Republican candidate for Pennridge school board director Josh Hogan accused Social Studies curriculum supervisor Jenna Vitale of attempting to sabotage Monday’s Pennridge Curriculum Committee meeting by “openly launch[ing] an ambush” on the pro-Vermilion Education school board majority, offering no evidence or way to corroborate his attack.
Hogan then doubled down on his accusation about Vitale on Facebook in the days following the Curriculum Committee meeting saying that the board meeting was not the place for Vitale to have provided certain information.
The Republican candidate’s attack was seemingly prompted by Vitale’s responses to direct questions from Directors Joan Cullen and Jonathan Russell.
When asked, Vitale affirmed that Jordan Adams had written curriculum and that Adams told her that the board directors had asked him to make a specific resource “required” versus “optional.”
READ: Pennridge Parents, Teachers Criticize Vermilion Education’s Push To Require Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum For The District
“It feels like again, that games are being played,” said Director Blomgren of Jenna Vitale’s answers.
Fellow board member Joan Cullen disagreed. “I think we have been hearing concerns from teachers, from parents, from supervisors all along,” she said.
Blomgren asked the difference between providing information at a public versus private meeting.
“This offers people more protection,” Cullen said. “They’re safer here in telling us what’s really going on.”
Someone in the audience then yelled out, “They thought they were going to lose their jobs.”
Since April, the Pennridge School District has been mired in controversy stemming from an open-ended contract with Vermilion, a months-old curriculum consulting company. It was approved without going through customary board review and with less than 24 hours’ notice to the public. Pennridge is its first client.
Then at the July board meeting it was discovered that Vermilion founder Jordan Adams, a graduate and former employee of Hillsdale Christian College, does not have the qualification needed in the Commonwealth to write curriculum – even as it was learned in the meeting by Vitale that Adams was in fact writing curriculum for her to review. Additionally, Vermilion promotes the use of the highly controversial Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum.
In his second public comment of the evening, Hogan admitted to talking with Jordan Adams, an activity that potentially violates the contract between Vermilion Education and the Pennridge School District.
9. Consultant agrees that it will not discuss the Services or its relationship with Client with any third party, except as necessary to the implementation of the intent of this Agreement or as specifically authorized or directed by Client.
Hogan also exclaimed “I’m with you, I understand what you’re trying to do and that’s what I want to do,” as he pointed directly to Blomgren and Banis-Clemens.
Several teachers have contacted the Beacon about the accusations against Jenna Vitale.
Bob Cousineau, who has been teaching for 16 years, six at Pennridge, provided a copy of his presentation that he was forced to abbreviate before he knew he would only be afforded three minutes to speak.
“First, we would like to make it very clear that Mrs. Vitale had no role in or knowledge of us social studies teachers creating this feedback on the 9th grade,” he wrote. “She is very talented and at no point is our discussion, here on the ninth-grade course, a criticism of her or her ability to do her job,” he wrote.
Kevin Wills, a Pennridge ninth grade social studies teacher for 29 years, confirmed Cousineau’s documentation and also referenced the resources for ninth grade.
“I will absolutely go on the record,” said Pennridge Social Studies teacher Wills. “Jenna did not tell us to go up to the board and speak about this. That is absolutely a false statement.”
A teacher who asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash also confirmed that Vitale had no part in the comments made by the social studies teachers and said they believes the required resources to be too challenging. “I still don’t think it’s a developmentally appropriate curriculum for incoming ninth graders,” the teacher said.
Wills said that one primary source document suggested by Vermilion, a letter from George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport Rhode Island, is not age appropriate.
“This would be somebody postgraduate level, getting their master’s and possibly getting their Ph.D.,” he said.
“I find the attacks on Ms. Vitale’s character to be unacceptable,” Director Jonathan Russell told The Beacon after posting a statement on Facebook. “I don’t believe that she ambushed anyone. I think she answered my questions honestly and candidly.”
Russell, who is up for re-election and running on the same slate of Republican candidates as Hogan, said he finds it unacceptable to perpetuate an environment of fear, distrust and contempt that seems to be permeating working relationships in the district.
“I hope to be a part of creating a new leadership environment. We want Pennridge to be a place where our teachers feel valued and where they want to work,” he said.