Pollock named principal at St. Louis Park’s Aquila Elementary

After nearly two years on the job as Aquila Elementary School, Clarence Pollock will drop the first word out of his title of interim principal.

The St. Louis Park School Board approved his appointment as principal at Aquila Elementary on its consent agenda Feb. 25. The consent agenda generally consists of noncontroversial items the board typically approves without comment.

Chair Bruce Richardson did note Pollock’s appointment before the vote.

“He is appointed as the principal of Aquila School, and we are very pleased with that,” Richardson said before the six board members present applauded.

Boardmember Nancy Gores noted Pollock has helped out in ways that go beyond his position, such as helping to jump start a car.

“In addition to being great educational leaders, they go above and beyond,” Gores said of St. Louis Park School District principals.

The appointment took place after the district administration conducted focus groups with Aquila staff and parents, said Communications Specialist Sara Thompson. The administration then made the decision to recommend the appointment, which the board approved.

Pollock described himself as “super excited” about the appointment.

“I’m very appreciative of the support and the staff and community, including students and parents for believing in me,” Pollock said. “I am very honored and excited to work very hard with the entire staff to continue to make Aquila Elementary School an amazing place to learn.”

Pollock began his teaching career at Aquila Elementary School after graduating from college. He served as a special education teacher at the school 1993-98 before becoming a regular classroom teacher at Aquila and the former Cedar Manor Intermediate School 1998-2003.

In 2003-04, he served as a special education specialist district-wide before becoming assistant principal at St. Louis Park High School 2004-11.

Of returning to Aquila, Pollock said, “I taught here for  number of years before going to the high school, so it’s good to be back.  It’s an amazing community experience thanks to the dedicated staff and amazing support of parents.”

Pollock added Aquila staff has worked to connect with parents and students.

“We have really worked hard to form those strong, dedicated, caring relationships with all of our families,” Pollock said.

In regard to Aquila’a diverse communities, Pollock said noted the school employs translators and interpreters to help communicate with parents so they can better support their children.

“It can be difficult if they’re not understanding the message,” Pollock said. “We as a school need to do more to communicate more with all of our diverse families.”

He promised, “I will do whatever I need to do to make sure that all students are learning and continue to enjoy their wonderful experience here at Aquila.”

Past controversy

Pollock became interim principal in April 2011 after the district removed former Aquila principal Freida Bailey amid controversy. Bailey is still employed by the district, working as a principal on special assignment to address the achievement gap.

In 2011, dozens of parents demanded the St. Louis Park School District take action in relation to their allegations of bullying going unchecked and a poor school atmosphere at Aquila Elementary School.

Some of the concerns parents raised dealt with a lack of assemblies, greetings at the door and communication, but much of the testimony focused on bullying. One parent said his son had even been threatened with gun violence on a school bus.

“It wasn’t followed up per the policy of the school district,” said the parent, Loren Wheeler, at a March 2011 meeting. “Citing privacy concerns, we weren’t even told how it was dealt with or if the perpetrator was still riding the bus.”

Other parents also complained about what they considered a lack of resolution relating to other allegations of bullying incidents. For example, parent Julie O’Connor said her youngest daughter, who has autism, was punched.

“It was implied on the phone to me that perhaps it was her fault,” O’Connor said. “Clearly there is a problem. There is a problem when the administration won’t express remorse over a child’s suffering and victimization. There is a problem when a leader won’t say that children are safe on their watch. There’s a problem when teachers themselves are allowed to bully and abuse students under the watchful eye of an administrator with no repercussions and no response.”

Supt. Debra Bowers acknowledged at the time that she had heard concerns from Aquila families.

“Even though it was concerns that brought you out, how do we take that energy and build it so [Aquila] is not a gem in the rough but it becomes a true gem for St. Louis Park?” Bowers asked. “I really thank each one of you for showing up and for your concern about Aquila.”

To a group of parents after the March meeting, Bowers remarked, “I’ve never seen such passion!”

A parent replied, “That’s nothing. Just imagine if nothing happens the passion you’ll see.”

The board subsequently conducted numerous meetings closed to the public that related to Bailey.

Since the reassignment, Bailey has delivered reports to the board about her work in particular with groups of minority families. For example, she has discussed efforts to engage American Indian families in the district.

Bailey has not spoken publicly about the accusations some parents made regarding her tenure at Aquila Elementary School.