Who We Are

President and Senior Producer, Debra Chasnoff

Debra Chasnoff Academy Award–winning documentary filmmaker Debra Chasnoff is a nationally recognized champion of using film as an organizing tool for social justice campaigns, and a pioneering leader in the international movement working to create safe and welcoming schools and communities. Debra’s highly acclaimed documentaries addressing youth and bias issues are widely hailed by educators and advocates as among the best tools available today to help open up dialogue and activism around many of the most challenging issues affecting young people’s lives and school environments. Her award-winning films include Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, about the gender and sexuality pressures that teens and young adults face today, It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School, Let’s Get Real (about bias and bullying) That’s a Family! (supporting youth growing up in diverse family structures) and the Academy Award-winning Deadly Deception—General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment. Her first film, Choosing Children, explored the once unheard of idea that lesbians and gay men could become parents after coming out. In addition to dozens of film festival awards, Debra is the recipient of the Wallace A. Gerbode Foundation Fellowship for outstanding non-profit leadership, the Pathfinder Award from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and the first-ever alumnae achievement award in documentary filmmaking from Wellesley College. Debra has been a featured speaker at dozens of colleges and conferences, and is a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow for the Council of Independent Colleges as well as a Visiting Scholar in Public Policy at Mills College. She is the founder of GroundSpark and co-creator of our renowned Respect For All Project. She has served the organization in a directing capacity since 1982. Debra also serves on the GroundSpark Board of Directors.

Our Team

GroundSpark works with an evolving team of consultants on a wide variety of projects. Our current team includes:

Board of Directors (2017)

Joan Lefkowitz  (co-chair)

Joan Lefkowitz has been involved in the media production world for over 30 years. Joan’s current position as the San Francisco Public Library Web Services Manager puts her at the heart of the new media explosion, incorporating many forms of social media into a widely accessible format for a diverse audience of users. Joan was the editor of GroundSpark’s film, Deadly Deception, and she and her family are featured in GroundSpark’s film, That’s a Family!

Beth Miller

Beth M. Miller, Ph.D. is the Managing Director of Research and Communications at EL Education, known for “inspiring students and teachers to do more than they think possible.”  She previously served as Director of Research and Evaluation at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. With over 20 years of leadership at the intersection of educational practice, policy, and research, Dr. Miller has been involved in Groundspark since serving as a production assistant in the 1980s for Choosing Children.

Mary Morgan

Mary C. Morgan is a retired Superior Court Judge for the City and County of San Francisco. During her career on the bench she was Presiding Judge of the Municipal Court and Supervising Judge of the Criminal Division of the Superior Court. She presided over the Drug Court, the Domestic Violence Court, and the nationally recognized Behavioral Health Court. She was a member of the Judicial Council Task Force on Criminal Justice Collaboration on Mental Health Issues. She currently serves, by appointment of the Chief Justice, as a member of the Committee on Judicial Ethics Opinions.

Joyce Newstat

Joyce Newstat is the Founder and CEO of Rocket Science Associates, a consulting firm with expertise in public policy, communications, media relations and fundraising. Joyce has spent most of the last 25+ years working in public policy and on national, statewide and local political campaigns. As Director of Public Policy, Joyce led the development of then Mayor Gavin Newsom’s public policy agenda during his first mayoral campaign and first year in office – including same-sex marriage and developing assets and financial empowerment for low-income families. In 2012, Joyce was the Director of Attorney General Kamala Harris’ transition team. She works and volunteers on political campaigns raising money and does pro bono work in the women’s, Jewish and LGBT communities. She served for 10 years on the Board of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute. Joyce holds a Bachelor of Social Work from the State University of New York at Albany and a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Golden Gate University.

Lidia Szajko (co-chair)

Lidia Szajko is an independent filmmaker and professor whose work has screened on public television and at festivals around the globe. Lidia taught filmmaking in the Cinema Department at City College of San Francisco and served as Department Chair from 2002 – 2015. She served on the San Francisco Film Commission from 2001 – 2004. Her feature documentary, Girl Trouble, aired on the acclaimed national PBS series Independent Lens.

All of these individuals, except for GroundSpark’s President/CEO, are independent voting members whose terms of office expire in June 2019.