Freshmen entering Pennridge High School for the 2023-24 school year may be the first students to encounter fallout from the school board’s decision to reduce social studies credits.
The district’s deviation from the state’s four-credit norm occurred at the December school board meeting where it passed with a 5-4 vote by directors intent on pushing a right-wing agenda.
To accommodate the reduction in credits requires the district to create a new ninth grade social studies curriculum.
“Instead of listening to our school community, some board members have repeatedly questioned the expertise of administrators and teachers by suggesting that meeting state standards isn’t necessary for the education of our students,” 27 Pennridge social studies teachers said in an op-ed published by Phillyburbs in November.
“Five board members are steadfast in their position of power to overshadow and blatantly ignore the reality of what impact their actions will have on the entire community for years to come,” the teachers wrote.
Kevin Wills, who has been teaching social studies in the district for almost three decades, explained that a reduction in credits will impact students.
“When you eliminate that credit, you’re eliminating that full year,” he said.
The creation of curriculum is a complicated task.
“There’s a lot of things you’ve got to take into account. It’s not just about content, but it’s also about aligning the content with the Pennsylvania standards,” said Wills. “It’s also understanding the student body at Pennridge and you want to also differentiate the curriculum to meet the needs of the learners.”
The proposed ninth grade social studies syllabus is to focus on 19th Century history, civics and economics.
“Our end goal is that every single kid who leaves Pennridge loves this country and understands our constitution,” said school board director Ricki Chaikin at the December meeting about the credit revamp. “Right now that’s not happening.”
In the 2021-22 school year, 524 Pennridge eighth graders were tested on 40 questions that appear on the U.S. citizenship test. 86% passed the assessment of civic knowledge exam with 15 having perfect scores.
Seniors in the 2023-24 graduating class will also be impacted by the reduction in credits. Those who have not taken civics will not be mandated to take the course if they have already fulfilled their three-credit requirement.
“They actually are having hundreds of kids leave next year without taking a high school government or civics class,” said Pennridge social studies teacher Robert Cousineau.
Cousineau is also concerned with the changes to the curriculum and has encouraged parents of students entering ninth grade to write to the board and encourage the use of last year’s board approved curriculum.
“Megan Banis-Clemens created this problem when she spearheaded the move to reduce social studies credits and mandated significant changes to the existing course,” wrote Cousineau in a June 22 Facebook post.
Pennridge parent Amy Vanderslice Fuchs has a daughter entering the ninth grade and was surprised and disappointed by the curriculum change.
“I just trusted the school district to do the right thing,” she said. “Like a lot of other people, I moved to the area because I heard Pennridge was a good school district. We bought our forever home in 2020 and I don’t want to go anywhere. My kids love their school.”
Matters became further complicated when the five board directors responsible for the credit reduction voted to engage the consulting services of Vermilion’s Jordan Adams in April.
“If your plan is so good then why is the vast majority, including four members of the board, the administration, and the teachers against it,” asked David O’Donnell, the parent of a 2023-24 freshman during public comment at the June 20 board meeting.
“Why does this not at least give you pause to reflect,” he added, referring to the engagement of Jordan Adams and Vermilion.
“Instead, you are working at light speed, making countless mistakes.”
O’Donnell’s words would ring true. Shortly after his remarks and following a presentation by Jordan Adams, it was discovered that Adams lacks the credentials required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to write curriculum for public schools in the commonwealth.
Chris Lodwig, a teacher in another school district, has a daughter entering the ninth grade.
“It’s concerning to me that there’s no 9th grade social studies curriculum,” he said, questioning the board’s recent decisions.
“Are you trying to say that the curriculum supervisors you have aren’t qualified. In my experience, when curriculum is rewritten, it’s done with supervisors with teachers.”
Chris Marshall is the parent of an incoming freshman and quite concerned about the social studies curriculum.
“It’s just a right-wing power play to try to push a particular point of view and it’s appalling,” he said. “I’m very much hoping that we can get a change in the board this fall to get that sorted but that’s not going to be in time to sort out the curriculum to start the year.”
Currently, the school district is operating without a superintendent or a collective bargaining agreement for educators.