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HOGAN: Addressing the Pennridge Contract with Vermilion

I would like to candidly share my thoughts on the Pennridge contract with Vermilion.  This is a complex issue that requires thoughtful consideration, and I’ve grown concerned about the oversimplified portrayals of it in recent public discussion.

First and foremost, the goal of reviewing curriculum for bias and age-appropriateness is commendable.  Our primary focus should always be on providing a quality education, free from undue political or ideological influences.  The intent behind the Vermilion engagement aligns with this objective, and I support that intent.

My biggest struggle with Vermilion is that I believe Pennridge educators should be the primary architects of Pennridge curriculum. It seems obvious that optimal curriculum development begins and ends with the dedicated teachers who bring it to life in the classroom. Consequently, I have reservations about the extent of Vermilion’s direct involvement in crafting the final product. I want to clarify that my concern is not about who can legally write curriculum but rather about who should.  Contrary to the prevailing narrative, there is no Pennsylvania law, statute, code, or policy requiring any qualifications to write curriculum.  I just believe that the most productive approach is for district staff to lead the process.

In my opinion, the contract with Vermilion would not have been necessary if the Board’s curriculum directives had been carried out faithfully. The Board requested a specific curricular approach and because there was resistance to implementing that request, the Board was left with limited options. They had to either bring in an external consultant to represent their perspective or accept a curriculum that didn’t meet their standards.

In light of this, I pose a question: What should a School Board do when faced with strong opposition from their own staff regarding curriculum decisions? Should they simply accept a curriculum they are dissatisfied with?  If so, why elect School Directors at all?  Curriculum is among the most vital responsibilities of a School Board, and for good reason.

Looking ahead, I propose a balanced approach: 1) return the responsibility and ownership of curriculum writing to Pennridge staff, and 2) pursue targeted engagements with Vermilion for curriculum transparency and oversight.  By “targeted”, I mean dedicated contracts with clear terms of length, scope, and cost.  I prefer this approach over the current open-ended contract because I believe it gives the staff and community members more awareness of the Board’s vision and transparency into the process.

Despite the difficulties thus far, I have confidence in the ability of our Pennridge educators to professionally respect the Board’s directives. It’s my hope that we can achieve a more productive outcome by providing clarity that district staff are to architect the curriculum and the Board is to provide strategic direction ahead of approving it.  I believe that such clear roles can help foster a positive relationship that eventually renders the Vermilion engagement unnecessary.  On the other hand, there may be occasional instances of district staff obstructing the will of the Board, and those instances should be addressed on a case-by-case basis as a personnel matter.  Accountability is a critical element of leadership.

While I advocate for Pennridge educators to lead curriculum development, I acknowledge the value in Vermilion’s ability to review and document issues.  I am thankful that Vermilion has discovered content directly from Black Lives Matter and the Southern Poverty Law Center in our curriculum, as I believe those organizations have no place in Pennridge schools.  Additionally, Vermilion has flagged the teaching of gender ideology and institutional racism in our English curriculum, which opens the door to bias if such concepts are taught as accepted fact rather than the belief systems they are.

My recommendation to the current Board, district staff, and the community, is that we adopt a model where Vermilion reviews curriculum for bias and age-inappropriate content on a targeted basis, and its reviews are made publicly available for increased transparency.  The Board can utilize these reviews and any associated recommendations in its guidance to the district staff, who then oversee the actual development of curriculum content.

Ultimately, my aim is to provide a well-rounded education, focusing on the fundamentals while addressing concerns of bias or inappropriateness as they arise. Achieving this balance is vital for student success.

Thanks for hearing me out. This is an issue I’d like to hear more individual perspectives on, especially from candidates for school board, because I don’t think it’s quite so simple as blanket “for” or “against.”  If we are willing to offer criticism, we should also be willing to offer solutions.  This is my proposed solution; I’d love to hear yours.

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