By Jennifer Yuma, UNL '21
Getting one degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is hard enough, but for educator Vann (Jones) Price, she earned a degree four times over.
Vanntaccale — a name conjured up by her mother’s great imagination — is a woman of many firsts. From a first-generation Husker, to being the first in her family to graduate college, Price is an example of how passion for education breeds success.
The Price matriarch, Mary Jones, had high hopes for all of her children.
“She always told her four kids that she didn’t give us a common name because she wanted us to be extraordinary,” Vann said of her mother. “She said our unique names gave us permission to be unique and special in our own right.”
Family ties were important in navigating Price’s continued success, with her grandmother providing her tools to stay involved in classes and activities. “I was a cheerleader in elementary school and distinctly remember my grandmother contributing to purchasing my uniform,” Price said.
It can be said that living with less can either discourage children or propel them for future success. For Price, it was the latter. Growing up in poverty in North Omaha, Price was taught to set her aspirations high, and to continue to do well in the Omaha Public School system.
“They both fed my spirit with affirmation, telling me I was smart and could do anything I set my mind to,” Price said of her mother and grandmother. “Neither were physically on Earth when I became Dr. Price, but their deposits yielded me the privilege of reaching that milestone.”
Malcolm X once said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Price emulated this quote by graduating with a Bachelor of Science in elementary education in 1989, and went on to earn a Master of Education in curriculum and instruction in 1996.
Where education goes, Price’s mother’s advice is not too far behind. “She told me to stay in school and I could write my own ticket,” the educator said.
As the 2010s started, Price decided she had more to learn. So, she returned to UNL, first securing a specialization certificate in 2014 and then completing her doctor of education degree in educational administration in 2015. Her dissertation was entitled: The Quest for Success: A Phenomenological Study Aimed at Understanding the Experiences of Successful African American Females in High School.
Not only did Price — an African American who had an impoverished upbringing — write her dissertation about those she identified with, but she also used that experience to directly cater to those students around her, starting her career as a fourth grade teacher and going on to become to associate principal at Lincoln North Star High School for 16 years.
That, to Price, has been what she takes pride in the most. “It still is the most rewarding achievement to date,” said the former principal.
Through vast experience, Price has proven that she has what it takes to lead the Lincoln education system even further with her new role as director of diversity, equity and inclusion for Lincoln Public Schools (LPS).
For this new role within the local school system, Price will work alongside an executive cabinet, with the goal of strengthening LPS’s shared values of equity, diversity and inclusion. Price will act as the intermediary between school administrators and principals to positively affect cultural proficiency in schools.
It’s always important to remember your roots, with Price saying that her university education has propelled her newest chapter. “I think the biggest bang for my buck with UNL was that it exposed me to the power of learning and what was possible for a first-generation college student, which allowed my confidence in my abilities as a learner to thrive,” Price said.
The university also helped broaden Price’s cultural views, giving her opportunities to learn abroad and meet others outside of the Nebraska bubble. “I credit UNL in part for my preparedness because they provided me opportunities to experience learning in many different ways including an exchange visit to Australia,” she said.
It just takes one teacher to connect and make a difference for a student; for Price, she had two.
“The professors that I connected with the most were Dr. Rachelle Winkle-Wagner and Dr. Larry Dlugosh,” Price said. “Dr. Winkle-Wagner is responsible for helping me better understand qualitative research, and she listened to my ideas about what I wanted to study and asked great questions which caused me to pursue my passion of understanding the experiences of successful African American females in high school.”
“Dr. Dlugosh was always approachable and shared a genuine concern for me as a learner whose experiences varied from the norm.”
Price’s admiration for her professors was reciprocated, with Dlugosh highlighting his former student’s academic talents. “Vann Price is truly a leader of learning,” the professor emeritus said. “She’s dedicated to learning and is committed to helping students be successful learners. It was a joy to work with her, and I continue to rely on her advice when I have questions about diversity, P-12 learners and how schools organize for success with all students.”
Winkle-Wagner agrees, “I was so inspired by her work with Black women and girls in general.”
Outside of family and professors, the community as a whole believes that Price is the right one for the job, with Nebraska Engagement Specialist Peter Ferguson calling her, “the Beyonce of Lincoln Public Schools.”
“She has the presence and grace of former First Lady Michelle Obama, while bringing Ella Baker’s substance,” Ferguson said. “She continually works to advocate, provide awareness of inequity and access those most marginalized to ensure they won’t be the last (to succeed).”
Price doesn’t take the praise for granted, thanking her mentors for inspiring her along the way.
“As an educator it was always essential that I help students believe in themselves which many professors in the Teacher’s College first nourished in me,” Price said.
With a variety of expertise, wisdom, passion and support of the community, Price can look back at her grandmother’s words and never forget that there is always someone who believes in you.
“You should always know the home team is rooting for you,” she said.
By Jennifer Yuma, UNL '21