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Superintendent Pontrelli to Recommend Delaying BOLD Vote Until March 3

Stillwater Area Public Schools Superintendent Denise Pontrelli and her leadership team will be recommending at the school board meeting Thursday night that the school board delay its vote on the BOLD proposal until March 3. Thursday’s board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Stillwater Junior High. The delay will provide more opportunities for residents to learn about the BOLD proposal and share their feedback with board members prior to a decision being made on the consolidation of elementary schools, Carissa Keister, the district’s Community Engagement Manager said in an email. “The school district will present its full Findings of Facts on the Necessity and practicability of School Consolidation to kick-off a public hearing scheduled for Thursday, March 3,” the statement reads. “This public hearing will be held in the auditorium at Stillwater Junior High School beginning at 5 p.m.Community members from Marine, Oak Park and Withrow, as well as other residents interested in sharing feedback, will have an opportunity to provide testimony to the board following the administration’s presentation. Continue Reading →

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Update: Parent Group Opposed to Stillwater Area School’s BOLD Proposal Intends to File Lawsuit

A group of parents and residents who live in communities served by Stillwater Area Public Schools plan to bring a lawsuit against the district in an attempt to block a proposal to close three elementary schools. 834 VOICE (VOters Invested in our Children’s Education), a nonprofit organization of Stillwater school district parents and residents announced on Tuesday that it had retained Fritz Knaak as legal counsel and formally notified Stillwater Area Public Schools of its intention to bring a lawsuit against the school district. Stillwater Area Public Schools did not comment on the threat of litigation. According to the announcement, Knaak served 834 VOICE’s formal Notice of Claim on the district in a letter to Superintendent Denise Pontrelli on Tuesday afternoon. “This is a required first step before anyone can take a legal action against a school district,” Knaak said in a prepared statement. Continue Reading →

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Letter to the Editor: Stillwater BOLD


Thank you for listening to both district administrators and community members. I can understand the dilemma you must face: On the one hand, BOLD’s promise to save $1.26 million annually would benefit our district’s chronic budget shortfalls, and closing small schools where few students live may allow educational resources to be allocated elsewhere. But on the other hand, are we a district that makes major, community-impacting decisions in such a short amount of time without involving or engaging the support of our constituents? I find this question troubling. Regardless of whether BOLD may benefit budgets or students, there are far greater matters at stake: the district’s partnerships with other governmental entities and the public’s trust. Continue Reading →

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Update: Oak Park Heights City Council Unanimously Approves Resolution Asking Stillwater Schools to Put BOLD on Hold

As the controversial plan to close three elementary schools nears a vote this week, the list of public officials asking Stillwater Area Public Schools to slow down the BOLD proposal and engage in a better process for public feedback is growing. In the last couple of weeks, the Hugo and Marine on St. Croix city councils each passed resolutions asking the school district to reconsider the timeline, process and community impacts the BOLD proposal will have if it is passed on Thursday, Feb. 11. The Oak Park Heights City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution asking the district to reset the timeline, properly involve the public in the process and consider the impact the proposal may have on communities and partnerships, among other things. Continue Reading →

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Stillwater’s BOLD Proposal Draws Questions About Bond, Public Trust

The Stillwater Area Public Schools Board of Education held their final workshop about the controversial BOLD proposal Thursday night. A formal vote on the BOLD proposal is expected this week. The board publicly asked their toughest questions to date of district administration during the workshop designed to discuss the concerns residents voiced to the board and district administration during three public hearings. Watch the three Public Hearings on the BOLD proposal

The district’s BOLD proposal to “right-size” elementary schools is designed to create more equitable learning spaces to meet the needs of all students, invest in programming and learning instead of buildings and to create more financial sustainability moving forward, according to Superintendent Denise Pontrelli. Opponents of the plan to close Oak Park, Marine and Withrow elementary schools have asked the Board of Education to present alternatives, provide additional data regarding the proposal, make sure the plan is well vetted and to slow down the process. Continue Reading →

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Videos: Watch Public Hearings for Stillwater’s BOLD Proposal

Stillwater Area Public Schools held three public hearings last month for the controversial BOLD proposal to close three elementary schools. In all, more than 100 people spoke during the BOLD public hearings that spanned about 10 hours over the course of three nights. The speeches included personal stories supporting the work being done at Withrow, Marine and Oak Park elementary schools, pleas for the Board to slow down the process and consider alternative options and presentations aimed at debunking district information regarding the proposal. Here are videos of the public hearings. Oak Park Elementary

Withrow Elementary School

Marine Elementary

Continue Reading →

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Public Hearings for Stillwater’s Controversial BOLD Proposal Start Tonight at Oak-Land Junior High

