MWHS alumni help bring news to Twin Cities

By Blaze Fugina Community Editor

When Twin Cities residents turn on their televisions to watch local news programs, there is a fair chance they see the work of a Mound Westonka High School graduate.

That is because three MWHS graduates – David Gillette, Jay Olstad and Rachel Slavik – all work as anchors and reporters for local television stations. Though each has had different paths to where they are now, each started out as students in the Westonka Public School District.

David Gillette

David Gillette, a Minnetrista native, is currently a commentator on the Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) show Almanac. According to the show’s website, Almanac is a "hour-long mix of news, politics and culture (that) is seen live statewide on the six stations of the Minnesota Public Television Association."

Gillette said that he got his start on local access television before he began his television career, and that led to his start with TPT. Gillette said that he wears many hats while working with Almanac; he does reporting, is an occasional fill in host and does commentary on the show as well.

"Think Andy Rooney, but with cartoons," he said.

Gillette said that he got a fast start learning to host Almanac in 2010, when he was hosting for the first time on what was supposed to be a slow news day. That changed when a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling was made against former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s use of unallotment in attempts to balance the state budget. With an important news story breaking, the small four to five person crew of Almanac had to put together the show quickly.

"It was supposed to be a slow news day," he said. "But it ended up being one of the biggest stories of the year. I had to learn to be a political reporter and pretty much put together the whole show."

While at Mound Westonka, Gillette said he was able to learn a lot from his "fantastic" art and English teachers, during what he called the "golden age" of Mound Westonka High School.

"I left Mound with the belief that I could earn a living doing that," he said about illustration and story telling.

Gillette also said that he has observed the work of both Olstad and Slavik, and he said that

"I have definitely tracked Jay and Rachel’s careers, too," he said. "They are doing it in a slightly different way. It is exciting to see them killing it."

Besides working at TPT, Gillette said that he also owns a house in Minnetrista, and that his parents still live in the city as well. Almanac can be seen on TPT on Fridays at 7 p.m.

Jay Olstad

Jay Olstad is a recent arrival to the Twin Cities television news scene, starting his job at KARE 11 news in November of 2011. Before working in the area, he spent time in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Billings, Mont.

Olstad graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a degree in broadcast journalism, and interned for KARE 11 back in 2001.

Before all of that, Olstad was a Mound Westonka Student where he got his start with a morning talk show at the school. Olstad said the show was played over the school’s loudspeaker system during Tuesday and Thursday Mornings.

"We would come in around 6:30 or 7 and play music and talk about the news," he said. "I have (recently) gotten a lot of comments and emails and teachers about it."

Olstad said his family still lives in Mound. His dad, Harley Olstad, taught at Mound for more than 30 years, was a basketball coach and a counselor as well.

During his time in news reporting, Olstad said there have been many interesting stories he has covered. Those include covering dinosaur digs in Montana and the Interstate 35 W bridge collapse. He has also won an award for coverage of a teachers strike.

The biggest story Olstad said he has covered was the 35 W bridge collapse, which was also very tragic.

"It was an exciting story, but one with a horrible outcome," he said. "With people dying, it was a tragic site."

As a news reporter, Olstad said he enjoys being able to talk to people who are out doing interesting things.

"That’s what I like about this job," he said. "It involves ordinary folks doing extraordinary things."

During his time reporting, Olstad said that he has run into both Gillette and Slavik.

"It is interesting that all three of us have ended up her in the media," he said. "Both (Slavik and Gillette) are extremely talented."

Olstad is also married, and met his wife, Jessica, while they both were television reporters in Green Bay. Jessica now works as a public relations executive in St. Paul, and they have an almost 2-year-old daughter named Kenzie.

Olstad said his work can be seen on KARE 11, typically at 10 p.m. on Monday through Friday.

Rachel Slavik

Rachel Slavik is another Mound Westonka High School graduate who has worked as a reporter in other locations before relocating back to the Twin Cities.

According to her biography on the CBS Minnesota website, Slavik has been working for WCCO since October of 2010. Before, she spent three years as a reporter, producer and anchor in Baton Rouge, La. She also worked for a Duluth NBC television affiliate KBJR.

Slavik works as a general assignment reporter for WCCO 4 news, which airs on weekdays in the morning, noon, 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.