Youth play their part in La Cañada school board elections

If you have attended a school board or City Council meeting in the past year, you’ve probably seen at least one recent high school graduate in the audience, absorbing policy changes and city codes.

It’s not unusual for La Cañada Flintridge students to be active in the community; many get involved in several organizations and go on to top-tier colleges. But this year, a few have chosen to stay at home while attending a community college or returned home after graduating from a four-year college and are actively involved in civic affairs.

Four La Cañada High School graduates, all under 30 years old, are candidates in local races in the Nov. 5 election. Karyn Riel, Ian Mirisola and Kevork Kurdoghlian are running to fill three open seats on the La Cañada school board in a race that includes four other candidates. Alex Keledjian is running for an open seat on the Pasadena Area Community College District Board of Trustees in its district that includes La Cañada Flintridge. Two other candidates are also vying for the seat.

It’s a very different climate from two years ago, when the election for the La Cañada school board was nearly canceled due to a lack of challengers. Andrew Blumenfeld, at the time a third-year student at Princeton University, decided to run to “ensure there would be a conversation,” he said.

After he won the seat over an incumbent in 2011 on a platform based on reforming education, people were definitely talking. He also inspired other young people, fielding calls and emails from around the country.

But he also has inspired local young adults to seek public office in election this November. Some of the candidates said they were already thinking about running for a local school board race before he took office, but most of them cited Blumenfeld as a role model.

A past success could offer tremendous encouragement for young candidates seeking an elected position, said Dan Schnur, director of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.

“One of the greatest challenges we face is convincing young people that politics shouldn’t be for all old people,” he said. “When young people step up, it sends a message.”

Candidates who represent a particular ideology often inspire others who have a similar perspective, he added.

Keledjian, 19, said he has always been interested in education. He served as the student representative on the La Cañada Unified school board and was president of the La Cañada High School Republican Club.

“I was inspired at a young age to want to be involved,” he said.

He started attending Pasadena City College after graduating from La Cañada High in 2012. His father and uncle attended PCC, he said, so the school has become a family institution.

But he started thinking about what he could do to help the community after Blumenfeld won the election. The “upset” over an incumbent garnered a lot of attention, he said.

“When Andrew won, he made a lot of people turn heads,” said Keledjian. “He proved that anything is possible.”

Keledjian, who once thought his chances of winning a seat on the PCC board were slim, is now confident that he has a good shot.

Kurdoghlian, who is often seen around town or at school board meetings with Keledjian, said he doesn’t want his age to be a highlight of the election.

At 18, he is the youngest candidate. He has been attending Glendale Community College since his graduation last year from La Cañada High, where he was senior class president and editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper. Earlier this year, he wrote stories for the Crescenta Valley Weekly, often covering education.

Kurdoghlian said he is running because he thinks the school district needs to drastically change how students learn. His age, he said, is just a number.

“I want to turn the system on its head,” he said.

Riel, 29, had also been mulling a run for the school board for awhile, but a suicide at La Cañada High in March sparked her to get involved this year, she said.

Riel is currently completing her doctorate in clinical psychology at Pepperdine University and is a proponent of increasing mental health services in the school district.

She said that Blumenfeld’s success at winning a seat on the board while still in school made her believe that she could do the same.

“I find Andrew really inspiring,” she said. “Talking to him, you wouldn’t know he’s 22.”

Mirisola, 23 and a recent graduate of Harvard University, said no one has mentioned his age when discussing his campaign.

Like other young candidates, he said his age wouldn’t negatively affect how he would make decisions as a La Cañada school board member.

However, he believes Blumenfeld’s win did open the door for change on the board, and he said there will be even more shake-ups on the board after the November election.

“No matter what happens, there’s going to be a large amount of change on the board itself,” said Mirisola. “And that’s a great thing.”


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


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