The first of three what are sure to be heated public hearings this week about Stillwater Area Public Schools’ controversial BOLD proposal will begin at 5 p.m., Tuesday in the auditorium of Oak-Land Junior High School in Lake Elmo. The other two are slated to begin at 5 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday at the same location. The Stillwater Area school district first unveiled their BOLD plan to close Withrow, Marine and Oak Park elementary schools during a board workshop on Dec. 17. A formal proposal to close Withrow, Marine and Oak Park elementary schools was brought forth on Jan. Continue Reading →

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Mike Ptacek Shares His Views on Stillwater Area Public School’s BOLD Proposal

I still question the basic assumptions behind the BOLD proposal. Number 1, will the BOLD Proposal result in $1.26 million to be reinvested in the remaining 7 elementary schools if Withrow, Marine and Oak Park elementary schools are closed. The BOLD proponents have put forth this expectation as an enticement to garner support from the remaining 7elementary schools, but will it happen? Will the 250 displaced kids from Withrow, 156 from Marine and 450 from Oak Park travel to southern and western schools in District 834, and the approximate $10,000 in state per student aid follow them to those schools and into the coffers of the District? Or will a significant number of parents, who are questioning the wisdom and efficacy of the BOLD Proposal seek education elsewhere? Continue Reading →

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Stillwater Schools Respond to Report that Public Comment was ‘Nixed’ for Tuesday’s Marine School Closure Meeting

Stillwater Area Public Schools is responding to the Country Messenger’s report, “District nixes public comment at Marine school closure meeting.”

The Country Messenger reported that Superintendent Denise Pontrelli told Marine on St. Croix city officials that she will not attend this week’s city council meeting if residents are given the floor for public comment. Stillwater Current shared the Country Messenger’s story on Facebook over the weekend. But there’s more to the story, according to Stillwater Area Public Schools Community Engagement Manager Carissa Keister. Here’s the school district’s response to the Country Messenger’s report, via Carissa Keister:

“Denise Pontrelli and several administrators met with leaders from Hugo, Marine, Oak Park Heights and Stillwater following the Dec. Continue Reading →

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Shelley Pearson Shares Her Thoughts on Education, Discussion Surrounding Stillwater’s BOLD Proposal

Up until this moment, I have remained relatively quiet regarding the proposal from District 834 administration to close three elementary schools. I have been asking questions, responding to emails, meeting with community members, parents, staff and administration, losing sleep, sacrificing family time, and thinking about it constantly.  I will continue to do all of these things until my vote is cast on February 11. I signed up for this. You voted me in (I am blaming you a little). I will do my very best to make the right decision for our kids.     

During difficult moments of decision when the waters are muddy, I often head back to the website I used during my campaign ( to remind myself of what my values are. Continue Reading →

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Minnesota State Legislators Express Concern About Stillwater Area Public Schools ‘BOLD’ Proposal

Three Minnesota state legislators who represent the Stillwater area have penned a letter to the Stillwater Area Public Schools Board of Education expressing extreme concern over Superintendent Denise Pontrelli’s BOLD proposal. Here is the letter co-written by Sen. Karin Housley, and Reps. Kathy Lohmer and Bob Dettmer:

District 834 School Board Members,

We are writing to clarify our positions as members of the Minnesota State Legislature in regards to the BOLD initiative, and specifically the plan to close three elementary schools in District 834. First, we would like to thank Stillwater School Board Member Kathy Buchholz for arranging the meeting last Friday with Superintendent Pontrelli. We had previously not had the opportunity to meet the new superintendent, nor had we had a chance to discuss anything in regards to our district. Continue Reading →

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Stillwater Area Public Schools to Present Controversial BOLD Proposal Tonight

Stillwater Area Public Schools will bring its formal BOLD proposal before the Stillwater Area Board of Education on Thursday night at Stillwater City Hall. The BOLD proposal calls for the closure of Marine, Withrow and Oak Park elementary schools, moving the students to Stonebridge, Rutherford and Lily Lake elementary schools. The plan will also require school boundaries to be redrawn throughout the district for the 2017-18 school year, impacting all families in Stillwater Area Public Schools. Important Meeting Information

A formal recommendation to close Marine, Oak Park and Withrow for the start of the 2017-2018 school year will happen Thursday, Jan. 7 at Stillwater City Hall. Continue Reading →

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An open letter to the Stillwater School Board regarding the BOLD Proposal

