Pennridge School Board Meeting Filled With Surprises

The public learned of Superintendent David Bolton’s resignation and that four curriculum supervisory positions have been removed from the chopping block, for now.

Community members packed the high school auditorium for the second consecutive night Wednesday for the Pennridge School Board meeting, even after Tuesday’s six-hour committee meeting that ran past midnight.

Bright red and yellow stickers saying “Stop Vermilion” were worn by many in attendance, including board member Christine Batycki, in a showing of solidarity and protest against the months-old and inexperienced education consultation firm with ties to Hillsdale College. 

Prior to addressing agenda items an announcement was made by the board’s solicitor Michael Miller.

“Dr. Bolton’s leave of absence due to health reasons has been extended through October 31, 2023. He’s also made the decision to voluntarily, irrevocably, retire on October 31 pursuant to agreement with the board that he had made that request for,” said Miller. 

Superintendent David Bolton had announced a 30 day medical leave of absence in June. It was anticipated that Bolton would return to his position on July 6. After Miller’s announcement no additional information was provided as to how or when the district plans to conduct an executive search to fill the critical role.

A surprising about-face announcement was then made by Vice President Megan Banis-Clemens prior to public comment regarding “Approval of Abolishment of Curriculum Supervisors,” an item on the evening’s agenda.

“Mrs. Blomgren, Mrs. Chaikin and I reached out to have a conversation with supervisors today. We had great honest conversations and shared thoughts on the roles and responsibilities of the supervisor positions to understand each other’s perspectives and our common goal of having the most significant impact on student success,” Banis-Clemens said. “We shared our motivation for these positions to provide the maximum hands-on support for students and teachers in the classroom and a direct role in the curriculum writing process.”

She then made a motion to table the elimination of the supervisor positions. The announcement was met with applause.

During the first public comment period many praised the board’s decision to retain the curriculum supervisors.

A majority of speakers continued to condemn the board for bringing Jordan Adams, the inexperienced curriculum consultant and his six-month old company, Vermilion, to the district.

Pennridge social studies teacher Bob Cousineau expressed concern with Banis-Clemens’ motion to table the termination of the supervisors saying that instead of an announcement, the board should conduct and record a formal vote on the matter.

“I want to thank you for tabling the supervisors decision,” Cousineau said. “However, I’m going to ask you now not to table it. I want you to take a vote on it, I want you to say no and I want you to end this. I was also directly talking about ending Jordan Adams here at Pennridge so we’ve got more work to do and I’m also requesting that we end this guy’s contract tonight.”

No such vote occurred during the meeting.

Joan Kulesza, Principal of Grasse Elementary School, commented about events from Tuesday’s meeting said that it was apparent to everyone that the removal of the supervisors coincided with the hiring of Vermilion and that it would provide Adams with no oversight. 

Kulesza added, “His presentation last night showed his complete lack of knowledge of academic standards, existing scope and sequence and developmentally appropriate curriculum. Frankly, it was as if he asked Alexa to show him curriculum and presented that to the board.”

East Rockhill parent Laura Foster highlighted graphs that had been presented at Tuesday’s meeting by Director Ricki Chaikin to substantiate the decision by the board’s far-right members to terminate the curriculum supervisors.

“We didn’t get any information on where any of her information came from, there’s no references or anything, but guess what, I found the graphs,” Foster said. 

She then displayed a page from Hillsdale College’s Imprimis newsletter. Jordan Adams is a graduate of Hillsdale College, a private, conservative, Christian, liberal arts college in Michigan. Adams also worked for the college.

Foster then directly implored two board members, President David Reiss and Robert Cormack, to reverse the Vermilion contract. To date both have remained silent on the matter.

“You two know what the right thing is to do. Stop hiding behind your laptops, stop hiding behind your water bottles, speak up… do the right thing,” Foster said.

The evening’s agenda was lengthy. Votes on the budget, payment of bills, district contracts, personnel matters as well as district policies were considered by the board.

Despite tremendous amounts of public input against implementing policies 720, Use of Restroom and Locker Room Facilities, and 235.1, Surveys, a majority of the board voted for them and both passed.

Board Director Wurz voted against both policies and with specific reference to Policy 720 again remarked about its illegality.

Wurz also objected to the approval to remove library books from the high school by way of “weeding” and said that the board had told the public at a previous meeting that more detailed information as to why books were being removed was forthcoming.

A vote to table the removal of books from the high school passed with Banis-Clemens being the sole dissenter.

The evening ended with an explosive vote. Director Wurz made a motion to submit a 30-day cancellation notice to Vermilion to terminate the contract. His motion was met with cheers from the audience, but they were short lived.

Five members, Reiss, Banis-Clemens, Cormack, Blomgren and Chaikin voted to keep the contract. Directors Wurz, Cullen, Russell and Batycki voted to terminate it.

Pennridge is apparently stuck with Vermilion Education.

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Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens is a freelance journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including The Reporter. An avid collector of all things vintage, she resides in the Philadelphia area.

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