Meet Your Team

Area Directors

Meet the local leaders who run your programs!

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Katie Niesche

Denver East, Colorado Area Director

 
I began with Innovation Learning as a Site Coordinator and worked my way up to Area Director. My experience working with children ranges from babysitting to working at summer camp to teaching fifth grade for 6 years. I attended Concordia University, St. Paul, graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education with a middle school math specialty. I am from Minnesota originally, but now call Colorado home. My favorite part of living in Colorado is being able to escape to the mountains to camp or hike, nothing beats some fresh air.
I love being a part of Innovation Learning and look forward to partnering with you!
 
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Denise Ruffalo

Arizona Area Director

My name is Denise Ruffalo!  I am The Regional Director in AZ.  I am so excited to see how much Innovation Learning continues to grow! I have A BA in Psychology with an emphasis in Child Development!  I have worked in the childcare industry for the past 20 years.  In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family. I married my best friend and we have 5 awesome kids!

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Brittany Byrd

Colorado Springs Area Director

I am the Area Director in Colorado Springs.  I have worked in the field of education for over 8 years.  I received my Bachelor’s in Sociology from the University of Oklahoma and then went on to earn my Master’s in Sociology at UCCS.  After obtaining my degrees I began a job counseling high school students at Steamboat Springs High School.  I then transitioned into a position as a registered behavioral technician doing therapy for children on the autism spectrum.  Working as a behavioral interventionist helped solidify my passion for helping children in all aspects of their life.  I am a consistent and thoughtful individual that conveys reflective decision-making. I form sincere relationships with the students and they respond to me with enthusiasm.

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Jessica Birgenheier

Denver West, Colorado Area Director

My name is Jessica Birgenheier. I have had the pleasure of working with children for the last 12 years. I have worked in before and after school care, preschool, special education and residential care. In my free time I enjoy playing and watching sports, reading, and spending time with my family and my dog Moose. I am so excited I get to share my knowledge and experience with Innovation Learning!

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Steven Roland

Denver Central, Colorado Area Director

 

I'm extremely excited to be part of the Innovation Learning team and I bring a wealth of after school experience! I'm originally from Kansas City, Missouri and I have a 4 year old daughter named Alexandra who takes up a majority of my time. I love sports, video games, hiking in beautiful Colorado, and anything active!  I moved to Colorado in 2014 to complete an internship at the Boys & Girls Club of the Pikes Peak Region.  Upon graduation I then accepted a position as the El Pomar Unit Director at a traditional club serving over 150 students daily in Colorado Springs until I moved to Denver in 2016.  I worked as Site Director at Cole Arts & Science Academy for 2 years and then moved on to be a Regional Supervisor for Discovery Link which is with Denver Public Schools. I'm extremely passionate about after school programs and serving youth!  I have worked with youth for over 15 years in a variety of programs, demographics, locations, and roles.  I pride myself on my personal values and always putting students first, making equitable decisions, supporting others, and creating an experience for those we serve that will make a lasting impact.  

 

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Justin Thibedeau

Medford, Oregon Area Director

 

Over my fifteen-year career as an instructor, I taught all ages in many countries and contexts. I have had the pleasure of leading teachers as diverse in teaching strategies as they were in their nationalities. With a M.A. in Educational Technology and extensive experience in STEAM education and Project Based Learning, I have looked beyond my classroom to mentor, but just as often learn from, colleagues and together orchestrate the design and evaluation of broad reaching curriculum. Throughout my career, I have found nothing beats working with other dedicated educators to help students reach their full potential and realize their goals. It is my pleasure to apply my skills to Innovation Learning in Medford, OR.

 

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Sandy Sweilem

North Shore, Illinois Area Director

Hello! I am the Area Director for Innovation Learning’s North Shore District 112. With 20 years teaching experience and administrative work as an Assistant Principal / Dean of Students, a Director of Operations for a corporate franchise, Director of Partnerships for schools, and finally, owning/operating a successful learning center, I love sharing my knowledge and experience with staff, families, and students. Working with Innovation Learning has given me a new found appreciation for their amazing, educational, and fun “before and after school” program. I pride myself on having an open door/communication policy where I’m easily accessible. I look forward to working with every family in North Shore District 112.

