As a parent, I have always loved the end of the school year. It’s a time of celebration and fun, but also a hard-line indicator of your child growing up. We rejoice in all they’ve learned and accomplished in the last year – from writing their name, to mastering multiplication, to submitting their final high school essay. It’s a bittersweet and exciting time and our opportunity to experience it as parents is finite.
This year in Pennridge School District, the end of the year felt different. We still ate popsicles and held award ceremonies, but heads were shaking and eyes were rolling. Our district has been beaten down by endless indiscretions from our School Board. About a month before the last bell rang, our School Board signed a contract with Vermilion Education, a 6-month old private curriculum consultant from Michigan, with deep ties to far-right Hillsdale College. A few days later, the district’s four curriculum consultants were abruptly told they would likely be reassigned to different positions. Last week, our superintendent took a sudden medical leave of absence, missing both graduation and senior awards. His departure came shortly after he wrote the School Board expressing his concerns about the Vermilion hire.
This week, our School Board Facilities Committee will be reviewing hundreds of books that are being ‘weeded’ from our district libraries. Some of these books could be outdated or worn, but when asked why all copies of certain editions are being wiped from the stacks, our beleaguered superintendent pointed to recently updated Policy 109 and its vague definition of ‘sensitive topics’. Classics, by some of our country’s most treasured writers: Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, Alice Walker and Amy Tan (to name a few) completely wiped from the shelves. School Board meetings are scheduled, then postponed, then called back on; only to be ultimately canceled after childish board in-fighting and questions of legality.
The School Board also recently restructured the district’s bathroom policy. This rushed, carelessly considered policy left teachers and students reeling in the final weeks of school. Worst of all, it left trans students unsafe and vulnerable; another blow to a student population discounted and unprotected in our schools.
In the midst of all this turmoil, the most beloved resource of our district, our teachers, are in contract negotiations with the district. Pennridge teachers are the lowest paid in all of Bucks County and the School Board seems unwilling to bridge that gap; in fact, with an increase in benefit costs, many of them will be receiving less take home. Meanwhile, our new curriculum consultant takes a seat at the table with an open-ended contract, charging the district $125/hr. Low pay and even lower morale are never a good combination, and our teachers are leaving for other opportunities in droves. At the high school, 6 of the 21 science teachers will be moving on to other schools or fields – not a single one leaving due to retirement. How will Pennridge attract new, talented teachers in its current state of dysfunction considering Pennsylvania issued its lowest ever number of new-teacher certifications in 2023?
While it feels dire, we can still turn things around in Pennridge. We need to bring balance back to our school board. Pennridge parents, students and community members need to come together. Let’s stop playing politics and experimenting with our kids’ curriculum. It’s time to elect school board directors who will truly put students and teachers first. Hopefully, by the end of next school year, we can eat our popsicles in peace.