Brandywine approves new elementary, middle school curriculum

Published 12:48 pm Wednesday, July 12, 2023

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NILES CHARTER TOWNSHIP — A new curriculum has been approved for Brandywine elementary and middle schoolers.

The Brandywine Community Schools Board of Education moved unanimously to approve Core Knowledge Language Arts curriculum for elementary and middle school students during Monday’s meeting.

Superintendent Travis Walker said CKLA was the choice of district teachers who reviewed possible new curricula earlier this year. Walker said teachers reviewed a number of potential ELA curricula and that the CKLA one “checked all the boxes” and had “everything they wanted to see offered.” 

School board and Curriculum Committee members Thomas Payne and Angela Seastrom asked questions of Walker, Merritt Elementary Principal Matt Severin, State and Federal Programs Director Amanda Lezotte and elementary intervention teacher Becky Lokey during the June 6 curriculum committee meeting.  

During the public comment of Monday’s meeting, many attendees expressed frustration and disappointment as to the time it took the board to reach an agreement with the 2023-24 school year less than two months away.

Payne said the reason it took longer was for board members wanting to better understand the process. 

“We’re really excited about it,” he said. “There’s a lot of misinformation about what we did and why we did it. It was just critical that we understand everything about the curriculum, how that’s going to build into grades through 12 and just make sure we’re making the right decision. We have to be prudent…The learning committee and Travis Walker did a great job. They answered all of our questions. We think it is going to be a curriculum to build on and so we’re excited to implement that and then you know, bring for anyone to the next level.”

The presence of consultant Jordan Adams at last week’s curriculum meeting also didn’t sit well with several in the audience as well. Adams was invited to attend by Payne and offer his perspective on the curriculum adoption process. Adams has his own company but previously worked for Hillsdale College. 

Payne said that Walker said he would not recommend that the district hire a consultant to help with curriculum matters, with Payne adding that it may be an option in the future. When asked if the district had paid Adams to attend the meeting, Payne said it did not.

Payne, who works for IGS Energy, said he believes that consultants could potentially identify ways to improve the district. 

“Our company is one of the leading companies in their industry,” he said. “We have more than a thousand employees. We are breaking records every year. We’ll bring in a consultant to help us understand what we can do better. I’m not an education expert so it was just good for me to consider the possibility of having a third party in order to provide a really good assessment of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and see if there’s any holes we need to fill and can we do better? I’m not saying we could or could not but just another set of eyes, an unbiased party providing some input assessments. 

“So that’s why we did it. It was nothing to do with lack of trust or anything like that, just us doing our diligence and taking our responsibility very seriously.”

During the public comment period, teachers and community members voiced their concerns regarding a variety of issues including test scores, members of the board’s ties with the We The Parents organization and the board’s engagement with the community.

Brandywine Elementary School Principal Jim Boger expressed his disappointment in the board’s recent actions and compared the four new members’ tenure to the “puppet state” described in Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince.”

“If you are a puppet state and this is how you’re going to act, historically, you are bound to fail,” he said. “Coup and revolution are coming for you. I met with you because I wanted you not to fail, I hoped you would do what was right. I think you have passion and something to give and it may not be too late. Even just one of you could choose to drop the political rhetoric. Stop micromanaging with the power trip and join us in the Bobcat nation, just be good leaders in this great community.

“Be part of us, I bet you will find more common ground than you think.”

Following Monday’s meeting, retired Brandywine teacher Sondra Bookwalter approached Payne expressing frustration that certain members of the board did not appear to be actively listening during the public comment portions of meetings and said Payne responded by saying that he did not have time to speak with her. 

“He’s not listening to what anybody says,” she said. “He’s writing, he’s looking at something else or his phone or whatever and I would just like for him to acknowledge the people who are speaking. For him to say he just doesn’t have the time to listen, it’s just a bad impression.”

After the meeting, Payne said that his response was directed toward someone else who wanted to provide additional public comments to him, directly after the meeting was adjourned. When asked about the perception of the board’s conduct during the public comment portions, Payne said that he and the board take them seriously.

“Everyone listens differently,” he said. “I realize that eye contact is important but what I do a lot is listen and jot down notes. I put my head down so I’m not looking at anybody and listening to the comments. I’m taking notes on things we should look into and misinformation from the public. It’s important for me to take notes so that I remember it… I am listening. I realize that perception is huge. I am doing my best to create a good perception; I am listening very intently and I am writing notes down.”