A standing ovation and enthusiastic rounds of applause welcomed five newly elected Democratic Pennridge school board directors, Bradley Merkl-Gump, Chris Kaufman, Leah Foster-Rash, Carolyn Sciarrino and Ron Wurz, following Monday’s swearing in ceremony.
The five new directors join four seated Republican directors: Christine Batycki, Jordan Blomgren, Ricki Chaikin and Robert Cormack, all elected in 2021 and each with two years remaining in their term.
“It’s a day of vigilant celebration,” said Laura Foster, a Pennridge resident, parent and co-founder of RIDGE Network. “The past couple of years have brought strife and hardship to many Pennridge families as a direct result of the outgoing board.”
Foster expressed her belief that the newly elected board is a source of hope for the community despite the divisive baggage with which they have been saddled.
The new board’s first order of business was to elect a new president and vice president. Sciarrino made a motion to nominate Wurz which was seconded by Kaufman.
“I have spoken to Ron, him asking for support for this nomination, and I did say that I wouldn’t be able to support him due to our values not aligning,” Board Director Blomgren said.
Blomgren went on to say that she could only vote for Wurz if Republican Chaikin was elected board vice president.
“As of now, it’s looking like it could possibly be Christine [Batycki] being the nomination for VP. So, I just wanted to throw that out there that if you’re truly wanting to bring the division together, it would make the most sense to have one from one side of the aisle with another one from the division to bring that together.”
The divide Blomgren referred to should not be overlooked because it was largely of her own making.
The Beacon has written extensively about policies and actions taken by the former board but, by far the most contentious step was the retention of Jordan Adams, and his company Vermilion Education, to commandeer the district’s curriculum with Blomgren’s full support and encouragement.
No amount of public comment offered by parents, students, teachers or taxpayers, including dissent from members of her own party, was capable of causing Blomgren, now the former chair the curriculum committee, to budge despite the community’s obvious antipathy toward the Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum that, in part, cost the GOP school board seats in the November election.
Calls to nominate members for the vice president slot followed.
Republican Batycki was nominated by Democrat Kaufman and Chaikin was nominated by Blomgren.
“My reason for not supporting Ron [Wurz], and I did say this to him, is I am really hopeful that we don’t have that excitement that we had last year,” said Chaikin. “I’ve seen Ron have a short fuse and get emotional and hopefully that won’t happen this go around,” Chaikin said, adding that she is certain the new board will outperform the work of the former board.
“We definitely are a board that’s going to be working together honestly and transparent. That is our goal,” said Sciarrino. She added that the nomination of Batycki for vice president demonstrated the new board members’ effort to bridge the divide Blomgren had highlighted.
“Ms. Batycki did run with Jordan [Blomgren] and Chaikin so I do think that having people on both sides is going to unite, and that’s the beginning of us working together for the community.”
Blomgren took exception to Sciarrino’s comment and indicated that Batycki was part of the previous board’s minority. “I just wanted it on the record that that is not what’s going on… I don’t want that to be like, oh, look… we have two people from different sides and that’s what we promised because that’s not how I see it.”
“For the record, you have two people from the same side who have constantly been going against the five. So I already don’t see it like that,” Blomgren asserted.
She also added that Chaikin had sent messages to newly elected board members about the board’s vice president vacancy. “She [Chaikin] even suggested she didn’t receive a text message back. I would like to know why,” which is an interesting question since so many people had complained that emails to the former board, including Blomgren, were ignored and went unanswered.
“I’m disappointed that Ricki and Jordan chose to disparage Ron,” said Jane Cramer, a Pennridge resident and outspoken advocate for public education.
Batycki was elected vice president after securing the vote of all five new members.
Blomgren, Chaikin and Cormack voted for Chaikin.
Board President Wurz outlined a few of the goals the incoming board hopes to accomplish and noted that while the Democratic slate won the election, there were 8,000 people who had voted for GOP candidates.
“It is clear that we must be a board that focuses on the entire community. I will attempt to bridge that gap in all the decisions we make. It is important now more than ever to include all viewpoints in our decision making,” he said. “We do not want to make the mistake of only listening to our supporters.
Wurz said the new board will focus on ridding the curriculum of Vermilion’s influence as well as create a curriculum review team. Revisiting the decision to reduce the number of social studies credits required for graduation as well as reviewing policies that many civil rights groups have viewed as discriminatory, were included in the projects Wurz mentioned.
“Above all, we need to make sure our policies support all of our children,” Wurz added.
“I am so grateful for the community’s support,” Board Director Kaufman told The Beacon. “The community has entrusted us with this responsibility and I will work to keep that trust by focusing on the children and their successes.”