As has been reported by Alpha News, the Stillwater School District is in upheaval over the proposed closures of three district elementary schools – Withrow, Marine and Oak Park. After being criticized by residents and legislators for pushing forward with the plan without allowing community input the district held a series of public forums this week at Oak-Land Junior High for parents and community members to express their support or opposition to the BOLD plan. (January 26, 2016 meeting video.) Tues, Jan. 26, Wed., Jan. 27 and Thurs., Jan. 28, parents and community members packed the Oak-Land Junior High auditorium to urge the Stillwater Schools leaders to scrap the BOLD plan and keep their kids’ elementary schools open, with supporters of the plan in the meetings’ minority.
Tensions between the administration and BOLD opponents are already running high, but the revelation that two of the vocal BOLD supporters at Wednesday’s (1/27/16) public forum were Stillwater School District Superintendent Denise Pontrelli‘s adult children – a relationship that went undisclosed to the public when Isaac Waalen and Katelyn Taylor (Waalen) – has many opponents of the BOLD plan even more furious with the Superintendent.
From the St. Paul Pioneer Press:
Son Isaac Waalen and daughter Katelyn Taylor told a crowd at Oak-Land Junior High on Wednesday that they backed the Building Opportunities to Learn and Discover, or BOLD, plan, which they said would affect their friends and relatives who work and live in the district.
Waalen and Taylor did not disclose to the crowd that they were Superintendent Denise Pontrelli’s children.
Audience members, upon discovering the relationship between Pontrelli and Isaac and Katelyn, were upset. One of the criticisms summing up the betrayal felt by many came from Sean Albiston (whose children attend school at Withrow elementary, one of the schools Pontrelli has proposed closing). In an email sent to Pontrelli and the Pioneer Press, Albiston states, “You should be ashamed of your deceitful actions…The people of Withrow deserve an apology and full explanation.”
In her respons to Albitson, Pontrelli defended her children’s actions, saying “Freedom of speech applies to my chidren…They have been raised to be independent and make choices for themselves.” And, “In the end, the decision and choice was theirs, not initiated by me. I know their intentions came from a good place.”
Pontrelli and the ISD 834 school board claim that the closures are necessary to increase district equity between elementary schools and that the plan would save the district $1.26 million. As Shawn Hogendorf of the Stillwater Current reported, Pontrelli defended the plan at a recent ISD 834 board listening session: “What this is really about is our kids, and programming and opportunities for all kids…It wasn’t focused on finance. It wasn’t focused on reducing budgets. I don’t want us to lose sight of that (while discussing BOLD). It is about building strong programs and opportunities for all of our kids across the district.”
A group, STOP BOLD COLD, has been organized in opposition to the proposed closures, and has garnered support not only from the Stillwater schools community, but also from many of the local leaders and politicians, including State Senator Karin Housley (R-St. Mary’s Point), Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) and Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Stillwater), Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski, Oak Park Heights Mayor Mary McComber, Hugo Mayor Tom Weidt, the May Township Board and Washington County Commissioner Fran Miron. The group has not only set up a Facebook page and website, but also a GoFundMe page and a petition on Change.org, as well as reaching out to the media to inform others of the consequences the BOLD plan will have on the district.
Research by Alpha News has uncovered that though Isaac Waalen and Katelyn Taylor both list a Hugo, Minnesota address, Waalen currently lives in Minneapolis (Facebook).