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New principal at work
By Paul Rignell
The new year brought a new principal at St. Croix Falls Elementary School, as Patti Roberts welcomed students and other staff back to the building Jan. 2 after their holiday break.
Roberts is succeeding Jeff Benoy as principal at both the elementary building and the Dresser kindergarten school.
Former principal Benoy, who had served 20 years in the district, announced last fall that he would be retiring after December.
Roberts then was one of 28 applicants last fall to apply for a position as interim principal intended to serve through the rest of this school year.
Principal Roberts and her husband, Ken, have been living in the St. Croix Falls community for three years after both worked as educators in the Red Wing (Minn.) public schools.
Serving 19 years as a teacher there through 1998, Principal Roberts taught in second- and fourth-grade classrooms along with high school special education.
She also served as a dean of students in Red Wing before starting to travel for work as an assistant principal at a Rochester elementary school.
Roberts worked in Rochester for three years before returning to the Red Wing district where she served as elementary school principal from 2001 to 2014.
“Her previous experience speaks volumes,” said St. Croix Falls Superintendent Mark Burandt after Roberts’ hiring last month.
Roberts is a Wisconsin native who earned a bachelor’s degree before also completing masters and specialist programs in Educational Leadership at Winona State University.
She and her husband have had other family along with a vacation home in this area, so they were familiar with the community before settling here in early 2015.
Principal Roberts says that she and her spouse attended some local school concerts and sporting events over the past three years. She says she did not know much else about the schools before applying for this interim position, but that she has followed the schools through local media and consistently positive comments from district residents.
Roberts says she met twice last month with former Principal Benoy, and that she grew more excited for her first day at the school throughout the holidays.
“I just knew (this) was a super opportunity for me. … (I was) looking forward to returning to working with kids,” Roberts told the Standard Press.
She says she enjoyed a terrific first two weeks in the role.
“It has been so positive and beyond my expectations,” the principal added. “There are extra fine folks working in this school system. That translates to having great kids, with high expectations, and high-achieving kids. … One always likes being with a wonderful organization. It makes life easy and good.”
Principal Roberts got to meet many active parents at the end of her first day in the building. She says that school library media specialist Rita Platt coordinated an annual “Battle of the Books” potluck dinner and kickoff gathering, and Roberts said the event was well attended with many interested and supportive parents.
Among other special events on the school’s calendar, the principal said she hopes to join the Dresser kindergartners during part of their field trip day at Interstate Park later in January, and she noted the elementary school’s “Winter Fun Day” would be happening again on Feb. 14.
“Winter Fun Day” features many outdoor and indoor activities for all elementary students, and Roberts said the school traditionally has scheduled those events on what is also known as Valentine’s Day. She said that holiday, perhaps like most, stirs up lots of energy in the students.
The school’s special day is a “perfect way to garner that energy and have a lot of fun,” the principal added.
She noted that Early Childhood screening is scheduled for future 4K and kindergarten students at the Dresser building in February. There will be other special events in the buildings between now and early June, but Principal Roberts says there will be fun to be had at the schools every day. “There are a few things always happening,” she said.
“There is an approach here that our children are all of our children,” Roberts added.
She explained that the teachers, administrators, kitchen workers, custodians and other staff all are interested in encouraging students to enjoy productive days at school. “Everyone is all about the kids here. They know their names,” Roberts said. “I would say that totally stands out. It doesn’t exist everywhere, at least at this level.”
January 18, 2018
Twenty-one snow-related “crashes” in 21 hours
By Lynda Berg Olds
There were 21 snow-related “crashes” between late Monday morning and early Tuesday morning, although only one involved two vehicles. All of the others were “slide-ins” or simply cars stuck in the snow, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Department.
The one crash in Polk County was on Highway 8, and was handled by the Wisconsin State Patrol handled. A sedan rear-ended a Chevy truck at 11:50 a.m. on Highway 8 just east of the Amery roundabout, blocking traffic for some time.
As far as Polk County Sheriff Pete Johnson could ascertain, there were no injuries in the other 20 incidents - and no photographs taken (by the department).
Of note, there was also a rollover of a semi-truck in Dresser at about 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday. For a semi, the scene was cleared very quickly.
January 25, 2018
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St. Croix firefighter joins council
By Paul Rignell
Kirk Anderson, a local marketing consultant, received appointment to the St. Croix Falls City Council at the Jan. 29 meeting.
