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Controversial Pennridge consultant to get $125 per hour with no cap


A deeply divided Pennridge School Board has narrowly approved a contract with a curriculum consultant that director Ron Wurz called an "unqualified" outsider with "political motivations."

Others who voted against the deal complained about it being added to the agenda at the last minute with no discussion at the committee level, and because it does not include a cap on spending.

Teachers, parents and students also urged the board to vote “no” during a contentious meeting that often saw board members talking over each other and people in the audience shouting out their displeasure.

Pennridge is believed to be the first school district in the country to sign on with Vermilion Education, a five-month-old Michigan firm with ties to conservative Christian Hillsdale College and its 1776 Project, which critics say whitewashes history in the name of American exceptionalism. Founder Jordan C. Adams will be paid $125 an hour plus travel, lodging and meal expenses for an unspecified amount of time to work with administrators and teachers to update the district's K-12 social studies curriculum.

No start date, schedule, or scope of work was included in the contract, which calls for Vermilion to provide “consulting services related to assisting district staff in the review and development of curricula” and to write reports to the school board and public on curriculum development progress.

The vote was 5-4, with board President Dave Reiss and directors Megan Banis-Clemens, Jordan Blomgren, Bob Cormack, and Ricki Chaikin voting in favor of the contract. Wurz, Joan Cullen, Jonathan Russell, and Christine Batycki voted against it.

“There are so many things wrong with this contract and the way the board is handling this,” Wurz said before the vote. “It’s an insult to the community if we go ahead with this. It certainly shows we’re not listening to our parents and to the students. It shows a lack of leadership, business acumen, and the communication is just beyond poor.”

Chaikin, who reminded the audience she “was elected to get bias out of our curriculum,” defended the contract but did not address specific objections. “Our end goal is that every single kid who leaves Pennridge loves this country and understands our Constitution,” Chaikin said. “Right now, that’s not happening.”

Adams, 34, formed Vermilion in December. Previously, he graduated from Hillsdale in 2013, taught at a charter school and a Catholic school, and returned to his alma mater as an employee tasked with growing the number of charter schools using Hillsdale’s curriculum.

Two weeks ago, the Sarasota County (Florida) School Board declined to approve a contract with Vermilion Education after a community group, Support Our Schools, threatened legal action. Soon after Pennridge approved the contract, Sarasota County School Board President Barbara Ziegler posted this on her Facebook account: “WOKE” Audit (Vermilion) headed to Pennridge School Board in PENNSYLVANIA. Should be in Florida, specifically Sarasota. We could have and should have led on this. When a school district rids themselves of any social, political, or religious agendas, they remove unnecessary distractions and remain focused on improving academics for all students.

Blomgren, who voted in favor, said Vermilion’s only assignment is to aid in curriculum development. She urged parents to read the 1776 curriculum, which she said is “over 3,000 pages… I’ve read lesson plans from it, and I would encourage you to do the same thing,” she said.

But Pennridge High School Social Studies teacher Angela Schoettle, who has been working with several colleagues to review curriculum, said bringing in Vermilion shows “the school board has no trust and respect in us as professionals. As a department, we feel that this proposal is another rushed decision that did not include all stakeholders. When making specific content-based curriculum decisions, it is only appropriate to include the people who will be teaching it.”

Hilltown parent Kevin Foster said he was disgusted at the “intentional deceit of the public” by the board majority. “Our children are going to suffer due to your embarrassing decision-making, all in pursuit of a ridiculous culture war that you brought to Pennridge,” said Foster.

Student Robin Reid, a senior, said teachers deserve more respect that to have Vermilion come on board. She said teachers are leaving Pennridge for other districts so they “won’t have to deal with the constant nonsense they face at Pennridge. There is no point in spending so much money on curriculum if you’ve got no one left to teach it.”

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