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How the Pennridge Community Came Together to Reject Moms for Liberty, Vermilion Education, and Political Extremism

An interview with Dawn Curran, Emily Smith, and Kevin Foster about their successful campaign to return responsible leadership to Pennridge school board.
The Pennridge Community Alliance team.

As a resident of the Pennridge District, I was particularly invested in the outcome of the school board election and voted accordingly. When the results were tallied, I found myself elated and relieved since the future of the education of the students in our community was lying in the balance. It also assures me of the possibility that these same voters will speak their minds and vote their values in the larger elections. The team behind the winning slate includes Dawn Curran, Emily Smith, and Kevin Foster. Clearly, it was all hands-on deck and with it, the knowledge that the oversight for our local schools is in now good hands.

The Pennridge school district has made national news for both positive and negative reasons. Can you please outline the challenges the community has faced prior to the election? 

In recent years, Pennridge’s academic rankings have plummeted, and our district has been in local and even national news for the school board’s political extremism and embarrassing behavior and infighting. Our previous school board leadership was focused on their own culture war agenda instead of addressing the real problems in Pennridge, with our opponents promising more of the same. As a result, teachers, administrators, and support staff were unhappy with the climate in our district, and they left in record numbers. We lost many beloved staff members. 

Instead of fixing these problems, the former board made them worse. They let the teachers’ contract lapse, and they publicly showed contempt for our staff. Our district had been taken over by outsiders, our policies were being written by Harrisburg lobbyists, and our curriculum writing was outsourced to an unqualified out-of-town political consultant. Our opponents made their campaign about national political talking points, who promised more of the same embarrassment and instability. Our campaign was focused on ending the chaos and restoring Pennridge’s reputation, which truly resonated with the community. 

And with the most recent election, Ron Wurz, Chris Kaufman, Bradley Merkl-Gump, Leah Foster Rash, and Carolyn Sciarrino on the “Pennridge Community Alliance” were voted in to fill five vacant seats. What does that mean for the students, teachers, and families in the district?

The PCA team is an incredible group of leaders with impressive, varied backgrounds and experiences. They are all Pennridge parents with a vested interest in the stability of our district, and they genuinely want to bring the community together. They promised “Pennridge over Party” when they ran, and they have already started making good on that pledge by undoing damage done by the previous board and working to restore an accurate and thorough teaching of American history to our students. This was one of many election issues widely supported by voters across the political spectrum.

Our main goal for the campaign was to inform voters both about the damage caused by the current board, and about the strong qualifications of the PCA candidates. We wanted to empower the community to make their voices heard at the polls.

What was your role in helping to orchestrate this sweep and what prompted you to get involved?

Like the PCA candidates, we’re parents, and we’re active in many community groups. We want to help make Pennridge a better place to live, and this means supporting a strong public education system. We, Dawn Curran from Bedminster, Kevin Foster from Hilltown, and Emily Smith from East Rockhill, coordinated the campaign to focus on topics that mattered most to the community. Between the three of our families, we have eight future, current, or former Pennridge students. The instability affected our families, and those of our friends and family across Pennridge. We want our children and every other child in the district to graduate with a world-class education.  

READ: Bucks County Judge Rebukes Pennridge School District for Acting In Bad Faith, Orders It to Produce Library Records And Pay Legal Fees

To accomplish that, we needed to inform as much of the community as possible about the previous board’s mismanagement. We coordinated messaging, designed mailers, created videos, wrote ads, and organized volunteers to door knock, write postcards and of course fundraise. While it was a ton of work, we were blessed to have many community volunteers who are all passionate about the district and improving it for the entire community.

Please talk about Vermilion and the importance of terminating the contract with them.

The previous board leadership awarded Vermilion Education Consulting an open-ended contract that was kept secret from the community and school officials until the eleventh hour. Vermilion’s founder Jordan Adams, who lacks public education experience and has a highly political agenda, was given total access to the K-12 curriculum. From the start, Adams’ suggested changes demonstrated a lack of expertise and knowledge about Pennridge students. The PCA candidates made terminating the Vermilion contract a major platform item of their campaign. While our opponents promised to continue the contract, voters across the political spectrum overwhelmingly agreed with our position. The community wants our own local and qualified Pennridge staff in charge of our students’ education.

How had Moms for Liberty attempted to infiltrate the Pennridge District as they had in Central Bucks?

Moms for Liberty’s infiltration was nowhere more evident than in Pennridge. Shortly after being hired by our school board, Jordan Adams was a presenter at the M4L National Conference. His message? A How-To about getting school boards to further M4L goals. He even gloated about being “the fox in the henhouse.”  Thankfully, our community made it clear at the polls that we don’t want M4L, Jordan Adams, or political extremism tearing apart our community or damaging our children’s education.

What is the message Pennridge Community Alliance wants to send?

Your voice makes a difference. Pennridge is a proud community, full of people who value a strong and stable school district. During the campaign, we met so many new faces: volunteers, people who attended our events, and those we met at the doors. 

We are incredibly thankful to everyone who sent a text, called a friend, wrote a postcard, and for all those who got involved for the first time.

Now, it is our honor to serve the community, and we are excited to be part of the future of our district!

I read their pledge and give a thumbs up to the idea of collaboration without focusing on party politics and a welcoming hand across the aisle. How do you see that benefiting the community in general?

We ran a campaign focused on real issues affecting Pennridge, not national political talking points. We know many Republicans and Independents crossed the aisle to vote for us, because they recognize that the school board should be about our children and our community, not politics. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

We must all stay engaged! Just a few months ago, flipping the school board seemed close to impossible. Change happened because so many people stepped up, got involved, talked to their neighbors, and got out to vote. We can’t afford to back down! To ensure the future we want for our district, we must continue to use our voices and support our new board.

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Edie Weinstein

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, journalist, interfaith minister, speaker and author. She is the co-founder of Bucks County Kind.

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