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PSD board members fume over “secret” curriculum meeting


Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Pennridge School Board member Megan Banis-Clemens defended a meeting attended by curriculum committee chair Jordan Blomgren, curriculum consultant Jordan Adams and herself but made no statements regarding board members taking a hands-on approach to  writing curriculum. 

Pennridge School Board member Christine Batycki says she learned “by happenstance” Friday morning that curriculum consultant Jordan Adams would be meeting later that day with two other school directors.

Batycki, a member of the board’s Curriculum Committee, would have liked to sit in on the meeting to gain a better understanding of how Adams’ recommendations for reviewing and rewriting curriculum have progressed since he landed a controversial, last-minute $125-an-hour contract in April despite what critics said was limited experience. Of particular interest is the 9th grade Social Studies Curriculum, which is being rewritten after the board dropped the high school graduation requirement for Social Studies from 4 credits to 3.

But Batycki couldn’t get anyone to tell her where or when the meeting would take place, whether Adams was there in person or over Zoom.

“It’s like this big secret,” Batycki said. “That’s why they’re not telling us. They don’t want us there.”

Batycki said she emailed Adams the next day to ask for his notes from the meeting. She said she had previously been told “any board member could email him and he would be happy to respond to questions.”

Instead, Adams declined to tell Batycki what was discussed at the meeting. In an emailed response, he referred Batycki to either Curriculum Committee Chair Jordan Blomgren or Board Vice President Megan Banis-Clemens, both of whom attended the meeting, for that information. Adams said his company, Vermilion Education, “abides by all public meeting laws, and I don’t believe it is my place to share the comments of specific board members.”

Adams did, however, include a copy of his Progress Report dated July 25 covering consulting activities for the previous month. The one-page, four-paragraph report said … “Vermilion is continuing the process of drafting and revising recommendations and model curricula for district consideration in 7th and 8th Grade Analysis Fiction and Non-Fiction (Reading/English Language Arts) and Social Studies in grades 1-5 and grade 9.

“Furthermore, district staff and I have discussed areas in which curricular recommendations may be able to strengthen the curricula in these courses,” Adams continues. “Recommendations that reflect these discussions are being finalized for review.”

The number of hours Adams billed for July work was not available.

Batycki said she was disappointed by Adams’ response, calling it “snarky,” “slick,” and “a big goose egg.”

“None of us understand specifically what he’s doing,” she said. “Maybe we would be on board if we understood better.”

In a social media post last week, the Curriculum Committee’s Rikki Chaikin dismissed complaints about the meeting as “manufactured chaos.” She said Adams has been providing thorough reports on what he’s doing.

Board member Joan Cullen disagreed. “This is what … Pennridge taxpayers are paying $125 an hour in unlimited numbers for,” she said, referring to the July report. “A guy to talk in vague terms about what he’s supposedly doing but never really showing anything of substance that he’s accomplished.”

Banis-Clemens, who is not a member of the Curriculum Committee, defended the meeting.

“Jordan Blomgren is the curriculum chair,” she said. “It is her responsibility to meet with the administration for planning and agenda-setting meetings and to loop in board leadership.”

Blomgren did not return an email seeking comment.

While board members are not supposed to be writing curriculum, Cullen said the meeting snub continues a string of incidents in which not all board members are privy to the same information. She cited the Vermillion contract, a lack of details about contract negotiations with the teachers’ union, and the refusal to hold an annual board retreat as required by policy as the most recent examples.

Cullen said the full board never discussed having board members sit in on curriculum review discussions. Typically, the board would form a subcommittee for that type of activity, she said.

“The rules keep changing based on what this quote-unquote leadership wants to do,” Cullen said. “It is not normal to have board members and some consultant taking control of this situation.”

While board members are free to sit in, observe, and offer comments at meetings, they should not be writing curriculum, Cullen said. “They’ll tell you they’re not but here’s definitely a heavy hand and it’s not open to all.”

With the next public Curriculum Committee meeting not scheduled until Aug. 21, Cullen said she wonders how teachers will be able to implement curriculum they may not see until a week before school starts Aug. 28.

“I have no idea what our ninth graders are going to be learning when they walk in the door at the end of August,” she said. “It’s a tall order for teachers to deliver a curriculum they’ve never seen.”

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