Women of Influence: Diane Price – President and CEO

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Diane Price is grateful for many aspects of her career, but the big one is this: “I still get to play with kids.”

The CEO of Child Nursery Centers for 15 years, she said the best part of her job is that reminders of its importance, such as hands sticky with peanut butter from an afternoon snack, are a few feet from her office door.

“You look around and you think, ‘Wow, I’m tired.’ Everything that nonprofits do is building relationships. But it’s hard work – building partnerships and collaborations and giving your message over and over again,” Price said. “But then I take a few steps and walk from my office into a classroom. I see kids learning to read or writing their names for the first time. It’s incredible to be able to connect so instantly with why you do this.”

Founded in 1897 in Colorado Spring, Child Nursery Centers was designed as a way for women to help each other raise their children. The organization has blossomed from one center serving 50 children to five full-day, full-year centers serving 390 children. An additional drop-in center for legal services, on Vermijo Avenue near the courthouse, has served 2,000 children since it opened in May 2003.

Child Nursery Centers runs a project called Home Network, which consists of 20 homes, each overseen by a woman that cares for an average of six children. The organization provides technical support, mentoring and training, and also creates a network so homeowners are not isolated.

“In our effort and support of parental choice,” Price said, “we want to make sure there are a lot of high-quality opportunities for low-income families.”

Price was nominated for Women of Influence by Adele Faber, the nonprofit organization’s vice president of development.

“I was very honored; I had no idea this was happening,” Price said. “That’s a very, very nice statement about the people I get to spend my days with.”

Faber is the self-titled “new kid on the block,” who started work at Child Nursery Centers four months ago. “She’s as good as it gets. She’s a great troubleshooter and she is respected by everyone,” said Faber, who has worked for several national nonprofits in Washington, D.C. “The children love her. When she walks into the classroom, they all run up and hug her.”

Faber has known Price longer than that, though. The two worked together on a bond initiative in Harrison School District 2 several years ago. As chairwomen of the board, Price and Faber were able to raise enough money to remodel both high schools in the district, complete repairs at several elementary schools and build a new school in the Sand Creek neighborhood, near Powers Boulevard and Airport Road.

A partnership between the city and the school district allowed an additional physical component for the new school, which doubled as a community center. “It was more than just a school. There is child care, before- and after-school care. It’s very successful, and very beneficial for the neighborhood,” Price said of the Sand Creek Family Center.

Politically, Price is on the front lines across the state to speak out for those who don’t have a voice.

For three years, she was chairwoman of a commission on early childhood education that was authorized by the state legislature. “We were trying to help people understand the need for high-quality early education programs, because of how they are connected to school readiness,” she said, “and how they are critical to the economic health of our communities.”

It’s good business, after all.

Studies show that children who attend preschool are more likely to be successful in high school, and therefore, more apt to attend college. Price helps children and families to be among society’s contributors, rather than its liabilities. She serves on the Early Childhood State Systems Team, an advocacy group that allows her to spend less time in Denver and more time in her own community.

“I hope that I am making a difference,” Price said. “I know that I am in the lives of these kids, but I hope someday it will help us as a society.”

So she continues to give her message, again and again. Yet Colorado, and El Paso County especially, are light-years ahead of other areas across the nation. With few resources guaranteed from the state or federal government-called “dedicated dollars”-the innovation has become imperative.

In 1999, the state legislature allowed communities with little capital to blend funding, program standards and philosophies to support of welfare reform. The creation? Child care “pilot” projects, in which for-profit and nonprofit child care organizations work to create high-quality services for children.

Even without federal funding, partnerships between Child Nursery Centers and Headstart have allowed both to create a total better than the sum of its parts. Price enjoys her work on the Early Childhood State Systems Team.

“(There are) so many people coming together across the state, all dedicated to early education. We figure out how to blend lots of programs, and how to empower children and families to be successful,” she said. “We learn what’s going on in other parts of U.S. & Colorado is years and years, and heads above, in early education.”

Price was a classroom teacher for 10 years. A native of the Quad Cities area of western Illinois, she was active in the teachers’ union at the local and state levels, and said she was grateful to be working with people who were committed to the success of public education. Although her love for children has taken her out of the classroom, and into nonprofit organizations, nurseries and the legislative arena, she learned invaluable lessons from her time as a schoolteacher.

“I learned some leadership skills and learned to compromise. But most importantly, I worked with parents,” Price said. “Parents are critical. This is about building relationships with families and having them understand what’s happening at school and having schools understand what’s happening at home.”

She also has learned to be committed to invariably fighting for one thing. Change.

“I am always willing to try something new. I have to promise the people I work with that we’ll go back to the way it was if it doesn’t work,” she said. “I tell them, ‘If it’s good for kids and we can do it, let’s give it a shot.’ It allows us to venture out there and take on new projects and partnerships.”

Price has been married for 17 years to Rick, who is the principal at Carmel Middle School. She has two stepchildren, Alicia and Tony, who both work in education. “We’re kind of an education family,” Price said. She also has a granddaughter, Paige.

Price’s activist side is apparent in her admiration of former Mayor Marylou Makepeace.

“I’ve been very intrigued with watching Marylou Makepeace-first as a city councilwoman, then working with her in Leadership Pikes Peak and getting to know her at a different level. Then I was proud of living in a city with a female mayor,” Price said. “I think she will continue to be an example as she’s moved into the not-for-profit sector. I admire her strength and commitment to this community.”