Leadership Team

Scott & Jodi Thomason

Scott and his wife, Jodi, began their journey with early childhood in 2001 as a small in-home daycare in Peoria. Their vision has always been to provide the Peoria area with unique, top-notch childcare experiences that challenge the status quo. After moving and expanding their in-home daycare in 2004, they have been very fortunate to continue fulfilling this vision through the openings of The Wonder Playschool and the acquisition of A+ Children's Academy. They take pride in each of their centers and are grateful for the opportunities to ensure unparalleled care for the children entrusted to their care.

Karen Coyle
Executive Director

Karen Coyle has served in the field early childhood for over 20 years. She received her bachelor's degree from Illinois State University in early childhood education with an endorsement in mathematics. She served as Lead Teacher at United Presbyterian Church (UPC) Discovery Preschool in Peoria, Illinois. During this tenure, Karen implemented research-based practices, including the Project Approach. She presented student-led Projects at the NAEYC Conference as well as at the Heart of Illinois Association of the Education of Young Children’s Conference. Karen’s work experience also includes serving as a Family Educator, Preschool Teacher, and Teacher Mentor in DCFS-Licensed Child Care and Home Provider settings for the Peoria County Regional Office of Education Preschool for All Program. Karen joined Barefoot Learning, Inc. in May of 2017 and continues to partner with families in giving all children a jump-start to school success. 

Jennifer Bowman
Human Resource Director

Jennifer has always had a passion for working with children. After studying social work at Olivet Nazarene University, she spent three years working with children and teens in foster care. After choosing to further her education, she began exploring early childhood classes at ICC and started her early childhood journey. Jennifer has been trained in Creative Curriculum and has implemented it in childcare centers with infants, toddlers and preschoolers. After having opportunities to learn the business side of childcare, she found another passion for the behind the scenes work that takes place. Before joining Barefoot Learning, Inc. she served as the director of a childcare in Hopedale, IL for eight years. 

We consider it both a great privilege and responsibility to partner with you in the nurturing and educating of your child. We understand the immense impact these early years have on a child's future. Because of this, our early childhood teachers are held to the highest standard. We employ passionate, educated, and experienced individuals who are committed to providing your child the highest quality of care and education. 

Aziza Shoka
Lead Teacher

 Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aziza moved to the United States many years ago. She is the proud mother of three adult children and has been working in early childhood for over twenty-five years. She considers it a great privilege to play a significant role in such a pivotal stage of children’s lives. In her free time, Aziza enjoys reading Christian literature. 

Brittany Harris
Support Teacher

Brittany has been working with the children at A+ since 2017. She has had over eighteen years of experience in early childhood, where she has worked with children ranging in ages from birth to age five. Brittany attended Illinois Central College studying education and has two children of her own―a daughter and a son. When Brittany isn't working at A+, she enjoys making the best memories she can with her beautiful family.

Doina Hintea
Lead Teacher

Originally from Brasov, Romania, Doina attended the University in Romania and has a three year degree in accounting. She moved to the United States in November of 2008  and started working at A+ in 2014. Through her time working in early childhood, she realized her passion and decided to pursue a new direction with her career. In 2022, she completed a Child Development Associate program. Doina has two sons, Raul and Radu. In her spare time, she enjoys seeing movies and traveling.

Katie Smith
Lead Teacher

Katie was born in Peoria, Illinois and grew up as one of nine children (with eight older brothers!) She graduated from Bradley University with a bachelor's degree in psychology. Growing up in such a large family, lots of children were around at all times--and Katie loved it. After college, she spent time working in foster care with the Children's Home Association. She was the original educational liaison and loved having a job that allowed her to help at-risk children have the chance at a brighter future. Katie has three children of her own and considers being a mom her greatest accomplishment. After owning and operating a local restaurant for 15 years, she missed working with children and was ready for a career that focused on early childhood.

Kenia Santiago
Lead Teacher

Kenia has been working in the field of early childhood education for over sixteen years. She has had the opportunity to work as a preschool teacher, a bilingual English / Spanish assistant teacher, a substitute teacher for a variety of programs and school districts, and, most recently, as a preschool yoga instructor. Kenia is currently pursuing her Applied Associates Degree in Marriage and Family Studies as well as her children's yoga certification. Kenia's goal as a teacher is to be a role model and to foster and maintain a positive, fun, respectful and safe environment for children. She enjoys being able to help children grow and support both their academic and social-emotional learning. In her spare time, Kenia enjoys spending time with her two children and puppy, running, going on walks, playing board games, watching movies, cooking and dancing.

Lisa Winborn
Support Teacher

Lisa has been working with children the last few years and loves helping them gain knowledge and skills. Her favorite things about teaching are building confidence and seeing children feel proud of themselves. Lisa is currently working toward her bachelor's degree in psychology at University of Illinois Springfield and intends to pursue a master's degree. In her free time, Lisa loves to spend time hiking, kayaking, and trying new outdoor activities. Her loyal sidekick for most of these adventures is her Aussie/Border Collie mix, Dixie. She loves to hike, but is still training to be comfortable on a kayak. Lisa also loves spending time with her family and feels blessed to have them nearby. 

 Mithu Roy Bandyopadhyay
Lead Teacher

Mithu was born and raised in Kolkata, India, where she earned her masters degree in language and art, then taught at a high school for six years. After getting married, Mithu moved to United States with her husband and eventually welcomed a son. Mithu took an interest in early childhood after volunteering in her son’s preschool class, which led her to pursue a teaching career. She eventually went back to college to earn her associate’s degree in early childhood education, then spent four years as a preschool teacher. Mithu finds great joy in watching children grow and learn new things. In her free time, she enjoys reading, spending time with family and friends, gardening and traveling around the world. She also spends time as a parent volunteer for her son’s choir and band, as well as other activities.

Nancy Hinnen
Early Childhood Consultant, Teacher Mentor

As a lifetime educator,  Nancy is honored to serve alongside the team at A+, to notice each child’s moments of “awe,” and together, capture their wonder and craft learning experiences that open their minds to cognitive connections and new discoveries. Throughout her lifetime, Nancy has been fortunate to learn from many impactful leaders and from children and families through years of classroom teaching, administration, directing, training, coaching and consulting through the Peoria County Regional Office of Education and Heart of Illinois United Way.

 Tyler Thomason
Head of Maintenance

Tyler has been working with Barefoot Learning Inc. for over ten years. Even as a young child, Tyler was always building and fixing things. He is enjoying the opportunity to use these skills as a member of the A+ team. During his free time he enjoys detailing his car.