Anderson, who has recent Dedicated Service Award and Firefighter of the Year honors from the city Fire Department, had filed for April election to the seat when filings were open earlier this month.
However, then-incumbent Jerry Berger had filed a notice of non-candidacy for the seat that represents District One, and Berger has since submitted a letter of resignation from the council with about three months remaining in his term. City staff reported that Berger cited work demands in resigning from the council.
As Anderson was the only candidate to file for the right to succeed Berger in the District One seat, the current council simply voted to bring Anderson aboard ahead of a new term.
Anderson noted Monday that he has been married for nearly 20 years, and that he and his spouse have five children. Anderson has lived within the city for only 16 months, but otherwise near the city limits since 2002.
Among other action Monday, council appointed Alderperson Chris Chelberg to step in as council liaison to the city planning commission. Berger had been filling that role.
Mayor Brian Blesi looked for a new planning liaison in either Chelberg or in Alderperson Brent Waak. Both were elected to the council only last April.
“I could fill that vacancy,” Chelberg said.
Waak was quick to make a motion. “I would nominate Chris Chelberg,” Waak said.
February 1, 2018
Third Annual Polk County Suicide Awareness Walk
By Lynda Berg Olds
Save the date, May 19, for the Third Annual Polk County Suicide Awareness Walk in Pine Park, Balsam Lake. Organizer Tristan Divine attended Monday night’s meeting of the Balsam Lake Village Board to touch base about this huge event and keep the village in the loop – and also to inquire about electric usage in Pine Park as this year there are going to be food vendors.
Divine noted that in the first year of the Walk, over 670 people were in attendance. Last year there were more than 740. This year, Divine said is bound to attract over 1,000.
She gave some details, such as the Bikers Against Child Abuse will be back once again and will lead the Walk. And…there is going to be a very, very, very special speaker, but the press was sworn to secrecy - for now anyway…
Divine was asked to come to a Parks Committee meeting on Feb. 12 at 5:00 p.m. to figure out some details with electric for the vendors. She said Hog Wild will be there, the Boy Scouts and Shannon Kelch, who sells “fair food” like cheese curds, mini donuts, corn dogs, taco in a bag, etc.
Registration for the Walk begins at 7:30 a.m. in Pine Park and the program is from 8:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. The public is urged to join the hundreds of people who walk to remember loved ones lost to suicide – and to raise money for mental health awareness in Polk County.
Divine’s website notes that in the first two years of this Walk, they have raised more than $60,000. This year’s Suicide Awareness Walk features a 5K walk, survivor memorials, mental health resources, a program, entertainment, food vendors and more. All proceeds raised benefit the Mental Health Task Force of Polk County and their work to raise awareness for mental health and services in our community. A suicide prevention program follows the conclusion of the Walk at approximately 11:00 a.m. Divine told the board they would for sure be out of the park by no later than 2:00 p.m. There is a small individual registration fee.
This year a 5K run has been added, which is a “non-competitive” run. Runners register as individual participants and be ready to run on May 19.
For more information on the Polk County Suicide Awareness Walk, contact Tristan Divine at firstname.lastname@example.org or 715.553.1333.
February 8, 2018
Former Luck counselor facing felony charges
By Lynda Berg Olds
Former Luck teacher Vern Longhenry, 55, of West Sweden (Town of Luck), who resigned amidst allegations of immoral conduct this past December, has now been formally charged with “Expose Child to Harmful Descriptions,” a Class I Felony.
On Dec. 11, Luck School District Administrator Cory Hinkel shared the following statement with the press – a statement which had gone out to all of the families in the Luck School District on Dec. 8 through the school’s email/phone system:
“Parents of School District of Luck students: The district received a student complaint against one of our staff members earlier this week. The administration investigated these allegations and while the investigation was ongoing the staff member resigned.
“The alleged conduct constitutes immoral conduct as defined by Wisconsin Statutes. Therefore the district has reported the situation to the Department of Public Instruction. Sincerely, Cory Hinkel.”
It was then incumbent on Luck Police Chief Monte Tretsven to escort the allegedly immoral educator out of the school building and off of the campus.
The Luck Board of Education held a special closed session meeting at 7:00 a.m. on Dec. 7 to discuss this matter – and a Letter of Resignation featured prominently on the agenda of the school board meeting on Dec. 20.
