More than 100 parents, students and teachers gathered in front of Stillwater City Hall to show support for Superintendent Denise Pontrelli before the July 25 school board meeting.

Frustrated by the board’s recent resolution to seek a separation agreement with Pontrelli, community members took action.

Decked out in Stillwater Ponies gear, supporters wore stickers and carried signs that read “Ponies 4 Pontrelli.” Some painted the message on their car windows and held red and black balloons.

As board members arrived for a closed session around 5 p.m., the crowd chanted “Save our Supt!”

The board approved a resolution 5-2, with Directors Mark Burns and Jennifer Pelletier dissenting, at the July 11 meeting to begin exploratory discussions including a possible separation agreement with Pontrelli. Pontrelli said in a statement she is not interested in a separation agreement.

Sarah Anderson, a paraprofessional at Lake Elmo Elementary, said she’s concerned about the financial health of the district.

“Our superintendent has overwhelming support from those in the district,” Anderson said. “We’re not in a financial position to buy out her contract.”

Others, some who declined to give their names, echoed financial concerns.

“I feel [a separation agreement] would be detrimental and costly,” a district teacher said.

“I’m a taxpayer, so I feel I should have a say in where those taxes go, oddly enough,” said a parent.

Another district teacher said buying out Pontrelli’s contract won’t heal the divide in the community.

“The inconsistent leadership doesn’t solve anything,” the teacher said. “The constant structural changes are debilitating for families.”

Laura Zuleger wanted her children to be in the district specifically to attend the Spanish Immersion program at Lake Elmo Elementary. She said she’s concerned about the future of the district with the way things are headed.

“It doesn’t feel like [the board] is considering the needs of both parts of the district,” Zuleger said.

A district teacher said the board is not communicating with the community.

“It seems like they have a personal agenda,” they said. “It feels like we’re out of the loop.”

Many called for professional mediation as a next step.

“Get mediation. They obviously can’t do this on their own,” said one parent.

A group of high school students held signs with a photoshopped picture of Pontrelli’s head with a crown on top, including recent Stillwater Area High School graduate Annika Turnquist.

“They’re supposed to be for the students, but it doesn’t feel like we’re getting served,” Turnquist said.

Contact Jaimee Hood at

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