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Montgomery School Board Retains Leadership; Members Question Selection of Books and Curriculum

By Barbara A. Preston | Posted January 4, 2023 (Updated January 5, 2023)

The first Montgomery Township School Board meeting of 2023 set the tone for what is likely to be an interesting year. After the swearing in of three new members, the board re-elected the president and vice presidents, then got right down to business.

The curriculum and book-selection process were first up — an important harbinger of future agendas. Board members asked for an easily accessible, comprehensive list of books in the Montgomery School District libraries, as well as those used in the classrooms. This extends to supplemental resources teachers may use — websites, videos, etc.

Board Secretary Thomas M. Venanzi swears in three newly-elected board members. From left: Michelle Dowling, Joanna Filak, and Ania Wolecka-Jernigan.

Board Leadership

Board members re-elected President Zelda Spence-Wallace (left) and vice presidents Cookie Franco-Herman and Patrick Todd.

Curriculum and Books Questioned by Board Members

Board Member Martin R. Carlson asked for two items to be removed from the action agenda to be addressed as singular items — "Re-Adoption of Curriculum & Courses of Study" and "Re-Adoption of Text Books." "I plan to abstain, that's why I called these out," he explained. "I don't think we have enough information."

Board Member Ania Wolecka-Jernigan added, "As a new member, I'd like a better understanding of what is included in the curriculum."

The sound system at the January 3 board meeting made it difficult to hear the speakers at times. The recording of the meeting was also garbled for some speakers, and the closed captions were not working. Some of the discussion around the curriculum was simply not audible.

Board Member Joanna Filak added something about the new health curriculum. "It is difficult to assess where we started and where we are currently," she said. "What resources are being used, what exactly is being taught? I know this is a very important topic for the community."

Several members asked for reassurance that the "entire" Montgomery School District curriculum is posted online. Superintendent Mary E. McLoughlin stated that, "Everything in our curriculum is publicly documented."

The board ultimately approved the "Re-adoption of the Curriculum & Courses of Study." Five voted yes; one voted no; and three board members abstained. Michelle Dowling, Filak, and Carlson abstained, and Wolecka-Jernigan voted no.

Board Member Carlson next questioned the "Re-Adoption of Textbooks." "I remember ... we have a list of textbooks that teachers can bring in as supplementary, or they may send children to Web sites that aren't in the plan," he said. "Do they [teachers] have freedom to go out and find a website or go outside of the approved texts?"

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Superintendent McLoughlin responded that the teachers' supervisors usually vet the resources. "Their supervisors will vet the website [or book], and may add that resource as a supplemental resource," she said.

New Board Member Michelle Dowling asked the board president to clarify whether there is a process for each textbook and resource that is introduced into a classroom.

"Yes," President Zelda Spence-Wallace confirmed.

Board Member Filak asked for a list of books used in the school district. "Is there an easy way to access a list of books and materials used in the schools?" she asked.

Superintendent McLoughlin said she would have content-area supervisors provide lists and post them on (a login may be required to review those lists when they become available).

The school board then approved the "Re-Adoption of Textbooks" — the existing textbooks used by the district — for the 2023-2024 school year. It passed with a vote of six yeses, two abstentions, and one no. Carlson and Filak abstained. Wolecka-Jernigan voted no.

Other important items discussed during the four-hour school board meeting will appear in a separate article, which will be posted online shortly. ■

Editor's Note: The update to this article on January 15 reflects the school board members' votes to approve the re-adoption of textbooks to be used for the 2023-2024 school year. Six board members voted yes: Dowling, Franco-Herman, Harris, Spina, Todd, and Spence-Wallace. Two members abstained: Carlson and Filak. One member voted no: Wolecka-Jernigan.


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