Our Leadership

“College preparation is a means to an end where scholars are equipped to earn a four-year college degree, come back to their community and lead and transform their own neighborhood in the ways that they imagine and the ways that they seek and believe are possible.”

Chris Gibbons, STRIVE Prep Founder & CEO

Founder & CEO

Chris Gibbons

Chris Gibbons is the founder and CEO of STRIVE Preparatory Schools, a network of excellent public charter schools transforming Denver by closing historic achievement gaps and preparing students who may be currently limited by previous educational experience or economic circumstances for college success.  Under Chris’ leadership, a STRIVE Prep school ranked 1st among all DPS middle schools for academic growth from 2006 through 2013.  In an effort to expand this success and student access, and backed by the Charter School Growth Fund and major Denver-area funders, Chris and the STRIVE Prep community have embarked on an impactful expansion plan to grow from 11 schools serving 3,500 students to 17 schools serving 7,500 K-12 students by 2022.

Prior to founding STRIVE Prep in 2006, Chris taught students in another charter school network and later directed Denver Summerbridge (now a part of the Breakthrough Collaborative).  Chris is a graduate of The Broad Academy and the Building Excellent Schools Fellowship and is a 2015 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow. He served as the Co-Chair of the Denver Public Schools Collaborative Council and is fluent in Spanish.  He holds a B.S. in Biology from Yale University and a M.Ed. from Regis University.  Chris is happily married to Audra Philippon, also a charter school founder, and they are proudly raising two daughters.   



Central Office Leaders

All of us at STRIVE Preparatory Schools wake up excited and honored to make a positive impact for the families in our community. We may not be in front of the SMART board every class period, but every day we’re supporting a talented team of teachers and leaders help our scholars STRIVE for college. Learn more about who we are at the STRIVE Preparatory Schools Central Office

External Affairs & Development

Lindsay Neil
Chief External Affairs Officer

Chyrise Harris
Sr. Director of Communications & Marketing


Josh Devon
Chief Financial Officer


Whitney Bride
Chief Operating Officer

Jeff Estes
Sr. Director of Technology


Matthew Brogdon
Sr. Director of Operations


Caleb Coats
Director of Athletics and Activities

Talent & Careers


Erica Garcia
Sr. Director of Talent

Teaching & Learning


Josh Smith
Chief Academic Officer

Rebecca Utton
Managing Director of Schools

Betsy Peterson
Managing Director of Schools

Kristin Levine
Sr. Director of Curriculum


Kaci Coats
Sr. Director of Student Services

School Leaders

We know that strong leaders develop excellent teachers, who then open a world of opportunity for our scholars. That’s why we seek and develop top-level leaders in education to motivate and inspire growth within our school communities. Learn more about each of our school leaders.

