the world.  This visit was a life-changing experience and Galorah now dedicates most of her time to helping refugees.  In 2016, she collaborated with a local non-profit called Refugee Transitions to create a “Women’s Initiative” that is dedicated to the needs of refugee women and their children in East Oakland. Galorah deeply believes in the philosophy that we all need each other in this world, and there is no better way of humanizing a crisis than through the art of sharing your personal experience.

Katherine Whitney, Advisor

Katherine Whitney is a museum consultant and writer. She earned a BA in art history at Duke University and a Masters in Museum Studies at John F. Kennedy University. In 1995 she founded Katherine Whitney & Associates, an independent museum exhibition consulting firm.

As the wife of an Iranian man and the mother of two Iranian-American children, Katherine strives to learn about and weave Iranian traditions into her family life. She has had the good fortune to travel to Iran three times to visit her in-laws. In 2005, she published an essay about her hybrid family in the anthology Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write about Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race & Themselves. In 2009, Katherine responded to an internet post about Golestan, hoping to find a Persian language class for her 12-year-old daughter, Leyla. With incredible generosity and creative maneuvering, director Yalda Modabber designed for Leyla a custom summer language program, and mother and daughter were instantly hooked.

Krista Bessinger, Advisor

Krista leads Twitter’s Investor Relations department where she is responsible for developing, implementing and managing a comprehensive, strategic IR program. Prior to joining Twitter in 2013, Krista spent five years at Google, where she led the Investor Relations team and served as the head of FP&A for Youtube. She has also worked as a sell-side research analyst, covering the Internet and software sectors, and as a buy-side research analyst where she generated long only ideas in the public software sector for a family of mutual funds and sponsored late stage private equity investments, eventually serving as an observer on the boards of six private companies. Krista holds a BA with honors from Smith College where she majored in cultural anthropology with a concentration in the history and social study of science and technology.

Laurie Capitelli, Primary School Site Committee

Laurie Capitelli is a Bay Area native and UC Berkeley graduate. Laurie is a three-term Berkeley City Council member and has served on the Berkeley Public Schools Fund Board since the 1980s when his own children were in the Berkeley schools. Laurie was a high school history teacher before becoming a real estate agent in the 1970s at Red Oak Realty; he is now retired. During his tenure, Laurie led the efforts on the Berkeley City Council for universal access to preschool and addressing substance abuse at Berkeley High School. Laurie’s civic life in Berkeley includes service on both the City’s Planning Commission and the Zoning Adjustments Board.  Before running for City Council, Laurie served as the chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Development and the Permit Process.

Matthew Stromberg, Primary School Site Committee

Matthew is a LEED AP licensed architect in California, and sole proprietor of the firm, Stromberg Architecture, based in Berkeley.  He received a graduate degree in Cultural Anthropology from Columbia University in 1994.  For five years, Matthew performed internationally with the MacArthur Award recipient and daredevil choreographer Elizabeth Streb in her professional dance company Streb, Ringside, Inc. based out of New York City.  

Matthew returned to his native Berkeley for a Master’s in Architecture from the University of California, which he completed in 2003.  His practice includes residential, commercial, stage set, furniture and architectural hardware design. Before establishing his own practice, Matthew worked for five years with the award-winning firm Fernau & Hartman in Berkeley.

Golestan Community Association

The Mission of the Golestan Community Association is to bring Golestan’s extended family and circle of friends together to support the activities of the school and collaborate with our local/greater community.

The Goals of the Community Association are to:

  • Create individual committees to coordinate and facilitate activities such as fundraisers, arts and cultural events, seminars and educational events, holiday events, and work parties
  • Build bridges with our local community
  • Make involvement in events well-defined and limited in scope so more parents and other community members can get involved
Meet Our Committee

Alexandra Singer
Aliah Najmabadi
Aline Kia
Angela Freitas
Asma Khan
Azar Zavvar
Banafsheh Giguère
Borna Jabbarpour
Caron Aghareza
Chrissie Kazerooni
Eija Ramos

Farigol Bineshpour
Farhad Farahmand
Johanna Schmid
Kryss Speegle
Ladan Sobhani
Laura Benghal
Leila Makarechi
Mahsa Mojtahedi
Maryam Shishineh
Melissa Partovi
Minoo Akbarian

Najla Janes
Naseem Badiey
Nazli Parvizi
Pegah Afkary
Rose Ketabchi
Sandra Ibrahim
Yasi Massih
Zainab Natour

Shuka Kalantari, Social Media Chair
Taraneh Arhamsadr, Communications Chair
Tiffany Charles, Chair