Joel Peterson

Joel Peterson, incumbent candidate for the La Cañada school board. Photographed on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. (Roger Wilson / Staff Photographer / October 3, 2013)

When Joel Peterson was elected to the La Cañada school board eight years ago, he saw it as a way to give back to the community. The 50-year-old is the only incumbent running for one of three open seats in the Nov. 5 election. Peterson recently sat down with the Valley Sun at Dish restaurant to chat about key issues facing the school district. 

Valley Sun: Do you support a high parcel tax rate?

Peterson: The worst thing that can happen is that we don't renew the tax. I would suggest going forward and asking for a renewal and getting rid of the sunset, so that we don't have to worry about it five years from now or seven years from now. We're not going to certainly not need it again, at least this base amount, the $900,000 that we're getting now.

And if we truly have the need, which I believe we do, we can come back and whether it's a few months later or whether it's a couple years later, we can come back for [an increase.]

The concern I see here is that we have two issues: a renewal and a potential increase. I'd like to go ahead and deal with the renewal and just get that out of the way. So I'm being more cautious, but I'm not in disagreement at all about what the needs are.

Explain your education business. What is it and why did you see a need for it in the community?

I don't think that has anything to do with my candidacy.

At the Oct. 1 election forum, you mentioned that you are interested in a social media initiative. Can you explain what that program would entail?

The school district is in a unique position to be able to put together and be the bedrock for a comprehensive program that includes some sort of curriculum where we're actually teaching some of the technology.

Let's say you have a course in which the class puts together a website and a coordinated Facebook page and a coordinated Twitter account and maybe other media, like LinkedIn. Then they could see the impact [of social media] and how far it reaches. 

We're teaching them PowerPoint, we're teaching them some coding. But this is something we can teach all kids and tie it in with other programs that we already have. I really believe it's time now to start the process of how to create a coordinated, comprehensive program for the phenomena of social media and how it impacts our children's lives.

What is one of the biggest problems facing students today?

The stakes are higher and the pressure is more than it has ever been. We're pushing curriculum sooner. For a lot of students, the stress is just enormous.

It's a lot of pressure on them that I didn't have at their age. We've made our kids feel like they have to go to a four-year school and they have to [get a degree] in four years. It's ludicrous to think they should be able to gain all the knowledge and the expertise in the same amount of time as I had then. 

I believe that helping our students find a balance and deal with that pressure is the biggest challenge that is facing our kids right now.

Can the school board address that challenge? Do they have the capacity to do that?

Absolutely. We are very strategic about trying to bring the right kind of curriculum early. We're not doing our kids any service if we wait to get them into a math program; those that can, we should be getting them into seventh-grade algebra. 

We can also make sure that we are giving kids realistic options and opportunities and letting kids understand their expectations and how to shape them. 

How we go about giving them extra curricular options is a great thing that we can do. It helps them balance their expectations and the stress that they are under.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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Follow Tiffany Kelly on Google+ and on Twitter: @LATiffanyKelly.

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