Catholic education in Alberta has a new champion.
Serena Shaw, the chair of Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, is the new president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association. Shaw was elected to replace Adriana LaGrange, who will be resigning June 10, after 2½ years, to pursue other opportunities.
“I feel very excited, but I also feel the weight of responsibility. This is a pivotal time in Catholic education,” Shaw said.
“We need to speak with one voice and advocate to make a difference. I wasn’t expecting to be in this position, but I had been discerning leadership for a while now.”
In Alberta, some critics of Catholic education have called for a referendum to abolish faith-based schools in favour of one publicly funded system. Although Education Minister David Eggen has ruled that out, Shaw said the ACSTA ̶ and the wider Catholic community ̶ can’t afford to be complacent.
“It’s important that we get information about Catholic education into the hands of trustees, parents and Catholics in general to show them the value of Catholic education,” said Shaw, a school trustee of five years and chair of the trustee association’s advocacy committee.
“People understand the value of Catholic education, but we as Catholics are quiet and we don’t always have the right words to say. Advocacy is a big part of my role.”
The association represents trustees in 24 Catholic and francophone school districts in Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Yukon. Shaw notes that Catholic education is under fire not only in Alberta, but in other provinces as well, Saskatchewan and Ontario in particular.
“As faith-based schools, Catholic education is not just about the transmission of knowledge,” Shaw explained. “It’s about the formation of students through body, mind and spirit.”
While critics cite the cost of maintaining two publicly funded school systems, Shaw said it’s not a reasonable argument.
“One of the big things, especially in Alberta, is parental choice. Parents have a choice to send their kids to the schools they want. In fact, more choice helps because it makes everyone better,” Shaw said.
“Also, Catholics pay taxes too and they have the right to support the schools of their choice.”
Shaw herself is a graduate of Catholic schools, as is her older daughter who is now a student at Concordia University. Shaw’s younger daughter is currently a student in St. Albert Catholic schools.
Despite the challenges to Catholic education, Shaw said she remains optimistic.
“It’ll work out for us. We have a good coach, as in God.”
Shaw is the interim president of the ACSTA until its annual meeting in November, when she plans to run for a full term.
Outgoing president Adriana LaGrange “led the organization with poise, commitment and determination in a time of increasing pressure on Catholic education,” said Dean Sarnecki, executive director of the ACSTA.
Outside of her advocacy for Catholic education, Shaw is the music and young adult coordinator at St. Albert Parish. Prior to her election as a trustee, she served on a number of City of St. Albert committees and as a volunteer with the Special Olympic National Winter Games in 2012.