About Southwest Ohio AEYC

Southwest Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children (SWOAEYC) is a state-level affiliate of the National Association for the Education of Young Children serving Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, and 16 surrounding counties:

Butler, Champaign, Clark, Clermont, Clinton, Darke, Fayette, Franklin, Green, Hamilton, Logan, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Shelby, and Warren.

Our Mission, Vision, Values, and Beliefs

The Southwest Ohio Association for the Education of Young Children promotes high-quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8, by connecting practice, policy, and research. We advance a diverse, dynamic early childhood profession and support all who care for, educate, and work on behalf of young children.

All young children thrive and learn in a society dedicated to ensuring they reach their full potential.

Our core values are defined in the NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct and are deeply rooted in the early childhood profession. In addition, we seek to be a high-performing, inclusive organization that is enriched by and continually grows from our commitment to diversity, as embodied by our core beliefs.

Core Values

  • Appreciate childhood as a unique and valuable stage of the human life cycle.
  • Base our work on knowledge of how children develop and learn.
  • Appreciate and support the bond between the child and family.
  • Recognize that children are best understood and supported in the context of family, culture, community, and society.
  • Respect the dignity, worth, and uniqueness of each individual (child, family member, and colleague).
  • Respect diversity in children, families, and colleagues.
  • Recognize that children and adults achieve their full potential in the context of relationships that are based on trust and respect.

Core Beliefs

  • Excellence and Innovation—We are imaginative risk takers willing to challenge assumptions while being accountable to our mission and fiscally responsible.
  • Transparency—We act with openness and clarity.
  • Reflection—We consider multiple sources of evidence and diverse perspectives to review past performance, note progress and successes, and engage in continuous quality improvement.
  • Equity and Opportunity—We advocate for policies, practices, and systems that promote full and inclusive participation. We confront biases that create barriers and limit the potential of children, families, and early childhood professionals.
  • Collaborative Relationships—We share leadership and responsibility in our work with others. We commit time and effort to ensure diverse participation and more effective outcomes. We act with integrity, respect, and trust.

Governing Board Members

Marie Willins, MSEd

Marie Willins has over 20 years of experience as an early childhood professional—as a teacher, trainer, and childcare administrator. Currently, she serves as a Manager for the Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership program at the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency. Within her role, she also has the opportunity to support a variety of center and family childcare programs as a Quality Improvement Coach for Cincinnati Preschool Promise. She has a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education, Administration and Leadership and has a passion for advocacy within the field. It is important to her that all teachers and families have equitable access to quality practices for children to achieve their fullest potential.

Morgan Wilson, EdD
Past President

Dr. Morgan Wilson has worked in the field of education for over 25 years with experience in both the public and private school settings. She was formerly Principal of Dayton SMART Elementary. She completed her Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from Liberty University in 2021. She also has a Master of Education in teaching and learning from Liberty University, a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies as well as family and consumer science from Eastern New Mexico University, and an Associate of Arts degree in marketing from Eastern New Mexico University. She is passionate about urban education and considers it her calling to provide high quality, diverse, inclusive, and equitable education to all students in urban communities. Meeting those needs through innovative, culturally responsive practices, professional development, and processes driven to inspire change in the community.

Connie Prairie, MEd, MEd Law
Past President

Connie Prairie has been involved in early childhood education for over 30 years. She has worked with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children. She has held positions with Butler County Educational Center, Hamilton County Educational Service Center, Cincinnati Center for Developmental Disorders, Clermont County Educational Service Center, Xavier University, Ohio Department of Education Office of Early Learning and School Readiness, State Support Team 10, North College Hill City Schools, and St. Aloysius Education Center. Connie believes that young children are our greatest assets and are at the heart of our future. She will work to ensure that legislators, business executives, higher education, and families of all types understand the importance of the first years of children’s lives. Her business, Prairie Educational Solutions, LLC, provides assistance for families of children with special needs navigate the educational system.

