When talking with Vandalia School Board member, Joe Schaal, one realization is obvious, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Since returning to Vandalia sixteen years ago, he’s been active within the community, especially the school system.
There's More Work to be Done
From coaching basketball to helping with the Fayette County CEO Program to checking in to see if the concession stand needs an extra set of hands during a Friday night football game, Joe focuses on being an engaged community member. He’s served on the school board for four years and plans to seek reelection in April.
When asked about his service, Joe shares that he “always tells people you can’t complain about what’s happening unless you’re willing to get involved and make changes. I wanted to get involved. I wanted to make some changes. I think we have, to this point, but there’s a lot more work to be done.”
A product of the Vandalia school system, Joe moved to Edwardsville to attend SIU-E and settled into the St. Louis metro area, accepting a position at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, upon graduating, but when it was time to start a family, his wife and he reconnected with the value of community and quickly returned home, a move he describes as a ‘natural progression.’
“We didn’t necessarily want to raise children in a larger community. I’m part of the CEO program here, and I always tell the CEO class that you don’t really appreciate Vandalia; you only really appreciate small-town USA once you move to the big city. Once you’re there, you see what small towns offer. That’s something that appealed to my wife and me.”
Joe is now the father of three children, all students within the district. His oldest daughter, at sixteen, is a Sophomore. He also has a thirteen-year-old daughter and a ten-year-old son. While he used to coach high school basketball, he’s currently coaching his son’s fourth-grade team, enjoying every minute of watching his son progress while being part of the community of his own youth.
“The thing that I’ve learned is the importance of being involved. In bigger towns, you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to become so involved, to shape the community, to shape the schools. You’re a small fish in a big pond. Whereas when you come back, you have every opportunity to jump in.”
From the Chamber of Commerce to the local churches to the school system, Joe considers the options endless, adding that, at times “I probably bite off more than I can chew. I try to jump into everything all at once. But it’s been rewarding. Community involvement is important to me.”
When discussing his vision for the next ten years, Joe is proud of where the school board is, but also shares that there will always be more to accomplish. He finds importance in prioritization with a focus on balancing between new initiatives and improving existing initiatives and infrastructure.
Joe hopes to remain part of the school board and knows the board will continue to ‘eat that elephant’ for years to come, hopefully making slow and steady progress as a result. His purpose is simple. “I think Vandalia is a great place to raise your kids,” says Joe.
He adds, “But also, I think it’s a community. We have good families here. The people are what makes a community. It’s the ones who are trying to improve the community, everybody working together towards that, here.”