Lisa Roy started as executive director of Colorado’s Department of Early Childhood on May 16. (Ann Schimke / Chalkbeat)

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As chief of Colorado’s new early childhood department, Lisa Roy will shape a new state agency with more than 300 employees and lead the biggest expansion of state-funded preschool in program history.

Roy, 58, recently returned to Colorado after spending more than two years in Omaha, Nebraska, as director of program development at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. She started as the early childhood department’s executive director on May 16 with an annual salary of $165,000. 

During a recent interview in a temporary office a block from the gold-domed state Capitol, Roy talked about her own experience with the early childhood system — first as a parent and later as a policymaker.

“I have that experience as a parent of not being able to afford childcare,” she said. “My kids were Head Start kids.” 

Roy, who has three adult children, said she initially applied for state child care subsidies, but her ex-husband made $5 over the limit so she didn’t qualify. 

She later helped set child care subsidy rules as part of Denver’s welfare reform board, worked on a preschool tuition assistance program funded with a city sales tax, and led Denver Public Schools early education department from 2016 to 2019. She’s also held leadership positions in several philanthropic organizations.

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“I have experienced almost every single facet of what our department will do,” said Roy, who has a doctorate in leadership for educational equity from the University of Colorado Denver. 

The state’s early childhood department technically started March 1, but many of its operations start July 1. The department will oversee more than a dozen early childhood programs now housed in the state’s Department of Human Services and the Department of Education. It also will manage the new universal preschool program, an ambitious effort to provide tuition-free preschool to 4-year-olds statewide starting in the fall of 2023.