Vermilion Education’s Debut at Pennridge School District Flops

Company head Jordan Adams, who will be speaking at the Moms for Liberty National Summit, gave a presentation on district curriculum that was panned by teachers, parents, and even some school board members.
In Sarasota County School District in Florida Moms for Liberty co-founder and board member Bridget Ziegler was behind trying to hire Vermillion Education. Their board voted to reject a proposed contract. Photo courtesy of @PaulinaTesterm1

Hundreds of parents, teachers and taxpayers filled the Pennridge High School auditorium Tuesday evening to hear a long-awaited Zoom presentation by Vermilion Education’s Jordan Adams in a series of committee meetings that lasted until 1 a.m.

Public comment by parents and teacher suggests his 6-month-old company isn’t welcome and his services aren’t needed. 

Resistance to engage Adams, a product of Hillsdale College, has been expressed by a majority of the community and half of the school board.

READ: In Pennridge School District Where They Banned Banned Books Week, I Read As A Form Of Protest

A discussion regarding whether to terminate the district’s curriculum supervisor positions, in part to further empower Adams’s influence, was also on the agenda and contributed to the large turnout.  

Speakers pleaded with the school board to allow the district’s curriculum experts, many with a decade or more of teaching experience and advanced degrees in education, to continue to write and direct the coursework within the district versus an outside consultant.

Nicole Gordienko, an English teacher at the high school, spoke on behalf of the high school’s English department. She explained how department teachers have invested so much time on their own education – with advanced degrees – and professional development in order to provide students with top notch curriculum and best practices in the classroom.

“The question is why one man with limited experience is being entrusted to make educational decisions for the students in a district that he is not even a part of,” said Gordienko. “I implore you to please reexamine the decision to employ Mr. Adams and look at what you have right here in front of you.”

No one in the audience spoke in favor of Vermilion education, despite a long post by school board member Ricki Chaikin entitled “The Controversy with Vermilion….and why Republicans should support Jordan Adams.” Chaikin urged her supporters to attend Tuesday night’s meetings and support the upcoming speaker at the Moms for Liberty national summit in Philadelphia who she says is not biased.

The Vermilion Zoom presentation consisted of Adams’ review of Pennridge social studies and English curricula and the changes he believed would enhance the student learning experience. Pennridge School District is the company’s first client.

Adams said his suggestions were divided into elementary, middle school and high school segments and his recommendations focused on seventh and eighth grade analysis of fiction and nonfiction, first through fifth grade social studies, and ninth grade social studies along with a recommendation to introduce additional fiction, nonfiction, poetry and suggested titles.

Adams voiced disapproval of two books currently in the curriculum, War and Watermelon and Al Capone Does My Shirts, and suggested “a more thorough vetting may have been warranted.”

The presentation then turned toward the structure of the curriculum.

READ: Pennridge School District Must Acknowledge Creationism Is Not Science

“My recommendations would be to structure the grades one through five in doing world history, half a year world history, half a year of American history,” he said. “American history would cover from exploration… through the Civil War and reconstruction twice… in grades one through two.”

At the end of the presentation Kathleen Scheid, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools asked if Sarah Raber, the Supervisor for K-12 Reading, English, Language Arts (RELA)  would come up to add clarity to some of the things that Adams presented.

“We can’t overload them with text and expect them to find success,” Raber said with regard to Adams’ suggestion to augment the current curriculum with additional materials.

“The entry level of the text doesn’t necessarily determine what we ask students to do with the content in order to engage with it to be successful with the standards,” she said. “It is part of what we consider, but my job and my teachers’ job is to make sure all students in that class can access a text.”

Raber also said that the books to which Adams had taken exception were part of the 2015 rewrite, which was the last time the courses had been updated and had received board approval. She added that some of the materials Adams was recommending were already part of the curriculum, and then continued to address additional portions of the Vermilion presentation rendering them moot.

“It was my understanding, even though I did not approve this contract, that the consultation was supposed to be with our teachers and the supervisors,” said Director Jonathan Russell. “And then I’m hearing, for the first time, that there was no contact, at least with RELA, ahead of time. So that’s concerning.” 

Russell continued that the school board is required to ensure that employees charged with developing curriculum have appropriate qualifications, which includes five years of teaching and a principal or supervisory certification. He then asked Adams if he has these qualifications. 

Adams said he doesn’t.

Additionally, the public became aware that Adams has billed the district for 60 hours for $7,500, although it’s unclear what that invoice represents.

“I can’t even go with your recommendation because theoretically, I couldn’t even hire you to provide that kind of consultation for us,” Russell added.

Pennridge parent Kevin Foster of Hilltown was first to make public comment after the Vermilion presentation.

“First things first, I have a six-year-old. She goes into first grade next year. She likes coloring. She likes playing outside in the dirt and she loves swings, her brothers and sisters. World history, ancient near east … did anyone else find that absolutely absurd?” Foster asked.

One after one, members of the community took to the podium to criticize the board for entering into a contract with Vermilion and to speak in support of the curriculum supervisors whose positions are in jeopardy of being eliminated by the board.

READ: Keeping Kids in School PAC-Endorsed QAnon Follower & Bigot Ricki Chaikin Is Unfit for Pennridge School Board

Chaikin attempted to make a presentation to substantiate the removal of the four curriculum supervisors by comparing similar positions at other Bucks County school districts, but questions regarding the veracity of her data and research were called into question.

A full board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m., where many of the items discussed, along with agenda items from the previous week’s meeting, will be brought up for voting.

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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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