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A Mission-Driven Approach

LEARN Behavioral® originated from the idea of creating data-driven, culturally-relevant, and customized treatment plans that meet the diverse needs of children with autism. It should come as no surprise, then, that our leadership team takes a mission-driven, collaborative approach to leading LEARN into the future of autism treatment, with a growth-oriented mindset in tow.

Meet Some of Our Leaders

Tamila Sayar

Executive Director
Creative Learning Center

“Our approach as educators and behaviorists can strongly influence a student’s experience and ability to learn. It is our responsibility to adapt to all students’ learning styles to ensure success.”

 

Tamila Sayar, founder of the Creative Learning Center, has deep roots in education. As a child, her family moved to Iran, where her mom taught in multi-grade classrooms. Tamila learned the language. During the revolution, when American international schools were closed, Tamila participated in private lessons and one-on-one teaching sessions that her mother ran.

In the late 1970s, the family moved to the Bay Area, where Tamila often volunteered in schools and supported students who needed extra help. She studied at California Polytechnic State University and San Francisco State University, and she worked as a classroom aide for students with disabilities. This experience sparked her interest in teaching and individualized learning.

After finishing her degree, Tamila moved to Boston, where she worked as a middle school assistant guidance counselor and art teacher. She discovered the importance of personalized positive behavior programs for student success.

When she returned to California, Tamila taught while completing her special education credential. In 1999, she started the Creative Learning Center as an applied behavior analysis (ABA) and independent learning program. She assisted districts in setting up classrooms and training teachers for individualized programs.

In 2001, Tamila opened a preschool, Children’s Learning Cottage, which focused on inclusion, positive behavior management, and individualized learning. In 2004, she opened another preschool, Foothill Preschool, in Los Altos Hills. In 2016, she started a similar preschool in Colorado. Creative Learning Center grew, employing more than 100 people. Because of its success, the center expanded to include a program for grades K-6. The Creative Learning Center was acquired by LEARN in 2022.

Tamila is the executive director and is passionate about education. She lives in California with her son and two university-aged daughters.

Rick Weathers, M.A.

Senior Executive Director

“Our goal at Desert Choice Schools is for the students in our care to generalize the academic, social, communication, and adaptive skills they acquire and apply them in all settings — no matter where life takes them.” 

 

Rick Weathers, M.A., is the senior executive director of behavioral programs at LEARN Academy.

Before joining Learn It Systems and LEARN Academy, Rick worked in the public-school setting for 10 years as both a school psychologist and administrator. He co-founded Desert Choice Schools in 2006 after determining that many students with learning differences and behavioral challenges had minimal access to quality education and therapeutic programs that truly addressed their needs.   

Today, the institution continues to expand and thrive under his guidance. Rick also oversees the operations and development of LEARN Academy’s Private Day School Programs in Arizona and California.

He received his bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in educational psychology from Northern Arizona University. He is a nationally certified school psychologist specializing in evaluating and treating children with diverse disabilities. His passion for education and working with children stems from the deep admiration he had for his own teachers, counselors, and coaches while growing up in rural Arizona.   

Rick has extensive experience in both the private and public sectors. He has a wide range of experience in the public-school setting, ranging from program development to service delivery, and from school finance to facilities and student transportation.

His broad spectrum of experience has been instrumental in shaping his holistic approach to education, leadership, and the empowerment of today’s youth. 

Rick lives in Arizona with his two daughters, who share his passion for working with individuals with disabilities and intend to pursue careers in a helping profession.      

Karen Zieder, M.Ed

Executive Director
Desert Choice Schools

“Our team’s consistent dedication and deep commitment to finding success for every student in our care results in the changed lives of our students and their families. This is my why.”  

 

Karen Zieder is executive director of Desert Choice Schools, a private special education therapeutic day school.

Karen has a degree in special education from Arizona State University and a master’s in educational leadership from Grand Canyon University.

Before joining Desert Choice, Karen dedicated six years as a special educator working with public school students with emotional and behavioral challenges. That experience led her to meet the co-founders of Desert Choice Schools and join them. Over a 17-year span, she progressed from a special educator to site administrator, then regional director, and now executive director.

Growing up, a family in Karen’s neighborhood modeled inclusion before its time. That molded Karen’s belief that we have a duty to one another as people first. She says exceptionalities present us with the opportunity to grow and learn about ourselves and one another.

Karen’s desire to be an agent of change in children’s lives has been and continues to be the driving force in her career.

Outside of the work, Karen plays her violin in a volunteer community orchestra. She also bowls, puzzles, and enjoys spending as much time as possible with her four grandchildren.

