Talk of the District

with Denise Pontrelli, Superintendent
Denise Pontrelli

Talk of the District is where you will find monthly updates from our superintendent Denise Pontrelli.  If you have comments, concerns, or questions, Ms. Pontrelli can be reached via email at

Living in Minnesota, we’ve likely all been through our fair share of storms. We’ve felt the intense winds of a severe thunderstorm, had to dig yourself out of deep snow banks during a blizzard, or maybe even seen a funnel cloud drop down from the sky. And though I’ve never personally been through a hurricane, I can imagine the power of the wind and rain that can wreak such devastation on all that crosses its path. 

We have storms in our personal and professional lives, too. Those unexpected and life-altering events that throw our world into chaos. All of these things have the potential to devastate us, unless we have the proper survival tools.

I’ve been thinking a lot about storms -  both the literal and figurative kind - ever since hearing Thomas Friedman, a well known author and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, discuss his most recent book, “Thank You for Being Late: an Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.”

During his speech, Friedman shared about the massive changes underway in our society (from environmental to economic) and the chaos they are causing. The only way to survive the hurricane, Friedman said, is to be within its eye.

So what does all this have to do with our schools?
We are not immune to the political, economic and environmental storms brewing, even here in Stillwater Area Public Schools. There is unrest and uncertainty all around us, and it impacts our students, staff and district residents. 

According to Friedman, the people and organizations that will be successful in the future will need to be resilient and create propulsion strategies to move themselves forward. As a district we’ve been working to do that. We’re focused on our students’ social and emotional wellness and have invested considerable time and energy into breaking down barriers that prevent our students from learning. We’re building a career pathways program at the high school to help students picture their future and give them a clear path to reach their goals. We’re embracing diversity and giving students more voice in decision-making. By being innovative and student-focused, we’re determined to move out of the storm’s path and directly into its calm, quiet center.

But we cannot do it alone. To create safe schools and communities for our students and families we will need to network and collaborate to nurture the will of our children and give them the skills to reach their goals. We need to invest in innovative solutions to solve society's most complex problems and we need to check our politics at the door. We need the entire community to join with us. The key to our success will be to accept imperfection, embrace diversity of people and ideas, and foster the love to learn. 

Only the most adaptable organizations will survive, Friedman says. Will our community rise or fall? That depends on our ability to work together, move forward and propel ourselves into the eye of the storm.