The Frustration of a Pennridge School District Parent

If you are unhappy, like I am, with the ideological actions of the school board and its lack of transparency and accountability, the election on November 7 is the only remedy.

We are two months into the school year, and as a parent of a Pennridge 9th grader, I want to share our experience and hopefully get some answers. I have been very outspoken and critical of the changes to the curriculum, the hiring of Jordan Adams and Vermillion, and the series of chaotic choices that have placed us in this situation. But first, let me start with a heartfelt thank you for the social studies teachers who do everything they can to adapt this curriculum to something the students can hopefully absorb. I know this was thrust upon you and you can only work with what you are given. To the students, I know this is difficult, please do not let this chaotic moment deter or impede your academic careers. I can promise you that as parents, we are doing all we can to fix this and get things back on track.

To recap this madness, here’s a rundown of what led us here. 

The first domino was the changing of the graduation requirements for social studies from 4 credits to 3 in December 2022. This was not a recommendation by then Superintendent Dr. Bolton, it has been widely protested by parents, teachers, and staff from the start, and we still do not have a reason for why the change was forced through. All we know is board member Megan Banis-Clemens, the school board vice president, did her research. From what I can tell, because there was no proposal or discussion, is that she took a singular part of what Radnor Township School District (Ranked #1 in PA per Niche) and thought it would fix our continued fall in rankings (now #148 in PA per Niche). Just to clarify, we had just approved a brand-new curriculum that took 3 years to properly cultivate with a massive team, oversight, and thorough discussion.

In January, the right-wing majority school board then pushed our teachers and curriculum supervisors to incorporate the Hillsdale 1776 curriculum for 9th grade social studies. In June, a few things happened. The board halted the curriculum work, as the board was not content with the fact that they were not using Hillsdale as the primary source for the curriculum. At the same time, the board had forced a contract through for Vermillion Education, to make Hillsdale College graduate and former employee Jordan Adams our curriculum consultant.

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The board also had an agenda item to dissolve the curriculum supervisor positions. We also had a major breakdown in negotiations in the teacher’s contract. It is important to point out that the curriculum was meeting all deadlines up to the point that the board halted their work. Thankfully, the protesting of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and other board members forced the board to table the motion. This is still available for them to take up again. This act would have given the new consultant unfettered decision-making and curriculum writing. Something he has never done for a public school district, especially not in Pennsylvania. There are three concerning frames of contention with this contract: 

1. There was no process to this hiring; 

2. Adams is unqualified for this task; 

3. Banis-Clemens was adamant that the change in graduation requirements would have no financial impact on the school district. Banis-Clemens in the September 26, 2023, meeting (~1:10:00) said, “She was calling every board member to say ‘hey I’m going to make the suggestion, I want to add this to the agenda.’ She got to board member #7, yes she called 7 board members, not 5, and by the time she got to board member #7, Dr. Bolton had already sent out an email highlighting that this was going to be on the agenda.” 

This was the process to hire a consultant? 

This was not a referral by Dr. Bolton. In his email to the board, we learned that he had doubts and questions about the hiring. No vetting, no proposal, no bidding process, and no public knowledge. Why was this rushed through? Banis-Clemens states in the September 28 meeting (~1:09:26) that “it is extensive and our administration was not, did not have any experience going through all of that curriculum.” She referred to the efforts of our teachers and administrators as “reinventing the wheel.”

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So, they offered a vague, completely open-ended contract to someone with ties to Hillsdale College and who recently spoke at Moms for Liberty’s national summit in Philadelphia. No scope or purview, no measurables to monitor, no distinctions or expectations to work towards. Please just read the progress reports from Adams, watch his presentation, watch his interaction with our curriculum supervisors, and assess his abilities he has presented. You tell me if he’s qualified. I have yet to find anything that leads me to think he is. Financially, we have his contract, that we cannot account for because his work is not managed, just reported. We also have the mounting legal fees associated with everything involved. The board refuses to disclose the cost associated with the legal side.

We are two months into the school year with a partially made curriculum that I am told was copy and pasted from a college course. The only applicable text is a college level text that did not pass approval for use. Hillsdale 1776 is not taught in any Pennsylvania public school district, that includes Radnor. In Adams’ progress report, he writes, “Pennridge parents can now be assured that their children studying social studies at these grade levels will be taught using high-quality curriculum with teachers guidance.” This is the purpose of any curriculum. If you want to assure us, show us how this is high-quality. If you want us to believe this is bias-free, show us how this content showcases a multitude of lenses so our students can understand the weight and impacts of the moments they are learning. While our teachers struggle to adapt this curriculum, they lack resources to adequately teach, and this places an undue burden and struggle on our students. 

We need to know why there was no October curriculum meeting. We need transparency in the work being done to actually feel assured. Is this status quo what you want from your school board?

We need better. 

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Picture of David O'Donnell

David O'Donnell

David O'Donnell recently ran for School Board Director in Pennridge SD. He has been a manager in Retail and Hospitality for over 20 years. He works within the community through organizations such as Pennridge Democrats. He is also a coach in the Pennridge Little League.

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