Marybeth Jones

Vice President
Learn It Academic Services

“Each person’s struggles are different just as their gifts are different.”

“I always knew I wanted to work with children. In particular, my heart is with children who
struggle because they have a special need or have simply fallen behind,” said Marybeth Jones, Vice President, Learn It Academic Services. “I don’t want that struggle to prevent a child from being all they can be, so seeing that lightbulb go off is hugely fulfilling for me.”

Marybeth has more than 25 years of experience teaching both children and adults, in addition to operating large-scale supplemental education programs. She has conducted quality audits for academic improvement programs throughout the U.S., while leading workshops at the Illinois School Age Conference and the National After School Association’s National Conference.

Learn It Academic Services provides programs through a variety of funding sources to public,
private, and charter schools for pre-K to grade 12 students both onsite and virtually. It creates a research-based academic program for each student based on their academic proficiency and challenges, while continually monitoring and reporting on all key performance metrics.

The organization also provides a variety of academic and enrichment programs, as well as
comprehensive professional development offerings for teachers and administrators.
A common denominator to a child’s success is recognizing their unique qualities. “Each person’s struggles are different just as their gifts are different,” Marybeth said. “An effective academic program needs to take those differences into account for a child to help them find their confidence and to achieve more lightbulb moments.”

Marybeth earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Illinois State University and a master’s in education in curriculum and instruction from Grand Canyon University. Outside of the classroom, she maximizes time with family and friends, travels as much as possible, stays active because it’s hard not to be, and tries to keep her garden and houseplants alive.

Kari Nahgahgwon

Executive Director
Desert Choice Schools

“Every child is unique, so every program should be unique.”

“I recognized early on in my undergraduate studies that I wanted to pursue a career in special education,” said Kari Nahgahgwon, Ph.D., BCBA-D, executive director for Desert Choice Schools, a private therapeutic day school and alternative learning program, part of the LEARN Academy network. “Marrying psychology and education to positively impact the life of a child with special needs appealed to me right away.”

A nationally certified school psychologist and board certified behavior analyst (BCBA), Dr. Nahgahgwon has devoted the last 25 years to enhancing the lives of students, not only at school, but also in their home and community environments. She collaborates with school districts nationwide to develop proprietary programming for students with a range of exceptional needs, such as autism, as well as developmental, emotional, and specific learning disabilities.

The key to helping a student acquire new skills is to recognize them for their unique qualities and needs, Dr. Nahgahgwon explains. “An early mentor of mine, Ronnie Detrich, a pioneer in the field of applied behavioral analysis (ABA) in educational and clinical settings, emphasized the importance of thinking out of the box,” she said. “Every child is unique, so every program should be unique. I’ve found that to be true throughout my career.”

Dr. Nahgahgwon earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and education specialist degree from Western Michigan University, as well as a Ph.D. in school psychology from the University of Arizona. Outside of the classroom, she enjoys the outdoors and quality time spent with friends and family.

Dan Campbell

Executive Director
Beach Cities

“LEARN Academy teams with both the school and parents so that a student can achieve success at school, home, and in the community.”

 

“I’ve played on a lot of teams and coached a lot of teams, so I know what it’s like to overcome challenges to be my best, but also how to help others be their best,” said Dan Campbell, executive director for Beach Cities Learning Center and a former Division I student-athlete who played in the College World Series. “I draw on both experiences to help a student who hasn’t been successful in traditional academic settings be successful.”

With more than 30 years of service in education, including overseeing high school special education for the Torrance Unified School District, Dan works closely with school districts to help students meet their educational needs in the least restrictive environment. LEARN Academy enables students to advance through an academic- and behaviorally-oriented level system to achieve their personal and IEP-based goals.

In doing so, the organization offers a unique complement of education, mental health, and behavioral services that help students develop the functional and interpersonal skills required to succeed.

“LEARN Academy teams with both the school and parents so that a student can achieve success at school, home, and in the community,” Dan explains. “We provide a stimulating, supportive, academically challenging, and therapeutic program for students struggling in the public school arena.”

Dan holds a bachelor of arts in history from the University of California Santa Barbara and a master’s degree in education from Azusa Pacific University. Outside of the classroom, he enjoys exercising and any outside activities.

Lara Lazear

Executive Director
Light Street

“Every partnership we have with a school or district begins with trust.”  

 

“I’ll never forget Corey. He had this huge smile, but the symptoms of his cerebral palsy made it difficult for him to verbalize what mattered to him,” said Lara LaZear, executive director for Light Street Special Education Solutions, a provider of special education solutions that is part of the LEARN Academy network. “Not long after we began working together, he achieved some remarkable breakthroughs. You could see the joy on his face.”

