Board of Directors

Board members are unpaid volunteers who serve on the Board due to their passion for the school and its mission. Board members serve three-year terms, for a maximum of six years.

Lee Butler, President

David Ibata, Vice President

Jeffrey Denny, Treasurer

Jill Bateman

Brian Kelley

Melvin Nesbitt Jr. 

Kia Penso

Jill Phillips, Artistic Director and Head of Faculty, ex officio non-voting member

Laila Abdul-Hadi Jadallah, Managing Director, ex officio non-voting member


Jill is a practicing artist who received Certificates in Painting and Drawing from the Corcoran School of Art and the Washington Studio School. Jill is an active member of the WSS Atelier and is represented by the Foundry Gallery located in Washington, DC’s Shaw neighborhood ( Her work is held in corporate and private collections nationally and has been exhibited in various locations throughout the Washington, DC, area. Prior to focusing on her artistic career in Washington, Jill was a congressional legislative aide on Capitol Hill; a designer for a Los Angeles-based interior design company; and an executive recruiter in New York’s magazine publishing industry for clients including Conde Nast, Time Inc., and Esquire Magazine. She holds a BA in French and Economics from the University of Tennessee and studied art at the University of California in Los Angeles. Jill currently chairs the Board’s Scholarship Committee and has been instrumental in developing WSS’s new scholarship program. To see Jill's artwork visit, 



Lee began taking classes at the Washington Studio School in 2004 when the school was located in Bethesda. As a member of WSS’s Board of Directors, Lee brings a wealth of experience from his 25-year career in non-profit organization management. Lee has extensive IT leadership experience in website and electronic communications design management and strategy. He studied Comparative Literature at Princeton University and was also a student of the Corcoran School of Art. Besides serving as Board President, Lee assists with IT and website issues and is on the WSS Building Committee.


Jeffrey D. Denny is a seasoned communications professional with broad experience working with national leaders and corporate, public and nonprofit organizations, providing strategic and executive communications including speech writing, internal/employee communications, media relations, web materials and leadership consultation.  He was a political appointee in the President Bill Clinton administration as chief speechwriter to U.S. Secretaries of Defense Les Aspin, Bill Perry and Bill Cohen, and then for U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala. Jeff then led executive communications at Fannie Mae for 12 years. A four-year US Navy veteran, Jeff began his career as a journalist in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and was a National Magazine Award finalist for two consecutive years and co-winner of the top investigative reporting award.  

A 30+ year resident of Washington, DC, Jeff now is principle of Jeffrey Denny Communications, LLC, serving a range of clients.  He served on the Washington Studio School board from 2012-16, including ultimately as vice chair, and was instrumental in helping to develop the school’s five-year strategic plan.  


David Ibata is an American painter from the Washington DC metropolitan area. He received his education from the Corcoran College of Art & Design (BFA, 2008) followed by the New York Academy of Art (MFA, 2010). Ibata has been a copyist at the National Gallery of Art since 2012 where he is also a teaching artist for Art Around The Corner elementary school art education program. His work focuses on narrative painting and portraiture and takes inspiration from contemporary cinema, philosophy and life. Recent exhibitions include a solo show 'I See A Darkness' at Transformer Gallery, DC and 'Somewhere near the Inside' at Washington Studio School which he curated. 


Brian is a nationally exhibited artist and lecturer who lives and works in Alexandria, Virginia. Brian has exhibited and taught at schools including George Washington University, the College of William and Mary, George Mason University, Anne Arundel Community College, Prince George's Community College, Northern Virginia Community College, and the Washington Studio School. Recent exhibition venues include Bowery Gallery (NYC), First Street Gallery (NYC), Muscarelle Museum of Art (VA), Brentwood Arts Exchange (MD) and Capital Arts Network (MD), among others. Since 2018, Brian has served on the City of Alexandria’s Commission for the Arts whose role is to advise City Council with regard to policies that will strengthen the arts and further public access to the arts and cultural matters. He is also a former radio DJ for WCWM (VA) and WIUX (IN). 


