Proposal brings forth bold new ideas


Megan McGuire

The BOLD proposal was first introduced Dec. 17 discussing the closure of Marine, Withrow and Oak Park Elementary schools. The decision was delayed until March 3 after request by Superintendent Pontrelli. "We were hoping from the meeting that it would be a 'no' vote and that they listen to the community and are willing to move forward and have community involvement in it," Withrow resident Debra Wagner says.

Katie Hutton, Online Editor-in-Chief

All around the district, changes are taking place. The high school is expanding, the sixth graders are transitioning to the junior high, and the ninth graders are moving to the high school. With the changing number of incoming students and the increase in need for specialized learning opportunities, a new learning platform was proposed in December. The way to that new learning platform seems to be through the B.O.L.D (Building Opportunities to Learn and Discover) initiatives.

District 834 currently has the capacity for 10,000 students, but only 8,300 enrolled. The number of students is condensed within some schools like Lake Elmo, which is currently over capacity, while others are not filled to their potential. B.O.L.D looks at balancing the number of students in each school by consolidating three schools: Marine, Oak Park, and Withrow–and building one new school in the southern part of the district.

According to the BOLD webpage, “Right-sizing ensures all of our students would have an equitable learning experience no matter where they live and would create a more sustainable future.”

The new elementary school will have room for around 600 students. Closing three elementary schools does not mean other schools will be filled to capacity; in fact most classes will be filled within a range of about 25 students. The new school will have learning pods divided by age, along with rooms for art, music and pre-k.

“The thing people don’t always understand is that the projections that we’re making is not to the most we can fit into a building,” Superintendent Denise Pontrelli said.

One of the goals of the recommendation is to continue to position the district to continue programs. It will include a plan for technology, and will allow investing in areas that are essential to students, like special education teachers and speech language pathologists.

“The exciting part is we’ll be able to strengthen our programs at the secondary level,” Pontelli said. “The other thing we really want to do is reduce those class sizes at the secondary level and…we’re adding teachers to the high school and middle schools.”

The current location of Oak Park is proposed to become the Central Services Building, and multiple programs may also be relocated. The Gifted and Talented Education program would move to a junior high and the Autism Cluster Program will move to Rutherford. The ALC and 18-21 Transition program will also be moving, but their locations have yet to be determined.

“We were really looking for where would be the best place to place these buildings based on the bond that was passed in May,” Pontrelli said.

There has been concern in response to the proposal and has been covered by Kare 11, WCCO, and KSTP over the past few weeks. News stations have also covered groups that oppose the proposal, namely Stop Bold Cold, a community initiative created to stop the proposal to close the three elementary schools.

According to their website, the group’s call to action is, “Asking the community to take a multi-faceted approach to defeat the current B.O.L.D. proposal by writing the school board, superintendent, and other administrators, signing petitions, donating to the cause, and volunteer opportunities.”

The initiative has begun an online petition to stop the proposal, and the petition has a current amount of 1,740 supporters with a goal of 2,500. The group believes that the B.O.L.D proposal disregards the original idea put forth in the 2013 School Levy that no schools would be closed, and that the proposal abandons schools at the northern end of the district.

Superintendent Pontrelli encourages groups like these to speak up and put their opinions forth, but to be sure to educate themselves on the issue by listening to the Board Learning Session and School Board Meeting.

“I think once [people] have an opportunity to read through [the session and meeting] it really helps them understand the proposal a little bit more,” Pontrelli said. “It doesn’t mean I expect them to agree with it, but I think it helps them see the bigger picture or just to know that if they have ideas or want to have a conversation I’m meeting with all kinds of small groups of folks and I’m happy to do that, our whole team is.”

To place an opinion about the initiative, go to the Stillwater B.O.L.D page on the school website. Click on the MySidewalk link and leave a comment there. There is also a Frequently Asked Question page that Pontrelli, the school board, and other district administrators constantly update.

“Part of what we’re sharing with folks is that if someone comes up with an idea that will help us address the capacity and do something different we are happy to hear that and open to that and would welcome people to give us a call with their ideas and their solutions,” Pontrelli said.