Before late April, most people living in the Pennridge community probably were not familiar with the name Jordan Adams. But then a bitterly divided Pennridge School Board hired him as a consultant to review its social studies curriculum.
Suddenly, Adams became a household name.
So who exactly is Jordan Adams? What are his educational philosophies? And how much influence will he have in shaping what PSD students learn?
Adams, 34, formed Vermilion in December. Previously, he graduated in 2013 from conservative Christian Hillsdale College in Michigan, 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 aligning their curriculum to Hillsdale’s 1776 Project, which critics say whitewashes history in the name of American exceptionalism.
Vermilion's website says the company exists because “children deserve nothing less than the best possible education.” It goes on to describe Vermilion as “an independent, nonpartisan, and non-religious small business committed to helping public school board members, staff, and teachers strengthen the education they deliver to their students” that is “world-class and free of ideology.”
In voting to approve an open-ended $125-an-hour consulting contract with Adams’ Vermilion Education, one school board member made his mission clear. She said she “was elected to get bias out of our curriculum” and that the district was failing in its mission to ensure “that every single kid who leaves Pennridge loves this country and understands our Constitution.”
In advance of Tuesday night’s Curriculum Committee meeting where he is scheduled to present his findings via Zoom, Adams agreed to answer questions through Twitter’s Direct Message system. His responses have not been edited.
Q. Are you aware of the negative reaction your contract has created in Pennridge?
A: I am aware of both negative and positive reactions, which is unsurprising given the rhetoric and misconceptions surrounding education today.
Q. What do you say to people who claim you are going to impose a "white, Christian conservative" ideology on the curriculum?
A: Vermilion Education does not consider one's skin color in the course of its operations and does not discriminate in its content or recommendations. It is not a Christian business. It is also nonpartisan.
Q. What is the scope of your work with Pennridge?
A: Per the contract, to assist with the review and development of curricula. The district decides when to ask for that help, the nature of the help, and what to do with any analysis Vermilion provides. Vermilion has no authority to make any changes in the district.
Q. Can you describe the work you've done so far? Are you reviewing curricula other than Social Studies?
A: A Progress Report was delivered to the board on May 9, per contract terms. Please see its contents. (Note: The report is not included in Tuesday night’s curriculum agenda supporting documents. It is unclear when or if it will be released.)
Q. Did you recommend eliminating four curriculum supervisor positions? If so, why?
Q. What is your role in the upcoming Moms for Liberty event? (Note: Adams is listed as a Breakout Session speaker.)
A: I would redirect you to Moms for Liberty.
Q. How many curriculum review proposals have you submitted to school districts throughout the country?
A: Districts request services from Vermilion or else issue RFPs where required. Vermilion does not approach districts.
Q. How many schools are you working with currently?
A: As districts request services from Vermilion, I allow them to disclose the status of such work. (Note: Pennridge is believed to be the first public school district in the country to hire Vermilion.)
Q. What are the three most pressing issues facing public education in the U.S. today?
A: 1) Declines in academic achievement. 2) Trust between parents and district officials. 3) Transparency.
Q. Adams was asked to react to a WFMZ news story regarding his contract with Pennridge.
A. Regarding the news report, I have received no indication from the board at this time that my Catholic faith is a factor in approving or opposing the contract with Vermilion.
Q. How has your philosophy in curriculum development been influenced by your association with Hillsdale?
A: I gained a wide breadth of curricular and pedagogical knowledge from reviewing many curricula and working with many teachers.
Q. What has been the most important influence in shaping your approach to curriculum development?
A: An appreciation for the compatibility of skills and content.
Q. If you were given the opportunity to address a room full of Pennridge parents, what would you say to convince them that your approach to curriculum development is in their children's best interests?
A: Once the recommendations are complete, see for yourselves that Vermilion's suggestions are fair, nonpartisan, in accord with laws respecting religious instruction in schools, and modestly but consistently help students to love learning and to grow academically.
Moreover, since these are only recommendations and Vermilion has no authority to change curricula, the district will decide how it wishes to use them in its curriculum development work.
Q. In your experience, how common or uncommon is it for school board members to take a hands-on approach to curriculum development?
A: Different districts take different approaches, but it appears Pennridge's approach is aligned with the public nature of public schools, namely, that the majority of the community governs the schools and what they teach through their representatives on the school board.