Melvin Nesbitt Jr. is a DC-based visual artist specializing in mixed media collage. Inspired by the celebratory imagery of painter Ernie Barnes, Melvin centers children in his visual narratives of everyday American life. Layering paper materials over drawings and paintings to emphasize the complex nature of such themes as community, poverty, and race, Nesbitt recreates the settings of his childhood in a low-income South Carolina neighborhood. Combining self-taught skills with traditional fine art instruction from Washington Studio School, Melvin has developed a unique style of visual storytelling that invokes nostalgia and the inherent joy and enthusiasm of youth. He is a DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities FY21 Artist Fellow and Art Bank grantee. He has taught workshops and courses on storytelling through collage to children and at Washington Studio School. To learn more about Melvin, visit, 


A writer, compulsive reader, and lifetime student of literature and art, Kia Penso has had a longstanding interest in adult learning and its connection to creativity (Hint: they look exactly the same), and it really sped up when she fell in love with drawing and painting. 

Kia taught literature and writing to advanced undergraduate students at UC Santa Barbara’s College of Creative Studies and at Grinnell College; at Santa Barbara City College, she taught writing composition to a diverse mix of students, many of whom were undertaking their education while handling life challenges such as poverty, disability, language barriers, family responsibilities, trauma, and adjusting to a new culture. She managed and wrote for a newspaper in St Kitts and Nevis, and on returning to the United States reported on land use and the wine economy for a small local newspaper in Sonoma County, CA. Since moving to the DC area in 2005, she has supported her literature and art habits by editing reports and publications for international financial institutions in the public sector. She also helps individual authors get their writing projects finished. 


She publishes things when people ask her—which she doesn’t try hard enough to make happen. She writes about metaphor; about peacemaking and sacrifice; about literature as a source of theories of human motivation; about what literariness is; and about Caribbean culture and history through the lenses of the other subjects.  She holds a Ph.D. and an MA in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a BA in Literature from the College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara, and an MS in Journalism from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.


Jill is the Head of Faculty and Artistic Director of the Washington Studio School. She has been teaching drawing and painting classes to adults and teens at WSS since 2004 and has had the privilege of being a student, atelier member, and member of the board of directors as well. She has taught in museums, schools, and privately for more than 30 years. Jill’s undergraduate degree is from Washington University in St. Louis where she was in the School of Art, studying under Barry Schactman, Bill Kohn, Arthur Osver, and others. She spent 12 years building a graphic design business in Denver and DC before returning to graduate painting classes at George Washington University and the Certificate Program at the Washington Studio School. Her paintings and works on paper have been shown in solo and group shows in DC and nationally, including the Washington Studio School, Courtyard Gallery, Dimock Gallery, Artists Inn Residence Gallery, and Dumbarton Concert Gallery, and are held in private collections across the country.



Laila began her association with the Washington Studio School by serving on the board of directors (2015-16) and has been in the role of Managing Director since February 2018. She brings more than 10 years of experience in arts management and communications, having served in leadership positions at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, International Arts & Artists, and Art Fraud Insights, LLC, among others. Her work at the community, gallery, and museum levels includes addressing accessibility to the arts through establishing new business models and strategic partnerships and utilizing new communications strategies and presentation models to reach and sustain new audiences. She has worked with such esteemed institutions as: Art Museum of the Americas, Chicago History Museum, Middle East Institute, National Building Museum, US Fund for UNICEF, and Winterthur Museum, among many others. Laila’s photographs are in the permanent collection of the Office of Arts in Embassies, U.S. Department of State and have been featured in The Washington Post, DC Modern Luxury Magazine, and on Al Hurrah TV. She is a member of Museum HUE, Arts Administrators of Color and Art Table, Inc., and recently served on the executive committee of ArtTable Inc., DC, where she co-chaired State of Art 5/DC: A Conversation at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She was awarded a DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Artist Fellowship in 2017 and 2019. Laila is a 2019/20 Graduate Student Fellow at the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University, where is currently an M.A. candidate in Arab Studies at the School of Foreign Service.

Advisory Board

Jo Weiss, MFA, Chair

Founding Faculty Member

Washington Studio School

Eric Denker, Ph.D.

Senior Lecturer

National Gallery of Art


Catherine Kehoe, MFA

Visiting Lecturer, Painting

Massachusetts College of Art and Design

Mark Leithauser

Senior Curator and Chief of Design (Retired)

National Gallery of Art


Cory Oberndorfer, MFA

Adjunct Professorial Lecturer of Painting & Drawing 

The George Washington University

Adjunct Faculty, Corcoran School of the Arts & Design, American University, George Mason University, Prince George’s Community College and Montgomery College


Jack Rasmussen, Ph.D

Director and Curator

American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center 


Jennifer Samet, Ph.D

Professor of Art History 

City University of New York and


Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects NYC