Meet the Team

About Us

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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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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Sterling Werfal

North Shore, Illinois Area Director
Hello! I am the Area Director for Innovation Learning’s North Shore District 112.  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 the creative projects they work on, seeing the staff work with the kids not just on their homework but taking it further and going above and beyond to work with the kids on their basic skills, communication, presentation, creative thinking, etc. They’re learning and having fun!“

    - Parent at Eagle Heights Elementary, Missouri

  • “Wonderful staff!!! The BEST program we have used!!! Thank you, EVERYONE!!!!”

    - Parent at Ridgeline Academy, Arizona

  • “I really enjoy the staff! They help with my child’s needs and concerns. I highly recommend Innovation Learning!”

    - Parent at ALA San Tan Valley, Arizona

  • “The staff is awesome! I love how they do so many activities with the students. They are never bored. My children always get mad they have to leave for home when we pick them up. This shows how the program is wonderful and the staff as well. Such a nice group of people.”

    - Parent at St. Patrick Catholic School, Illinois

  • “The team is amazing - great caregivers and very nice people. I have great confidence in them and can leave my granddaughter there without any worries. Gives us such peace of mind which is important to us. I also appreciate how well stocked the center is. There is an abundance of supplies for crafts, work and play. Please ensure the team there is recognized. We don't know how we'd manage without this service!”

    - Guardian at Elk Creek Elementary School, Colorado