Lisa Garofalo, MEd

Lisa Garofalo is a career early childhood education professional with expertise working collaboratively with teachers, school administrators, parents, and community agencies with a focus on supporting early learning, development, and connections to support school readiness. Lisa has worked in a variety of roles including as a Preschool Teacher, Ohio Child Care Licensing Specialist, and Early Childhood Education Manager with Cincinnati Public Schools and School & Community Manager with 4C for Children. Throughout her career, she has served on multiple boards, associations, and state committees including Ohio AEYC, Ohio Help Me Grow Advisory Council. She has also served on a variety of Ohio Department of Education committees and workgroups including Ohio Teacher Licensure and Standards Revision, Ohio Regulatory Rules Revision Workgroup, and Special Education Rules Revision. Lisa is now retired and works as an independent coach and consultant.

Steven Argentiero, BBA

Steven Argentiero currently serves as Treasurer for SWOAEYC. After spending multiple years on the finance committee, he was appointed as Treasurer in 2021. He is a banker with U.S. Bank in Cincinnati and has a degree in business administration from Xavier University. He appreciates the opportunity to volunteer his time to forward the mission of high-quality early learning.

Kathy Benkert, BA
Cincinnati Regional Chair

Kathy Benkert is an Early Childhood Specialist for Learning Grove located in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. She has been working in the early childhood field for over 40 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Xavier University. During her career, she has been a classroom teacher, a school age coordinator, and a center director. As a center director, I lead my team in achieving NAEYC accreditation and receiving and maintaining a 5-star rating under Step Up to Quality. Part of her role as an Early Childhood Specialist is to coach others in the various areas of early childhood education. This requires her to keep abreast to current happenings in the field and advocate for the early childhood profession. To do this, she joined NAEYC and became active on the SWOAEYC board where she currently serves as Cincinnati Regional Committee Chair. Being a part of this professional group allows her the opportunity to share information with Learning Grove staff and other early childhood professionals in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Isabella “Bella” Frueh, MA
Equity Co-Chair

Isabella “Bella” Frueh (she/her/hers) has served the SWOAEYC Board for several terms, during which she also had the pleasure of joining NAEYC’s Young Professionals Advisory Council. Bella brings with her almost fifteen years of experience supporting families and working with young children in a variety of settings between both Ohio and Kentucky, though she received her Master of Arts in International Child Studies from King’s College London. Bella is an Ohio-Approved trainer, has previously served on the Public Allies Cincinnati Advisory Board, and is a graduate of and previous mentor for the Leadership Council for Non-Profits’ Board Orientation and Leadership Development (BOLD) program. Bella is an impassioned advocate for systemic change: not just in the early childhood field but in housing, healthcare, and all other systems that impact families.

Kim Ginn, BA
Board Member

Kim Ginn is the Vice President of Program Operations at 4C for Children, a non-profit child care resource and referral agency. Kim’s role includes focusing on the success, inter-connection and consistency of the programs that 4C delivers including assisting families in securing child care, professional development services such as training and coaching for child care providers and implementation of the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Prior to joining 4C in 2004, Kim earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University of Ohio and spent 10 years in the early childhood field as a teacher and administrator. She has presented nationally at NAEYC’s Professional Learning Institute and at the state level at the Ohio Early Childhood Conference. Kim’s passion is helping others recognize the importance of the early years on a child’s development.

Lois Keil, MSEd
Dayton Regional Chair

Lois Keil graduated from the University of Dayton with a Bachelors degree in Elementary Education and later added Ohio Certification for Kindergarten. After a few years, she received her Masters in Elementary Education with an Early Childhood Concentration. Meanwhile, she directed a Sunday preschool religious education program for 7 years and a Bible school program for 14 years. She was director of the Developmental Learning Center (DLC) Preschool and Childcare Program for 24 years and Executive Director for 4 years for DLC and Cradles to Crayons, focused on infant to school-age care. She is past president of the Dayton Association for Young Children (DAYC) and has served on NAEYC affiliated boards for over 35 years. She is also a member of various community organizations.

Rachel Konerman, MEd
Public Policy Chair

Rachel Konerman is an early childhood educator, researcher, instructor and advocate with the Arlitt Center for Education, Research, and Sustainability at the University of Cincinnati. Her interests include exploring the processes of creativity and inquiry in teaching and learning, nature-based early childhood education, and child and teacher mental health. She is passionate about amplifying the voices young children and their educators. Her work has been featured in publications including Teaching Young Children, Early Childhood Research and Practice, and Children, Youth and Environments and through presentations at local, state, national, and international conferences.

