Charter School Institute adds ninth board member: Liz Aybar, former principal at P.S. 1

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The Charter School Institute board is once again complete. Last week, Governor John Hickenlooper appointed a ninth member: Liz Aybar, who once served as principal of the now-shuttered P.S. 1 Charter School in Denver. Aybar and the other eight board members have their work cut out for them, as explained in the recent cover story, "A Hard Line."

The Charter School Institute, which was created in 2004 to help approve charter schools rejected by school districts with an ax to grind, has had its fair share of trials and tribulations. Before this year, the institute, which currently has 22 schools on its roster, had little in the way of policies and procedures about complaints, finances or staff responsibilities. "It was just scattered. You didn't know who was doing what, and the schools felt that," Ethan Hemming, the institute's interim executive director, told Westword. "When they called, they'd get different information."

With the help of about $100,000 in grants, the institute completed a strategic plan in July aimed at getting the organization on the right path. One of the first steps, Hemming says, was to fill out the board, which had been short a member or two for a while.

Enter Aybar. The former principal says she was first asked to serve on the board a little over a year ago. Seven months pregnant and in the midst of a move, she declined. "It seemed like the kind of thing I'd want to do but want to do well," she says.

Now that her life has settled down a bit, Aybar says she's ready to dive in. "I see the Charter School Institute as one avenue of creating great schools for kids," she says. "It's certainly not the only avenue but we should take advantage of every opportunity we have to improve the educational options for children."

Aybar has experience in both charter and traditional schools. She served on the first faculty selection committee for P.S. 1, which opened in 1995 as one of Denver's first charter schools. She also taught at P.S. 1 and was principal there for three years. She has taught at West High School and was an administrator at the redesigned Manual High School, which reopened in 2007. Her most recent education post was as an adviser to former Governor Bill Ritter. She's now executive director of a small family foundation.

Aybar says she's looking forward to her first Charter School Institute board meeting in January. Among her first duties as a board member will be to evaluate and vote on whether to renew three institute schools whose charters are expiring. They include the Ricardo Flores Magon Academy, whose problems were chronicled in "A Hard Line."

"My passion lies not only in improving education for all kids but particularly for those we've consistently failed," Aybar says. "I think through the Charter School Institute, there's potential to be intentional about what our needs are and what students' needs are and how we could potentially provide educational options for those students."

More from our Education archives: "Ricardo Flores Magon Academy: Why was embattled school named for anarchist writer?"

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