Chief Tretsven sent this press release, dated Dec. 8, to the Ledger Newspapers editor on Dec. 11:
“The Luck Police Department is currently investigating an incident involving one staff employee of the Luck School District and one student. The investigation involves inappropriate behavior during, and outside of school hours. The staff member is no longer at the school. The Luck Police Department is investigating at this time with the cooperation of the School District.
The name of the offender was withheld at that time in accordance with legal counsel – at least until the investigation was complete – but now that Longhenry has been charged (by criminal complaint filed last Friday), the matter is public.
The Criminal Complaint
The criminal complaint is a four-page document that mostly revolves around Longhenry’s phone and it’s whereabouts. His phone was never found. The victim, a 15-year old girl, did turn her phone over to the authorities and some absolutely sickening messages from Longhenry to her were found. The text messages are so revolting, so over-the-top inappropriate, that Ledger Newspapers couldn’t possibly repeat them.
The messages recovered were mostly sent on the evening of Dec. 4 into the early morning hours of Dec. 5. It should be noted that Longhenry told the student to delete a bunch of messages, which the girl said she did.
Luck Police Chief Monte Tretsven said he initially got the call from Luck School Superintendent Cory Hinkel regarding sexual based text messages between a staff member and a 15 year-old student. Hinkel said Longhenry, the school guidance counselor, had sent inappropriate text messages to the student (victim) the previous night. The victim showed the messages to a teacher who reported the incident to administration, who hung onto her phone. Tretsven read the messages and confirmed they were from Longhenry’s phone.
As it turned out, Longhenry had just called Tretsven the day before.
Elementary Principal Jason Harelson advised Tretsven that at 9:25 a.m. (Tuesday morning, Dec. 5), Longhenry had sent an email to all Luck School staff, stating that he had lost his phone the previous day, at about noon – and requested the staff attempt to locate it.
Tretsven recorded a conversation with Longhenry about 10:00 a.m. on Dec. 5, where Longhenry asserts he had not seen his phone since around noon the day before – and he denied sending any inappropriate messages. Tretsven prompted, “Do you remember talking to me at 3:30 p.m. yesterday?”
“Oh yeah, I must’ve had it after that.”
It was Longhenry’s wife who ultimately advised that he had his phone both the night before on Dec. 4 – and that she had also received a text from him at 8:30 a.m. that morning (Dec. 5) about a house payment.
Tretsven told Longhenry to turn over his phone, but he denied having it or knowing its whereabouts. The school was searched but it did not turn up.
How it started
Tretsven met with the victim and her parents around noon on Dec. 5 and asked her to tell him what happened with Longhenry. She said that a few weeks prior she had obtained Longhenry’s phone number so she could talk to him as she was having problems with other students. She said the text messages became sexual in nature just after Thanksgiving. The victim stated that Longhenry told her to delete the messages, so she did. She said she received many other text messages over the past couple of weeks. She then handed her phone over to Tretsven.
The victim also stated that Longhenry had patted her on her buttocks a couple of times – and also remarked about her breasts being different sizes.
On Dec. 6, as part of the ongoing investigation, the victim’s cell phone was delivered to an investigator with the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office for a forensic exam.
On Dec. 8, Tretsven met with the investigator and was provided with a printout listing the text messages exchanged between the victim and Longhenry. Tretsven said the investigator was unable to retrieve the deleted text messages – but the graphic, explicit, “sext” messages sent from Longhenry’s phone to victim’s were included in the criminal complaint.
In one of the text conversations, which allegedly are all sent by Longhenry, according to the criminal complaint, he exercises a bit of caution – asking the victim if she is alone…and if she is going to be a “naughty ho.” And, towards the end, “You still there? Do me one more favor quick??? It’s super easy….Oh. Cool. I thought maybe he was already there…LOL. The favor is change my name in your contacts. I changed yours to Synidam. LOL…Can I ask you something else? What are your measurements?…”
Beyond those snippets, Ledger Newspapers chooses not to print the vulgar obscenities.
At the very end of the report, Tretsven states that on Dec. 7 he had spoken with the victim’s mother. Tretsven states the victim had shown her mother a video she had made of Longhenry displaying both of his middle fingers.
Court records show that Longhenry’s initial appearance will be at 2:00 p.m. on March 19 in Judge Jeff Anderson’s Branch 2 courtroom.
If convicted, Longhenry could be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than three years and six months – or both.