Angie Lance, BS
Programs & Events Chair

Angie Lance is currently Early Care and Education Manager, Costars with Best Point. Prior to that, she worked with 4C for Children as a PD Specialist and later was Team Lead, Quality Programs. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education and teaching.

Angela Faye Lyshe-Thierry, CDA
Board Member

Angela Faye Lyshe-Thierry has worked in the Early Childhood field as a Family Child Care Provider for over 26 years. She is the founder and owner of Kids Are Special People Family Child Care, a SUTQ 5-Star Rated program, where the first floor of her two-family home offers a warm, inviting, safe, and fun learning environment for children and community resources for families. A funny and touching part of her work is she has cared for six generational children. Angela is also an Executive Board Member of AFSCME Local 4023 Child Care Providers Union, on the 4C For Children Board of Trustees, and also a member of the 4C For Children Provider Advisory Group. She was the inspiration of recognizing the work of Family Child Care which lead to the creation of the 4C For Children Provider Relations Committee in which she serves as a member. She has earned her CDA from University of Cincinnati and has completed all but three courses towards an Associate’s degree.

William Mosier, EdD, IMFT
Board Member

Dr. William Mosier is Professor of Child Development in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Graduate Education Institute at Istanbul Gelişim University in Istanbul, Turkey and Child Development Specialist for Iradem Merkez Rehabilitation Center for children of Syrian refugees. He is also Director of Research at the Lynda A. Cohen Center for the Study of Child Development in Dayton, Ohio. He is former Professor of Early Childhood Education at Wright State University and Early Childhood Educator and Director of Head Start and Migrant Head Start programs in California. He completed doctorates in early childhood education from the University of Southern California and medicine from the Universidad Central del Este in the Dominican Republic. He completed post-graduate training from the University of Nebraska-College of Medicine and is Professor Emeritus of the American College of Disability Analysts. He served in the USAF as a Lt. Colonel in the Bio-Medical Science Corp as an International Health Specialist for Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Missions throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Judith Santmire, MBA
Board Member

Judith Santmire has served as the Chief Operating Officer of the Ohio Child Care Resource and Referral Association (OCCRRA) for over fifteen years. During her time at OCCRRA, she has overseen the development and implementation of T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® OHIO, POWER Ohio and Step Up To Quality incentives including Quality Achievement Awards. Most recently, she has assisted with the administration of pandemic federal stimulus dollars coming through the state for early childhood with Pandemic Support Payment Grants, Hero Pay and Stimulus Grants. Judith also facilitates two statewide committees including the TEACH Advisory Committee and the Higher Education Summit planning committee. Judith, who was born and raised in Columbus, is married and has a teenage son.

Denise Steward, MS
Equity Co-Chair

Denise Steward is an early childhood professional with over 40 years of experience. She has served as preschool teacher, education coordinator, center director, Head Start Director, Operations Director and Director of Early Childhood Education for several nonprofit organizations. She currently serves as Senior Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Learning Grove, a nonprofit that provides services to children, youth and families in both Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Denise holds a master’s degree in child development and family studies. She has served on the boards of 4C for Children, Cincinnati and Ohio AEYC’s, and currently serves as co-chair of SWOAEYC’s Equity Committee. She and her husband have four grown children, three grandchildren, and reside in Springdale, Ohio.

Kaleena Wiseman, MS
Columbus Regional Chair

Kaleena Wiseman has worked in the early childhood field for nearly 20 years. She has worked with children of all ages as a teacher, assistant teacher, center administrato,r and an early childhood professor. She is currently the early childhood director for the YWCA of Columbus Safe & Sound Center. Safe & Sound is a 5-star rated program dedicated to working with children and their families experiencing temporary housing issues. Kaleena’s passions are supporting the development of inclusive classrooms, learning through play, and trauma-competent care. As a certified Trauma Competent Care (TCC) through Trauma Free World, she provides relevant trainings and coaching on the topic of trauma.

Our History

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning, but, for children, play is serious learning.

Play is really the work of childhood.”

Fred Rogers