Far Northeast Schools

Elisha Roberts

Principal, STRIVE Prep – RISE


Jessica Savage

Principal, STRIVE Prep – Green Valley Ranch


Vachon Brackett

Principal, STRIVE Prep – Montbello


Tara Byers

Principal Fellow, STRIVE Prep – Montbello

Northwest Schools


Ben Lewis
Principal, STRIVE Prep – Excel


Lia Brunner

Principal Fellow, STRIVE Prep – Excel

Susan Morris
Principal, STRIVE Prep – Lake

Jessica Tillis
Principal, STRIVE Prep – Sunnyside

Southwest Schools


Josh Smith
Interim Principal, STRIVE Prep – SMART Academy

Libby Miller
Principal, STRIVE Prep – Federal


Rebecca Riopelle
Principal Fellow, STRIVE Prep – Federal

Kathy Esparza
Principal, STRIVE Prep – Westwood


Katie Ryan
Principal, STRIVE Prep – Kepner

Alexa Mason
Principal, STRIVE Prep – Ruby Hill


Elizabeth Craig
Principal, STRIVE Prep – Southwest Elementary


Andrew McKee
Principal Fellow, STRIVE Prep – Ruby Hill


Board of Trustees

The STRIVE Prep Board of Trustees is a group of committed community leaders who support the vision of clearing a path for all families to have access to a high-quality public education in their neighborhood.  Made up of parents, community, business, and foundation leaders, the board helps us maintain accountability to scholars, families and the community by holding public meetings every month to review school progress. Board members also regularly receive feedback from each school’s Family Council, which meets monthly to share parent feedback, organize volunteer efforts, coordinate special events and advise the Board of Trustees. Family Council is comprised of at least seven official members: The principal or a principal designee, at least one teacher who provides instruction at the school, at least four parents or legal guardians of students enrolled in the school, and a community member who does not have children in and is not employed by the school.

Board meeting schedules, agendas and minutes can be found on the Accountability page.  To attend a meeting or participate in a conference call, please email Camille Howells, Sr. Director of Development at chowells@striveprep.org.  If you have other questions, please email Board Chair, Keith Trammell at keith.trammell@hoganlovells.com.


Board of Trustees

Michael Barkin, Vail Resorts

Michael joined Vail Resorts in 2012 and currently serves at the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Prior, Michael worked at KRG Capital and Bain Capital, where he worked on new investment opportunities, acquisitions, strategic initiatives, and strategy consulting.  Michael received his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and graduated from Williams College with a BA in economics.


Brooke Brown, Carson Foundation

Brooke is the Executive Director of the Carson Foundation, a family foundation focused on education granting in the Denver area.  Brooke began her career in education at Thayer Academy, in Braintree, MA, where she was a teacher, coach and Dean over 6 years. She also taught at East High School in Denver (2004-05), and co-founded and served as Associate Director of Project VOYCE (Voices of Youth Changing Education, 2005-07). Brooke served as the board chair at Urban Peak (2007-08) and is the current board chair at the Denver Public Schools Foundation. She holds a B.A. in Spanish and political science from Boston College, a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in the School Leadership Program, and a PhD. in Educational Leadership and Innovation from the University of Colorado Denver.


Moira Cullen, The Capstone Group, Secretary

As a partner at The Capstone Group, a public affairs firm, Moira advocates for education reform, higher education issues, non-profit advocacy, mental health and human services, and children’s policy issues at the Colorado State Capitol. She also spent 4 years at the Colorado Children’s Campaign as the Director of Public Affairs, where she lobbied on child health, early childhood education, and education reform legislation. Moira moved to Colorado after graduating from the University of Virginia. She earned her Master of Social Work at Colorado State University and worked with at-risk youth, leading to a decision to enter the government relations field in order to impact change at a statewide level.


Dietz Fry, Endeavor Capital, Treasurer

Dietz is a Principal at Endeavour Capital, a firm that he joined in 2004 and opened a Denver office for in 2009. Previously, Dietz worked at Green Manning and Bunch, attended the United State Air Force Academy and graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in Biochemistry. He lives in Denver with wife and boys.


Chris Gibbons, STRIVE Preparatory Schools, ex officio

Chris is the lead founder and Chief Executive Officer at STRIVE Preparatory Schools. Recently named the Top Thinker in Education by The Denver Post and a Game Changer by 5280 Magazine, Chris is a graduate of the Broad Academy and the Building Excellent Schools Fellowship. He has previously served as the Co-Chair of the Denver Public Schools Collaborative Council, formerly directed Denver Summerbridge (now part of the Breakthrough Collaborative), was a charter school teacher, and is fluent in Spanish. He holds a B.S. in Biology from Yale University and a M.Ed. from Regis University.


