Embattled Vermilion Education chief Jordan Adams says he has no regrets about a curriculum review he provided last week to the Pennridge School Board that was panned for being unoriginal, unrealistic, and out of touch with state standards.
“In my judgment, the findings of the curriculum review are sound and accurate, and I stand by them entirely,” he said via a Twitter Direct Message.
Adams has been a lightning rod for criticism since late April when the PSD board pushed through a last-minute consulting contract with Vermilion, that passed by a 5-4 vote. Critics have said the 34-year-old Adams does not have the requisite experience to write curriculum and that his association with Hillsdale College and its conservative Christian 1776 Project ideology makes him a bad choice to play any role in shaping how and what the district’s 6,500 students are taught.
Adams’ first public appearance on June 20, a PowerPoint presentation held via Zoom at 9:30 p.m., drew scorn from some board members, teachers, and the public for his recommendations about the district’s Reading, English and Language Arts (RELA) and Social Studies curricula. They questioned the scope and sequence of his proposals as well as his choice of reading materials, using classics to replace more contemporary authors. One recommendation in particular that raised eyebrows was for first graders to take one semester each of American and Middle East history.
Board member Joan Cullen, noting Vermilion had billed the district for 60 hours of work at $125 an hour, said she was surprised by his review of the RELA curriculum, since it was outside the contract’s scope.
“This is wildly off the path of what it was intended to do. It doesn’t seem like there was a lot of communication,” said Cullen. “I was writing a lot of these things down, and it seems like a recitation of what Pennridge is already doing.”
Adams said he was not surprised by the negative reaction to his curriculum review report.
“Given the things alleged about me and my work, I suspect some would act this way, either out of a lack of accurate information or some other motive,” he said. “The lengths to which some are going to silence discussions of alternative approaches to improving education is alarming and telling.”
The next night, in a surprising move, the board backtracked on its plan to eliminate four Curriculum Supervisor positions. Before they had a chance to reassign Sara Raber (ELA), Jenna Vitale (Social Studies), Howard Vogel (Math), and Eric Daney (Science) to other positions within the district, board Vice President Megan Banis-Clemens said the agenda item “Approval of Abolishment of Curriculum Supervisors” would be tabled.
Adams said he did not play a role in the board’s decision to reconsider its plan to eliminate the curriculum supervisors position “as this is not included in the contracted work” and added he is looking forward to working with them this summer. He said all his conversations with district staff have been “respectful and cooperative. I am confident that these qualities will prevail in the process,” he said.
Banis-Clemens said the decision to spare the positions was the result of “a wonderful and honest conversation with the supervisors and assistant superintendents the other day and we shared our perspectives and talked through what we all want to see from the supervisory roles and how that reflects our overall goals and priorities for student achievement.
“We wanted to give the administration and supervisors the opportunity to share and support their perspective on why they feel the current structure is a stronger benefit to students.”
Banis-Clemens said the data for rankings and student success has not shown growth with the addition of supervisors. “I have seen the supervisor roles expanded and additional instructional coaches added over the years,” she said. “Our supervisors used to teach and only supervise part of the day and those changes haven’t demonstrated growth.”
There also is no data to support supervisors over department coordinators, which reflects a model of giving a stipend to a teacher for the additional responsibilities, she said.
“On the contrary, pulling students based on the data from assessments and working with them in small groups based on their individual needs with teaching assistants has provided significant data of increased student growth,” she said.
Banis-Clemens added that many board members feel the best way to direct resources to the classroom is by having them working with kids and hiring more teaching assistants to push into the classrooms.
“The proposal to cut administrative overhead and redirect resources to the classroom is something I have talked about and ran on for eight years and something I have heard from countless teachers,” she said.
Banis-Clemens said she is hopeful that a collaborative approach will put a focus on providing “the best opportunities for students to be successful and set ourselves up to attain that goal.”