Hello. My name is Steve Carr. Personally, I have no “skin in the game” as my children are grown and doing well, due in part to the excellent education they received from Withrow Elementary School. As I have no knowledge of Oak Park Elementary School, I will confine my comments to Withrow & Marine although I imagine that the issues are similar regarding Oak Park. As you move down the path toward announcing your decision regarding the closure of the three elementary schools, please consider the following:

In the 35 years that I have lived in Withrow, it has always been obvious that District 834 has considered the Withrow & Marine elementary schools to be more of an unwanted liability than an asset. Continue Reading →

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Local Views: Stillwater’s B.O.L.D Proposal Will Impact All of Our Elementary Schools, Not Just Marine, Withrow and Oak Park

Dear Residents of the Stillwater Area School System,

In mid-December the superintendent and administration of Stillwater Area Schools proposed a plan to close Withrow, Marine, and Oak Park Elementary schools, under the guise of fiscal efficiency and higher educational quality and equity. The plan to “right-size” or consolidate our schools has been outlined in the district’s BOLD initiative.  The district’s intention of “right-sizing” our schools looks great on paper; however, national evidence-based studies have consistently shown that the negative effects of consolidation far outweigh the good. Proposed benefits of the BOLD initiative include:

Equitable learning experiences

Improved access to support services

Balanced class sizes across the district, and

Long-term stability for staffing (“BOLD FAQs,” 2015). Superficially, the benefits of BOLD seem worthy of “right sizing” our schools, however research shows that small school consolidation increases class sizes and student/teacher ratios, decreases academic performance, reduces rates of student participation in extracurricular activities, lowers graduation rates, decreases teacher performance, and is associated with more dangerous school environments (Howley, Johnson, & Petrie, 2011). Continue Reading →

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Stillwater Area Public Schools Families Rally to Save Marine, Withrow and Oak Park Elementary Schools

Stillwater Area Public Schools’ B.O.L.D. proposal is stirring up quite a community discussion. Last week, the Stillwater Area Board of Education heard a presentation from district staff to consider a proposal to close Marine, Withrow and Oak Park elementary schools in fall of 2017. Since that presentation, many Stillwater area families have been writing letters, making phone calls, taking to social media, planning events and organizing ways for people to get involved and make their voices heard. Important Links

View District 834’s Dec. 17 proposal

Watch the Board workshop online

Stillwater Area Public Schools FAQ web page

B.O.L.D website

Stop B.O.L.D Cold website

Support for Withrow, Marine & Oak Park Elementary Schools Facebook group

Contact information for Stillwater Area Public Schools District Administrators

Contact information for the Stillwater Area Board of Education members

One such effort, is Stop B.O.L.D. Cold, a community initiative focused on opposing the district’s possible plan to close Marine, Withrow and Oak Park elementary schools. Continue Reading →

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Stillwater Area Public Schools Considers Closing Marine, Withrow and Oak Park Elementary Schools

The Stillwater Area Public Schools Board of Education is considering a proposal from district leaders to close Marine, Withrow and Oak Park Heights Elementary schools. District leaders told the Board during a learning session on Thursday night that they propose “consolidating elementary buildings” to address capacity concerns and “inequitable learning opportunities” for students. District leaders are recommending the closure of Marine, Oak Park and Withrow — and transporting the students to other schools in the district. During the process, new school boundaries will be drawn. According to school district leaders, the school boundary changes have not yet been developed. The idea is “to create seven right-sized elementary schools,” district leaders told the Board. Continue Reading →

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Stillwater Area Public Schools Considers Proposal to ‘Consolidate Elementary Schools’

The Stillwater Area Public Schools Board of Education will hear a proposal to consolidate elementary schools during a Board workshop at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 17 at Stillwater City Hall. The meeting is open to the public and will also be broadcast live online and aired on cable channel 15. Here’s a copy of the email Superintendent Denise Pontrelli sent to families on Wednesday night:

“Did you know we are a district of about 8,300 students, but we have space in our schools for nearly 10,000? Our southern communities are growing rapidly, while enrollment in central and northern schools is projected to hold steady or decline. Continue Reading →

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Stillwater Area Public Schools Looking for Help Naming New Elementary School

Stillwater Area Public Schools is people to submit possible names for the district’s new elementary school that will be located in Woodbury. You can submit a name here until Jan. 8, 2016. The Naming Committee will consider all submissions and select three names to recommend to the school board, according to Stillwater Area Public Schools. A final decision will be made by the school board this spring. Continue Reading →

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Superintendent Column: It’s Time to Clean House as We Build Our New School District

It’s been so much fun to see the latest drawings cross my desk as architects work with teams to design a new elementary school, additions and renovations at the high school, and other building updates across the district. When we break ground on these projects in the spring we’ll be well on our way to providing beautiful new spaces that will open up many opportunities to our students. What isn’t so obvious is all of the great work going on behind the scenes to plan for the learning that will take place in these new spaces. Changing grade configurations will result in benefits to our current students and all those yet to come. Preschool students will be able to get a head-start in our elementary schools, sixth graders will find new opportunities in a middle school environment, and a whole new world of learning will open up for ninth grade students at the high school. Continue Reading →

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Survey: What Do You Think About School Starting Before Labor Day in Stillwater?