Ethan Gray, Education Cities 

Ethan Gray serves as the Founder and CEO of Education Cities, a national network of 33 city-based non-profits, foundations, and mayors offices across the country that work together to accelerate the pace of education innovation and reform. Mr. Gray previously served as Vice-President of The Mind Trust, where he led the organization’s policy work and helped create the “Opportunity Schools Plan” for Indianapolis Public Schools – one of the nation’s boldest urban district transformation blueprints. Mr. Gray is an honors graduate of Harvard College and holds a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in education policy and management. He serves on the Advisory Board of Innovative Schools in Wilmington, DE and was a Special Advisor to the Kauffman Foundation’s Education Ventures Lab. Mr. Gray is an accomplished cellist and serves as the president of the board of trustees for the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra.

Frieda Hunter, 
Northwest Parent Council Representative

Frieda Hunter is a proud Colorado native. She grew up in a large household that highly valued education.  In fact, her father was an educator and school administrator. After receiving a BS in Physical Therapy at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Frieda went on to develop a 30-year career in the Neonatal ICU at The University of Colorado Hospital. She has recently transitioned into providing pediatric home care, serving as a pediatric physical therapist at MGA Home Healthcare, Inc. Her children both attend Denver Public Schools. Her son, a special needs scholar, is attending STRIVE Prep – Lake. One of Frieda’s core values and passions is to ensure that children with special needs are able to access and receive a high quality education, enabling them to reach their true potential. She is excited to serve on the STRIVE Prep Board of Trustees.

Marta LoyaFar Northeast Parent Council Representative

Darlene OrtizSouthwest Parent Council Representative

Darlene currently serves as an Executive Assistant 1 with Solid Waste Management, City & County of Denver. She has a BA in Management from the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota.  Her daughter attended Denver Public Schools for seven years, and she and her husband were very active in her school. Their daughter was accepted into STRIVE Prep – Federal in 2010-11 through the lottery system.  She transitioned to STRIVE Prep – SMART High School in 2013 school year. She has always been concerned about her education is very happy with the STRIVE Preparatory School network and what they are trying to achieve. She is proud to serve on the STRIVE Prep Board of Trustees and be a part of the growing success.


Crystal Rountree, Teach For America, Vice-Chair

Crystal Rountree is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives & Partnerships for Teach For America. She oversees the organization’s engagement and partnerships through nine strategic identity-and instructional-based initiatives. Prior to this role, she was the founding executive director of Teach For America Jacksonville, where she led more than 350 local staff members, corps members and alumni in the charge of ensuring that one day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education. Upon receiving her BA from Clark Atlanta University, Crystal taught first grade as a 2003 Metro Atlanta corps member where she was the regional finalist for the Sue Lehman Excellence in Teaching Award. Her story with her students has been featured in two books, Teaching As Leadership by Steven Farr, and Switch by Chip and Dan Heath. Crystal worked at the Houston & Atlanta institutes as an operations director, on the Atlanta regional staff as the director of special projects and later served as a senior recruitment director for Florida and Georgia. A Texas native, Crystal currently lives in Highlands neighborhood of Denver with her husband Chad and their puppy, Huey. She has served on several community boards and is a recipient of the 2012 Jacksonville Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 and Women of Influence Awards.


Keith Trammell, Hogan Lovells, Chair

A partner at Hogan Lovells, Keith concentrates in the areas of securities and corporate law, as well as international transactions. Keith’s practice involves a full range of corporate transactions. He represents buyers and sellers, both private and public, in acquisitions, mergers, reorganizations, and sales of stock and assets. Keith also represents clients in connection with public and private securities offerings, as well as entrepreneurs in the formation of various businesses. He has experience assisting public companies with respect to corporate governance and compliance matters, as well as experience representing companies with respect to business process outsourcing and managed service agreements.


Amber Valdez, Valdez Public Affairs, LLC

Amber is a Colorado native and partner at Valdez Public Affairs, LLC a governmental consulting firm. She has a B.A. in Political Science from Colorado State University and holds a Master of Public Administration from CU Denver. Amber is a voting member of the National Western Stock Show and was a finalist for the Hispanic Chamber of Metro Denver’s Young Professional of the Year award. She lives in Denver with her Yorkie Poo, Dexter.