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Lisa Hansen

Northern Illinois Area Director

 
My name is Lisa Hansen and I am the area director for the Northern Illinois School Districts.  My education is in early childhood and I have 35 years of experience directing before and after school programs.  I joined the Innovation Learning team in 2016 and have made the safety and well-being of the children my first priority.  Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends.  My favorite part of being an area director is getting to know the children and watching them learn while having fun!
 
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Tina Owens

Decatur, Illinois Area Director

I am a native of Decatur, IL and a graduate of Millikin University with experience in youth programming and education. I operated a before and after school program for Decatur Public Schools as well as worked as a 1 on 1 instructor for the district.  I believe that all children are BRILLIANT! It is one of my life's purposes to love, support and encourage youth to tap into their brilliance. I am also accompanied by a phenomenal team of local educators for Innovation Learning who share my vision of helping children reach their excellence.

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Andi Gilbertson

Smithville, Missouri Area Director

I have been in youth development since 1996 working with children through before and after school care, theater, dance, and art classes, and church youth groups. I am a MO School Age Child Care trainer and an Executive member of the National AfterSchool Association.  I have been an Area Director for Innovation Learning since August of 2018.  My life's goal is to provide programs that allow children to grow and thrive in a safe and nurturing environment, allowing them not to have to grow up too quickly.  I have a BA in Business Management and Human Relations.  Jason Gilbertson and I have been married for 17 years. Together we have one son.  Outside of work, I like to read, create art in various forms, and travel.

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Asante Johnson

Maryland/Washington DC Area Director

I am a former Middle and High School Science and Math Teacher and Technology Integration Coach. I have worked as a STEM Instructional Specialist for various educational technology companies and an Instructional System Designer for various federal government contracting agencies. I have held numerous leadership roles such as STEM Department Chair, Instructional Coach and Grade Level Team Leader in various school districts around the country.  I am also a published science education writer. I have been named “Master Teacher” by Orange County Public Schools in Central Florida and was also awarded Teacher of the Year in Alexandria City, VA. I received a Bachelor's degree in Micro Molecular Biology from the University of Central Florida and a Master's degree in Secondary Science Education from the University of Central Florida. Currently, I am taking Information Technology certification classes to become certified in HTML, JavaScript, Ruby on Rails and Python. In my spare time, I love reading and cooking.

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What They're Saying...


  • “We love that Innovation Learning offers interactive and fun activities that incorporate learning. We enjoy the curriculum and topics that have been explored. The teacher is dedicated to the students and it shows that he cares about their success in school.”

    - Dana, Parent

  • It has been a positive experience for our families and the school personnel. Innovation Learnings services strengthen and enhance our instructional program while keeping up with the expectations we have established in our schools.

    Bhavna Sharma-Lewis, Ph.D, District Superintendent

  • “The staff is so friendly and caring and take their time to really get to know, not only the children, but the parents as well.  My son loves attending and is saddened on those days when he is not there, I am running behind, or I pick him up early and he does not get to see his friends…”

    - Cynthia, Parent

  • “The kids are given a great balance of encouragement, exercise, STEAM learning, and hands-on activities to promote education and creativeness. I highly recommend this beneficial childcare!”

    - Melinda, Parent

  • “One of the most impressive things I saw this year was the projects or "units" that the kids worked on.  I am unsure of the specifics, but the children worked in groups to research volcanoes and then give a relatively formal presentation, ending with a model volcano that actually erupted!  The kids were so proud to present what they learned, and all age kids were able to take part - even my preschooler.”

    - Amy, Parent

  • “For the first time in 10 years, I am thrilled with After School services and believe in their ability to actually strengthen and enhance our instructional program while keeping with the culture we have established in our school. Pure Genius. Thank you, Innovation Learning!”

    - Dr. Stephanie Musser, Executive Director, Candeo Schools

  • “He loves engaging in the STEM learning program as well. We have been so impressed with the things he has learned and been able to dream up through the program. We couldn't think of a better program for him!”

    - Corinne, Parent

  • “What stood out to me about this program is the fact that my child is always doing something different. I love that he’s never bored, and he actually asks me to go more days than he currently attends!”

    - Jennifer, Parent