CUSD 2022 Board Candidate Profiles: Aaron Peterson

by Mick Rhodes | [email protected]

Aaron Peterson sees his candidacy for the seat of Administration Area 4 on the Claremont Unified School District school board as a chance to make a difference.

He was “talking with [his] woman of chaos and all that society has been through in the past two years,” Peterson said. “It’s one thing to sit quarterback business and say, ‘Well, they should have done something better’ or ‘They should have done something different.’ But unless you’re actually willing to step up and do something about it and put yourself in a position where you can be a conduit for change, you might as well be yelling at a wall.

Peterson, 40, grew up on a farm outside of a small town in western Nebraska. His early education ran the gamut: he was homeschooled, then attended a private school, and spent his high school years in a public school. After high school in 2000, he joined the US Army. After training, he landed at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland in August 2001, where he worked with the National Security Agency. At the end of his military service in 2004, he was recruited by Lockheed Martin, where it has been since. He used the GI Bill to get his bachelor’s degree in 2014.

His wife Caitlin grew up in Claremont and attended CUSD schools. They met in Colorado and moved to Claremont in 2019, and have three children at Condit Elementary in first, second and fourth grades. This is his first foray into politics.

Peterson, who faces Steven Llanusa in CUSD Trustee Area 4, said his top priority became clear recently, after knocking on doors in his district and speaking with potential voters.

“It boiled down to yes, Covid has happened; it was difficult for everyone. It was difficult for the school district, the students, the parents, everyone. But to say that we should pull out the guns and point fingers and assign blame does more harm than good. However, let’s start running again. Let’s go on. Because we have thousands of students who are counting on us to move forward, to do better, to be ready for the next time. So let’s not blame, but do better, because this is our community and we owe the community. We are a family. We all work together, and I think those bonds of trust were really stretched for a lot of people.

He is keen to inspire students to think big about their potential, identifying it as one of the things he hopes to achieve if elected.

“I would like to challenge students to challenge themselves, to really understand not just ‘I go to school, and I do what my teacher says, and I do my homework,’ to engage in that minimal effort that students can get just because they can pass with a D. If you can pass with a D, why don’t you go the extra mile to go for the A?

“If we are to educate children to become adults and acquire the knowledge necessary to be able to go out into the world, shouldn’t we also instill in them the mindset of an adult? Take responsability. It’s not just your homework, it’s your ability to prove that you’ve listened, that you know what you’re doing, that you can go above and beyond, because that’s what you’ll need to do to be successful in a dramatically accelerating business environment globally.

This is another area that Peterson returns to again and again: education should be an introduction to an increasingly global job market.

“As educators and as people who influence educational decisions, we can be soft and pretend that all is well, but if we are not preparing children for a global commercial industry, then, again what do we pretend to do we have to challenge them to challenge themselves so if you want to graduate and you want to succeed well hopefully we will prepare you properly to succeed in a global economy, because we are literally competing with the best in the world, and not just with ourselves.

We asked Peterson about the criticism leveled at the CUSD board over the abrupt departure announced in April of former superintendent Jeff Wilson, who was one year into a three-year contract, and his replacement by the former District Manager Jim Elsasser.

He said the word he heard the most when discussing the subject with potential voters was “weird.”

“A clarification of the order of events for all parties involved would be a step of transparency, saying, ‘That’s when we made the decision to no longer require the services of Jeff Wilson, c That’s when we said, ‘Dr. Elsasser, we would like to see you again. Present the roadmap. How did it happen? Because I believe that an order of events – unless someone else has information – should be something transparent, to say, “This is how it happened”, especially for a superintendent.

“The questions had to be asked, and I think maybe all the answers weren’t clear enough. Responses are due.

Peterson explained how homeschooling during the darkest days of Covid deeply affected children in general and closer to home.

“My eldest is behind in his mastery of writing, because for a year and a half, everything has been digital.”

He said he was interested in working to identify and address pandemic-related learning delays across the district.

“Because we still owe it to them to get a proper education so they can meet the standards we have set for them as parents. As a school district and as a state, we still set those standards. Let’s not slack off; do better.

Peterson recalled wide turnout and lively discussions at school board meetings during the pandemic’s scorching days, when masks, Covid testing and transmission mitigation were on everyone’s minds.

“But now, the second school board meeting of this year, there were five people in attendance, three in the room, two in line,” he said. “If we want to move forward, we have to be present. We can’t pretend that the Covid is over, everything will be fine. You can trust this, but you also need to verify.

He hopes his potential constituents will take a more active role in council affairs, both at meetings and by making their views known in other ways.

“If you have a difference of opinion or a difference in policy, you have to voice it. If people don’t come to the school board, the school board can’t go around and knock on every family’s door and say “What is your opinion on this issue? It’s that common ground where people don’t meet.”

While there’s no requirement for school board members to have school-aged children, Peterson believes her situation — with three elementary-age children — offers her a unique perspective.

“As a decision-maker, if you are separated from the consequences of the decision because you don’t have children in school, how much less does that decision weigh on you?” He asked. “My children are in the direct line of sight of a decision that the school board would make. So that alone weighs more on me if I work to sit on this chair. I have to be very careful, because they are my children, and they are everyone else’s children.

As he left, he had a message for the current council:

“I don’t want the current school board to feel like I’m coming in and saying, ‘I’m going to do better because you’ve done worse.’ We don’t blame. I walk in saying, “I’d like to offer my position in life and my perspective as a way forward, as my sign says, a new voice for the community.” Because it all comes back to the community. I mean, it’s Claremont; it is a special city. And I knew that from the first time I visited my wife when I came here and saw her, and that was before we even dated. I said, ‘It’s a different city.’

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