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In 1974, four students from different backgrounds and with various disabilities entered the front door of their new school

Today that school is the Almansor Education Center, located in Alhambra, California. From this humble beginning and with the unwavering conviction of its founder, Nancy J. Lavelle, Ph.D., that all students were capable and able of being competent, caring, and contributing members of society, Almansor would become the Institute for the Redesign of Learning (IRL).

We now serve over 2,300 children and adults annually.

Setting aside traditional approaches that focused on “changing the behavior” of individuals with disabilities, Dr. Lavelle and her team emphasized “working in partnership” with learners, families, other professionals, and the community to create a learning ecology of mutual learning, mutual trust, and mutual respect.

In 1988, after outgrowing its first site, IRL moved to a former elementary school in South Pasadena. With the expanded space, Almansor Academy, a school for students with developmental and emotional challenges, and the Early Childhood Education program continued to thrive and flourish. Shortly thereafter, two additional sites in South Pasadena were added for the Transition and Adult Services and Community Outreach programs. IRL’s Clinical Services program soon provided mental health services not only at its two clinics in South Pasadena and the city of Commerce but also at over 100 public schools. In 2012, IRL established the Westmoreland Academy in Pasadena, a specialty school for students on the Autism Spectrum.

As a team of committed students/clients, parents and caregivers, professional and support staff, board members, and community supporters, we work together in a profound endeavor that has supported the success of thousands of individuals of all abilities throughout the course of over four decades—a mission we look forward to continuing for decades to come.

Meet The Team

Nancy J. Lavelle, Ph.D.

Founder and Chair of the Board

In 1974, Dr. Lavelle founded the non-profit Institute for the Redesign of Learning. Today, the Institute is a catalyst for the design, implementation, and dissemination of innovative teaching and learning strategies for infants, children, and adults with learning, developmental, behavior, and emotional disabilities - including individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Dr. Lavelle received her doctorate in Psychological Studies in Education from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is also the principal author of Taking Charge® for Educators and Related Professionals: Linguistic Coaching for Special Needs and At-Risk Youth, and Taking Charge®: A Life Planning Partnership with At-Risk Youth. Dr. Lavelle has conducted over 300 workshops nationwide for parents, educators, and other professionals working with at-risk youth. She has served as a Review Panelist for the U.S. Department of Education National Exemplary School Recognition Program; the Council on American Private Education; as well as the Institute for At-Risk Infants, Children, Youth, and Their Families.

Dr. Lavelle has been a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Private Schools for Exceptional Children, the California Association of Private Special Education Schools, Education 1st!, and the Inside Edge Educational Foundation.

Colleen Turkal

Program Director – Almansor Academy

Steven Thompson M.Ed.

Program Director – Almansor Academy

Steven Thompson is one of the Program Directors at Almansor Academy. Steven has been an educator for over twenty years. He began teaching speech and debate to college and homeschooled high school students in the late 90/s in Illinois. He earned a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential upon moving to California and taught 4-6th grade. . Next, he earned his Administrative Credential and was a Middle School Assistant Principal and later a school Principal at both a site-based and virtual charter school.

Janet Lester, Psy.D.

Clinical Director Almansor Clinical Mental Health Services

Dr. Janet Lester joined the Institute for the Redesign of Learning in May 2018. She is a Licensed Psychologist. She received her Bachelors of Fine Arts in Modern Dance Pedagogy from the University of Oklahoma. She received her Masters of Arts in Dance/Movement Therapy from the University of California, Los Angeles and received a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Ryokan College. She has experience in a variety of mental health settings working with children and adolescents. Almansor Clinical Services provides field-based mental health services to children, youth and families ages 2-21 years old. Services aim to support children and youth with mental health needs in the client’s home, at the client’s school and in the clinic depending on the needs of the clients and families.

Diane Connell

Director, Early Childhood Education Program

Nicholas Pinto, M.A., PPS

Director of Education Westmoreland Academy

Nicholas Pinto joined the Institute for the Redesign of Learning in 2007. He earned his B.A. in Philosophy from Loyola Marymount University, where he studied the cognition process and the methods through which insights arise. Nick holds his Master’s in Education and Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) credential from Point Loma University, and has been educating and empowering children for over 20 years.
Nick began his IRL career as a Teacher Associate at the Almansor Academy, and has held several positions throughout the years. He rapidly progressed into the role of Educational Support Services Manager at Almansor until being promoted to Westmoreland Academy Assistant Director. Nick was also part of the IRL Autism planning committee in the years leading to the opening of Westmoreland Academy. Prior to his time at IRL, Nick was a long-time educator at Rolling Hills Country Day School where he taught middle school students a self-constructed Ethics/Self-Awareness course, which foreshadowed Nick’s current involvement with the philosophical underpinnings of the wholistic Taking Charge® approach and the overarching IRL philosophy, which drive our programs. Nick is also an adjunct instructor and linguistic coach for Taking Charge®, which is offered through UCLA Extension.

Karissa Tressa

Director, Transition and Adult Services (TAS)

Karissa Tressa joined the Institute for the Redesign of Learning in June 2017. She graduated from Azusa Pacific University in 2014 and has since been working in the Special Education field with Transition aged students. She is very passionate about helping adults with disabilities become more independent and be able to support and advocate for themselves. She has held many positions throughout the years, starting as a Day Program Instructor and later moving into the roles of a Job Developer and Program Manager before being promoted to the Transition & Adult Services Director. As the director, Karissa is dedicated to working alongside the Adult Day Program and Supported Employment teams to support their clients as they integrate in the community.

Meaghan Donahue


Staci Hazlett

Director Human Resources

Raul Martinez, B.A.

Director of Facilities & Transportation

Raul joined Total Education Solutions (TES) in 2008, bringing with him over 12 years of Facility Management Experience. Prior to joining TES, he worked as the Operations Manager at a prestigious building maintenance firm specializing in all facets of facility management projects. While there, Raul was responsible for managing labor and equipment budgets in excess of $2MM and 250 direct/contracted personnel for fortune 1,000 companies. Some of his more notable clients were Federal Express, Dole World Headquarters, Warner Brothers and the J. Paul Getty Museum. Raul is Six Sigma Yellow Belt Certified and plays a key role in developing and managing the Corporate Sustainability Plan for the Institute for the Redesign of Learning where he now oversees three departments.

Gabriel Vazquez

Community Engagement & Special Projects Manager

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