Many would be making plans to slow down after spending 17 years in community service, but Joseph Chang has other ideas. First elected in 2001—the year most current high school seniors were born—Chang in August filed papers to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot as a candidate for the San Marino School Board for a fifth time.
“I really want to help the school district,” Chang told The Tribune. “It is probably not a good idea to have too much turnover. Having three new school board members would not be a good idea.”
Seven candidates are competing for three seats on the five-member board. Chang and current School Board President Shelley Ryan are incumbents. Two-term Boardmember Nam Jack chose not to run. It is that same longevity Chang feels makes him a viable choice.
“Among the seven candidates, it is my experience and connections that place me at the top,” Chang said. The STEM class at Caltech, the Honors Humanities class at the Huntington Library. These were instituted with my help.”
Though those offerings are forward-looking, Chang said his top priority will be maintaining the traditional values of the San Marino Unified School District.
“This is a small community that is based on the spirit of volunteerism,” Chang added. “The PTA and PTSAs are very important to our educational community. Some of the other residents have organized another platform that bypasses the PTA format. They have levied a lot of criticism upon the school board, but we have to focus on the positive. We cannot destroy the existing structure of the school system. If you look where we are now and compare that to twenty years ago, there has been a big improvement.”
Chang referenced the SMUSD’s stranglehold as the #1 unified school district in the state, a title it has held for the past 17 consecutive years.
“I think that is very important,” Chang said. “That is an indicator for people looking to choose a school district for their family, which in turn protects our high property values. It is important that we protect our status to support the people who support our schools. The same people whose children have benefitted from our excellent schools.”
Chang said that San Marino is in competition with neighboring communities for families looking for a place to live in Southern California.
“If we don’t continue to improve, we will lose families and students to other districts in neighboring communities,” Chang continued. “La Cañada, South Pasadena and Arcadia are aggressively trying to improve their districts. There is a lot of competition.”
He also told The Tribune another of his priorities is to provide a positive environment for student learning.
“The security of our students, their overall health and wellness and preparing them for a college education is very important to me,” Chang said. “It takes a village to provide the best education and we can do that through our ability to work together. Through citizen involvement, volunteerism and participation in our PTAs.”
He also cited the Titan Wellness Center at San Marino High School and the Barth Athletics Complex at Huntington Middle School as projects that are vital to student achievement. Both facilities are currently under construction.
Chang also said open, transparent communication is important for the district’s success.
“I hope that in my next term I can bring all of the school parents together,” Chang said. “It is my goal to increase the channels of communication through the district’s website and our constant contact system.”
Chang added that he feels the district has met its burden on communication and asked that residents increase their attention level on the matter.
Chang was first elected to the school board in 2001 and was either re-elected or returned to office in 2005, 2009 and 2013. He was the longtime president of Glendora Community Hospital, retiring in 2014. He now works as a health care consultant.
His resumé in community service includes just about every role possible, including service as a past trustee of the San Marino Schools Foundation, a past member of the city’s Human Relations Committee, a past treasurer of the San Marino Public Library Foundation, a co-chair and campaign committee member of the campaign committee for the passage of the school district’s Measure E parcel tax and the president of the Chinese Club of San Marino in 1997. Chang is also active in San Marino City Club, the Rotary Club of San Marino, the San Marino Chamber of Commerce, the San Gabriel Valley Council of the American Red Cross, the Chinese School of San Marino and the Huntington Medical Research Institutes. Chang is also a member of the Board of Overseers at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. While president of the Chinese Club, Chang instituted the 911 Breakfast, which annually honors San Marino’s first responders on September 11.
Among the honors he has collected is the prestigious Golden Apple Award, which he was presented earlier this year in honor of his long service to the San Marino Unified School District.
Chang and his wife, Shwu, have two sons, Frederick and Patrick, both of whom are Eagle Scouts and went through San Marino schools. Frederick graduated from SMHS in 2006 and attended Pitzer Colege. He is currently a Hospitalist at St. John Regional Medical Center. Patrick graduated from SMHS in 2009 and UCLA in 2013. He is currently a resident in Internal Medicine at LA County USC Medical Center.
“A lot of people criticize me for not having children currently in our schools, but my wife and I have been very loyal to this district,” Chang said. “We had a chance to put our sons in private schools, but we chose to stay loyal to this community. That is still my goal: to be loyal to the district and to our school system. Whatever I need to do for the community, I will do.”
Chang claims he has missed only four school board meetings during his 17 years of service and feels he is “uniquely qualified” to return to his seat.
“I am semi-retired and I have a lot of time to spend to help keep the SMUSD at the top of the list,” Chang said.