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Neil Peterson's unusual dual focus on at-risk kids and California high-speed rail project

Neil Peterson's high-powered career dealing with major transportation issues has been matched in his priorities over the years by his vocation to help kids overcome learning and behavioral disorders through his Seattle-based Edge Foundation.  

Now both his transportation savvy and his focus on students at risk with learning and behavioral disorders have guided him to plan major initiatives that would amount to career capstones on both fronts for the 71-year-old Peterson. One would be a $4 million national expansion of his foundation's leading-edge work and the other a $1.8 billion high-speed rail line along a planned high-desert corridor north of Los Angeles.

If forced to choose, Peterson might well say the Edge Foundation's future is more important to him because of the commitment that brought it into being a decade ago and what he hopes it can achieve with a dramatically expanded focus.  

But close behind would be the plan by the man who founded Flexcar and headed transportation organizations in Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles and Orange County to build a 63-mile high-speed rail line that would fill a missing link in what is expected to be a Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas rail service.

The non-profit's original mission of supplemental treatment and coaching for students and young adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to help them realize their potential through personal coaching was born out of learning that his son, Guy, and daughter, Kelsey, then age 14 and 13, were identified as having ADHD. "I felt I was responsible for that," he recalls thinking when he learned it was hereditary and thus determined that he had to do something about it.

Thus he created the foundation, and soon expanded the coaching focus, extending it to the whole area of executive functioning, described as "an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation,' meaning the ability to filter distractions, prioritize tasks and control impulses.

The foundation's goal is to help at-risk students, particularly what it describes as "an at-risk student -- a non-traditional learner with executive functioning challenges, ADHD being the most severe -- get the benefit of an Edge Executive Coach."

The foundation has been running a pilot coaching program for the past four years in seven of the 10 worst-performing schools in the state, taking employees of the schools and training them to be the individual coaches focused on enhancing executive function for the students who need help planning, prioritizing, staying focused and following through.

Peterson says "the single greatest predictor of academic success is executive functioning."

Now he is seeking $4 million to take the program national to provide individual coaching for a fee to allow the in-school program to expand and be self-sustaining. Individual coaching designed to not only help people but to raise.

Taking the program national will mean extending the Foundation's independent coaching program to students or other individuals wherever they are located, in schools or elsewhere, with coaches working via Skype or phones, for a fee. "We match individuals with one-on-one Edge Coaches, like the ones CEOs use," Peterson says.

The California rail project would create a spectacular denouement for Peterson's transportation career, which in addition to his role as executive director of Seattle METRO included serving as chief executive officer of public transportation systems in Oakland, Los Angeles and, most recently, the Toll Roads Authority in Orange County.

He also was founding CEO of Flexcar in 2000, guiding the nation's first successful car-sharing company to expansion to about two dozen cities around the country before it was acquired by AOL founder Steve Case in 2005 and later merged into Zipcar..

His international transportation consulting agency is guiding the effort to fund the rail project, would involve a high-speed line between Palmdale, north of Los Angeles, and Victorville, north of San Bernardino, running along route of the proposed High-Desert Multimodal Corridor project, which has not yet received its environmental approval.

A Las Vegas-based private rail project called XpressWest is developing a rail line from Las Vegas to Victorville, envisioning Southern California residents driving from the Los Angeles area to Victorville to board the Vegas-found high-speed train.

That plan got under way before the idea of a high-desert multimodal corridor was conceived, leaving from for Peterson's concept of a connection between the eventual XpressWest terminal in Victorville and a connection with the planned Palmdale stop on the planned California High-Speed Rail project.

Because of the controversial nature of the proposed route, for which environmental hearings are now going on, Peterson says it's possible the rail link could be approved before the highway itself gets an okay. He sees his role as getting the rail link funded and construction planning launched, perhaps as early as six years from now, regardless of what happens with the proposed highway itself.

One of the challenges for those with ADHD, which Peterson is certain he has had to deal with, is creating the ability to focus. He's doing that now with the two of the most important components of his legacy.

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