Stillwater Area Public Schools is looking for your feedback about starting school before Labor Day. Historically, Stillwater has started school after Labor Day weekend. But last year the Calendar Commission recommended the school year start earlier, so school would end the first week of June. The commission also recommended a pre-Labor Day start of Monday, Aug. 29 for the 2016-17 school year, when Labor Day falls on Monday, Sept. 5. Continue Reading →

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Stillwater’s Girls Swimming and Diving Coach Brian Luke Breaks Father’s State Record with 125th Consecutive Win

The Stillwater girls swim and dive team hasn’t lost a dual meet in more than a decade. Last week, Stillwater’s Coach Brian Luke set the state record when the Ponies captured their 125th consecutive win — dating back to 2003 — defeating East Ridge. The previous record was held by Luke’s 89-year-old father, Elmer, who coached at Hopkins from the late 1970s to early 1990s. Here’s a recap of the record-breaking meet from Stillwater Area Public Schools:

Many swimmers and divers from Luke’s past teams came to Thursday’s meet (Sept. 17) to watch history in the making and to thank their former coach. Continue Reading →

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Talk of the District: So Many Reasons We Can All Be Proud to be Ponies

The start of a new school year is always exciting. I am sure the smile on my face stretched from ear to ear this year as I watched our Pony students rush into their schools on the first day. After two months on the job, it was so much fun to see our staff, students and families coming together and to feel the energy and enthusiasm we all bring to the new school year. We are Ponies – from the biggest to the smallest – and we are truly a community. I can say with great confidence that I am proud to be a Pony. Continue Reading →

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Stillwater Football Celebrates 1975, 1995 Ponies State Championship Teams

Stillwater Ponies football fans will be celebrating the anniversaries of the 1975 and 1995 State Championship teams this year. Stillwater will celebrate the 20th and 40th anniversaries of the state championships on Saturday, Aug. 22 at Pony Stadium. The teams of 1975 and 1995 will be recognized during the Ponies home opener against Eagan. Kickoff for the game is 7 p.m. There will be reserved seating for the players and their families — with a special program happening at halftime. Continue Reading →

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Malinda Lansfeldt Named Principal of Lily Lake Elementary School

Malinda Lansfeldt is coming back to Lily Lake Elementary School. Lansfeldt announced to Lily Lake families on Wednesday, that she will return to Lily Lake Elementary as principal starting Monday, July 6. “I am excited to be rejoining all of you at Lily Lake and consider it an honor and a privilege to serve the students, families, staff  and school community,” she wrote in a letter to families. “Everyone at Lily Lake is involved, engaged and caring. They always want to do what is best for our students. Continue Reading →

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30 Long-Time Stillwater Area Public Schools Employees Set to Retire

Thirty long-time employees are retiring from Stillwater Area Public Schools this year. This group of retirees has more than 640 combined years of service with the district:

Laurel Avery, 21 years, elementary teacher at Andersen

Henry Axt, 19 years, high school science teacher

Dennis Bloom, 34 years, director of operation at Central Services

Jeff Benson, 39 years, custodian at Stillwater Junior

Millie Bruning, 19 years, paraprofessional at St. Croix Catholic

Dr. Erik Christiansen, 27 years, high school choir director

Sharon Cook, 18 years, cook at Andersen

Marcia Cutler, 13 years, elementary teacher at Lake Elmo

Tanya De Wing, 22 years, high school business teacher

Peggi Diercks, 22 years, adult basic education teacher at the family center

Carl Downs, 27 years, custodian at Lily Lake

Norma Dunnigan, 14 years, paraprofessional at Stillwater Area High School

Tim Foster, 40 years, elementary teacher at Lily Lake

Trudy Fox, 15 years, cook at Lily Lake

Gerard Jones, 11 years, high school orchestra teacher

Barry Kiesow, 35 years, custodian at Stonebridge

Cynthia Kish, 12 years, paraprofessional at Stillwater Area High School

Julie Kramer, 22 years, elementary teacher at Rutherford

Martha Lindberg, 24 years, administrative assistant at Central Services

Larry Neumann, 30 years, band teacher at Lake Elmo, Oak Park and Stonebridge

Dawn Podolske, 34 years, math teacher at Oak-Land

Ellen Schmidt, 24 years, English Language teacher at Lake Elmo

Mary Jo Tein, 25 years, school psychologist at Lake Elmo

Gary Thomsen, 30 years, custodian at Andersen

Haeri Tollefson, 9 years, high school theatre coordinator

Stephen Traxler, 28 years, band teacher at Lily Lake, Rutherford and Stonebridge

Jeri Turner, 25 years, speech language pathologist at Oak-Land and Oak Park

Kathy Van Deest, 10 years, occupational therapist at Lake Elmo, Oak-Land and the high school

