By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

As a parent of a Grade 2 student at a Catholic school, Greg Schell has skin in the game when it comes to how the Greater St. Albert Catholic school district is run.

“I believe that parents should have choice in terms of how their child should be educated,” said Schell, who is running for election on Oct. 16 for one of four trustee seats in Ward 1 (St. Albert and Area).

“Our children are not all the same. They come from different backgrounds and have different interests, so we shouldn’t just have one vanilla-flavoured school system,” he said. “I want to enhance and promote choice out there.”

Schell was one of six candidates who ran in the Fall 2016 byelection for the Ward 1 position left vacant by retired long-time trustee Dave Caron. Schell lost to Joe Becigneul, who is one of three incumbent trustees running in the ward this year. Also seeking re-election are Joan Crockett and Serena Shaw. Rounding out the ballot are Brigitte Cecelia, who also ran in 2016, and Austin Gerein.

Schell describes the byelection, his first attempt at any political office, as an opportunity to meet more people in the Catholic community and gain experience for the general election.

With St. Albert facing an aging population, the school district needs to continue to find ways to attract a larger pool of students, he said.

Schell, whose son Lukas is enrolled in a French immersion program, wants to lobby the province for more stable student funding for programs such as French immersion, pre-kindergarten, special needs, sports academies, and International Baccalaureate.

“I think when you look at our French Immersion program, it’s even attracting some families in northwest Edmonton,” he said.

The Catholic board should also continue expanding into areas surrounding St. Albert that are only served by the public board, said Schell.

This year, after a parent-led process to expand the district’s jurisdictional boundaries, students from the Carbondale and Namao areas in the County of Sturgeon now have the option of attending Greater St. Albert Catholic schools.

“I would like to be able to expand that net so that those parents (outside the Catholic school district) have an option, so that they could provide faith-based education for their children.”

Schell, who was born in Penticton, B.C., attended public schools until moving to Alberta in Grade 8. He attended a Catholic high school in Calgary. Now he wants to see the distinctive nature of the Catholic school system celebrated.

“We have a number of people out there who think that we should just have one public system, but I think that we should really be telling the story of Catholic schools,” he said. “When you look at our society today, if there was ever a time when you needed faith-based education, it’s going to be today.

“I think that the success of the Catholic Church and Catholic schools is what’s made St. Albert one of the best cities in Canada to raise a family.”

Schell is a member of the Knights of Columbus and Holy Family Parish.

He also wants to see the school board taking the lead to make sure that school policies are in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

“To me, if you don’t follow the teachings of the Church, then you’re just basically a public school with a crucifix in the front,” he said. “If you water things down so much and you become so politically correct and you become so normalized, and you’re almost the same as public schools, then people raise the question: Why do we pay for Catholic schools if they’re the same?”

Schell has a master's degree in business administration from the University of Calgary and currently works as a commercial property assessor. He believes his finance background will be an asset as a trustee who can look for savings to invest more into classroom delivery.

He will also use his experience as a legislative assembly researcher to lobby the provincial government for new schools and getting more technology in classrooms, he said.

“It’s important that the students are getting a faith-based education but also that they’re getting the science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related subjects taught in our schools so that they can compete in the 21st century global economy.”

For the official list of candidates in all three wards in the Greater St. Albert Catholic school district, visit the GSACRD website.

The Bishops of Alberta have also written a Pastoral Letter offering guidance in making informed choices in the upcoming school board elections: Pastoral Letter.