A speech-language pathologist who is a member of ASHA, ArSHA, and CSHA, Lara has devoted the last 25 years to helping children with special needs achieve positive outcomes. She partners with schools and districts to develop and implement comprehensive programs grounded in evidence-based practices.

Lara helps them improve student success and meet their goals by providing special and general education resources ranging from highly trained professionals to research-based intervention plans to program design, consultation, and professional development. In addition to speech-language therapy, LEARN Academy provides resources in occupational and physical therapy, counseling, and school psychology as well as specially designed instruction provided by special education professionals. 

Trust is a key performance metric for Lara and her colleagues. “It’s important that our clients know who they’re calling when they pick up the phone, that we’ll be honest about our ability to solve a problem, and that we’ll never fail to invest the resources required to achieve success,” she said. “Every partnership we have with a school or district begins with trust.”  

Lara earned a bachelor of science degree in speech-language pathology from Northern Arizona University and a master’s degree in communication disorders from Arizona State University. Outside of the classroom, she enjoys being a mom to her three boys.

Michael Maloney

Founder and CEO

“Our story is about discovering an unmet need.’”

Michael Maloney is the founder and CEO of LEARN Behavioral. He grew up in Massachusetts helping his mom, a public school teacher, decorate her classroom bulletin boards.

Later, when he worked in education himself, he discovered something important. Kids with learning differences weren’t getting the individualized attention and support they needed. These kids had a broad spectrum of needs. The main need was a tailored approach. They were over-challenged, under-challenged, or left out completely.

From there, the seeds of LEARN Behavioral began to germinate and sprout.

Michael founded LEARN It Systems, the predecessor of LEARN Behavioral, in 2007. Since it started, the organization has helped more than 100,000 children find success.

“Every action, every decision, every effort we make daily across our organization is focused on one very deliberate and incredibly important goal: to find success for every child in our care,” Michael said.  

Before LEARN, Michael led the establishment of the Catapult Learning’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) supplemental services programs in more than 50 school districts nationwide. Prior to his education work, he worked at the Smithsonian Institution. There, he produced more than 150 education-focused recordings. They earned six Grammy nominations and won three Grammy awards.

Michael is passionate about education, and that’s what has shaped his career. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and three children. He holds a bachelor’s degree from The Catholic University of America.

Hanna Rue, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Chief Clinical Officer

As the chief clinical officer at LEARN, Dr. Hanna Rue oversees quality assurance, training, data systems, professional development, and clinical research. She brings to her role more than 20 years of work with individuals with developmental disabilities in home, school, clinic, and residential settings. Previously, Hanna held a joint position at May Institute as the vice president of Autism Services and the executive director of the National Autism Center, where she chaired the second phase of the National Standards Project. More recently, as part of a global team, she helped develop a standard set to define outcomes and measurement tools for treating autism spectrum disorder with the International Consortium of Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM). Hanna holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of North Dakota and maintains board certification as a behavior analyst.

Justin Funches

President

As president of LEARN, Justin oversees the organization’s autism services team. He brings to the position more than a decade of experience working with clinicians serving children with autism and other special needs at LEARN and Progressus Therapy (now Invo Healthcare). He holds both a B.A. and an MBA from Harvard University and is a founding board member of the National Coalition for Access to Autism Services.

Rob Haupt, M.S., BCBA

Executive Vice President

Rob oversees LEARN’s partnership department and clinical support teams, which manage administrative operations functions, including payor contracting, credentialing, intake, scheduling, authorizations, clinical compliance, and operational systems. He brings to the position 20-plus years of experience working with individuals with disabilities, having led the expansion of Autism Spectrum Therapies (AST) from southern California to northern California and eight additional states. With an M.S. in counseling, Rob is a board certified behavior analyst and has served on several boards and taught at California State University, Los Angeles.

Sabrina Daneshvar, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Senior Vice President, Clinical Services

Dr. Sabrina Daneshvar oversees service delivery and clinical operations across several states at LEARN. An active member of the autism community, Dr. Daneshvar has presented at many state and national conferences, authored articles for peer-reviewed journals, and served as a guest grant reviewer for Autism Speaks and a guest reviewer for the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions. With a Ph.D. in developmental psychology, she teaches graduate-level courses and is a board certified behavior analyst and licensed psychologist. Recently, Dr. Daneshvar was selected for Chief, a membership network that connects and supports female leaders.

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