Ruth Weber, 12 years, health care specialist at Stillwater Junior

Judy White, 25 years, paraprofessional at Oak-Land

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Lily Lake Principal Mark Drommerhausen Tapped to Lead Stillwater Schools Bond-Related Projects

Lily Lake Elementary School Principal Mark Drommerhausen on Tuesday announced that he is leaving the school to help lead Stillwater Area Public Schools bond-related projects. “It’s with mixed emotions that I am writing to tell you that I will be taking on a new assignment next year to lead efforts related to our bond projects,” Drommerhausen wrote in a message to Lily Lake families. “While I will miss working with Lily Lake students, families and staff, I am very excited about the many opportunities this new position will provide.” Drommerhausen — as a principal on special assignment — will oversee the non-construction related changes that will happen with the passage of the bond, relating to the grade re-configurations. That will include work on curriculum and staffing changes, planning for a new elementary school, boundary adjustments and other bond-related duties, Drommerhausen wrote in the email. Continue Reading →

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Watch (or Re-Watch) the Stillwater Area High School Choir’s Viral Hotel Pool Video

Video of the Stillwater Area High School Concert Choir taking over a hotel pool in Iowa and breaking into an impromptu performance of F. Melius Christiansen’s “O Day Full of Grace” has gone viral.//

Choir breaks into song at hotel pool. Posted by Stillwater Area High School on Sunday, April 26, 2015

Since that message was posted to the Stillwater Area High School Facebook page on April 26, the video has been viewed more than 1.2 million times — and has been featured on HLN, The San Francisco Globe, Star Tribune, Pioneer Press and Fox 9.//

Some high school kids take over the hotel pool and what happened next was amazing! Posted by HLN on Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The video was shot by Stillwater Area High School Assistant Principal Aaron Drevlow, who was chaperoning the concert choir’s tour that included a stop in Ames, Iowa. The song, “O Day Full of Grace,” is a longtime Stillwater concert choir favorite written by Choir Director Erik Christiansen’s grandfather.

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Stillwater Area Public Schools Passes $97.5 Million Facilities Referendum

Stillwater Area Public Schools voters approved a $97.5 million bond request to update district facilities, including an addition and renovations to Stillwater Area High School, and a new elementary school. The bond was approved by 57.6 percent of voters in a special election held May 12. The bond will pay for an addition and renovations at the high school, construction of a new elementary school and a variety of improvements to facilities across the district. More than 8,100 voters turned out for the special election — with 4,721 people casting yes votes (57.6 percent) and 3,475 people voting no (42.4 percent). In addition to an addition and renovation to the high school, a new elementary school and a transportation hub, the bond will also change grade configuration by moving to preK-5 elementary schools, grades 6-8 in middle schools and grades 9-12 at the high school. Continue Reading →

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Election Day: Stillwater Area Public Schools Put Bond Proposal to a Vote

It’s Election Day. Stillwater Area Public Schools is putting a $97.5 million bond request before voters today in a special election. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12. Voters may register at the polls. Find your polling location

The “tax-neutral “bond request to improve facilities, includes an addition and renovations at the high school, construction of a new elementary school in the south part of the district and a new transportation hub. Continue Reading →

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Sample Ballot: Stillwater Area Public Schools Puts $97.5 Million Bond Proposal Before Voters on May 12

Stillwater Area Public Schools will put a $97.5 million bond before voters in a special election on Tuesday, May 12. The $97.5 million bond request to improve facilities includes an addition and renovations at the high school, construction of a new elementary school in the south part of the district and a new transportation hub. Poll Finder: Find out where to vote on May 12

The “tax-neutral” bond request would not raise taxes above what residents are currently paying, according to Stillwater Area Public Schools. If approved, the bond proposal would maintain – not increase – the current tax payments for the next 12 years, Stillwater Area Public Schools Superintendent Tom Nelson said. After 12 years, the debt would drop in half for the remaining eight years of the 20-year bonds. This bond is a tax-neutral proposal, Nelson said. Continue Reading →

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