SUSD parent alleges curriculum lacks substance, teaches activism instead

(File Photo)

A Scottsdale Unified School District parent alleges the educational entity’s curriculum focuses mainly on activism instead of educational substance.

While SUSD school officials contradict that allegation, they explained the standards set by the district — and taught in the classroom — are available online and concerned parents are encouraged to provide feedback.

School officials also emphasize those standards are constantly evolving.

However, rather than students learning concrete fundamentals of reading, writing, arithmetic coupled with science, technology and engineering concepts, a parent maintains that students are inundated with teachers’ personal views on the political atmosphere, radicalism, socialism and extremism.

“Propaganda” and “indoctrination,” as well as “brainwashing” are among terms used by the parent to describe the educational material shaping the district and state’s learning climate.

“We hear about our college campuses being turned on their heads with radical professors instilling cultural Marxism into young adults at every turn. Well, we have the same garbage being pushed down to the K-12 level and the situation is getting worse, rapidly,” said Scottsdale mom, Kristen Williamson.

In the past two months, and as recent as Tuesday, Oct. 16, she has supplied nearly a year’s worth of continuous research to the Independent, in addition to emails sent to district and state officials addressing her concern about her son’s required reading material and curriculum taught by some of his teachers.

Kristen Williamson (Submitted photo)

The soon-to-be high school graduate reportedly relayed to his mother his discomfort with many of the lessons’ content and undertones.

Ms. Williamson detailed what evolved into “uncovering not only constitutionally subversive and problematic curriculum and teaching instruction in our government-run schools, but also shockingly exposed a nationally coordinated political activist program being promoted by the Arizona Department of Education.”

The ADE program she referred to as a deceptive word game is called “Excellence in Civic Engagement,” that encourages children to allegedly immerse themselves in various social, economic, and political causes through youth street activism, political lobbying efforts, voting initiatives, community organizing, and connecting with what she called “radical political groups” promoting “mobocracy.”

“It’s the little ones just starting off in the public schools I fear for the most. That’s the reason I’ve stayed involved and kept researching and kept pushing. The evidence I’ve amassed is truly astounding, and it all started with me asking a simple question, ‘How was your day? What did you learn in school today?’” she explained.

She said not only does SUSD not have proper procedures, policies, and protocols in place to deter activism from happening in the K-12 classroom, but they defend the teacher and curriculum when it is brought to their attention.

“That is beyond inappropriate. SUSD has incredibly low standards for its curriculum and works to protect the teachers, district personnel and the status quo, rather than protecting the students and ensuring they have truly high-quality classroom materials and teaching instruction,” Ms. Williamson said.

What should be an open book regarding public education, was met with no response from those Ms. Williamson repeatedly sought answers from on the local and state boards.

Despite the Arizona State Board of Education recently giving high marks to SUSD schools, its student academic growth, state representatives did not return repeated attempts from the Independent to obtain comment on this alleged issue.

“The Department of Education already has tried to scrub its website to erase some damning socialist information I uncovered that others posted to social media. They know what they’re doing is wrong and are attempting to hide it. I retained hard copies, however, and know where to find the information,” Ms. Williamson stated.

Meanwhile, SUSD Public Information Officer Amy Bolton said the teachers in the district have discretion in supplementing the adopted textbooks and materials with ancillary materials, including reading lists, which are reviewed by each school principal.

“The Scottsdale Unified School District teaches to state standards. We map curriculum to those Arizona standards to provide a framework for teachers to use in their classrooms that outlines specific concepts, vocabulary, etc., by grade, that each teacher is expected to convey to students throughout the school year,” Ms. Bolton said.

“We encourage critical thinking, and should a parent or student object to any material being used in a class, we encourage them to relay that concern to the teacher and/or principal. In those cases, we provide an alternative selection that also conveys the concept being taught.”

The SUSD Governing Board’s Sept. 27 study session at the Mohave District Annex, 8500 E. Jackrabbit Road, tackled the issue surrounding the difference between curriculum, instruction and how it is taught.

“They are not the same thing. Oftentimes they are lumped in the same conversation, but I think it is important to define what they are. There really is a difference,” said Acting Superintendent Dr. John Kriekard during the meeting.

Dr. John Kriekard (photo by Scottsdale Unified School District)

He and school officials outlined what was non-negotiable in curriculum such as state standards, a course map determined by the course and grades according to a timeline, course guides, teacher syllabus, which is what teachers cover during the school year.

Instruction, on the other hand, allows more latitude regarding teachers’ decisions based on practices and materials including text books and supplemental material, Dr. Kriekard noted, stressing that educators “teach to the standards, not to the textbook,” and that skilled teachers use a wide variety of materials, resources, and experiences to teach the standards.

“Today’s world is where teachers have at their fingertips all kinds of current events, daily news, materials they bring in from all kinds of resources from all over the place. We’re using the word ancillary material for those. It is not the same from one classroom to the next. Then there’s everything else,” he added of supplemental material.

He further described the teaching of today as using the message to teach the standards with the textbook as a tool and resource along with all other material, which includes hands-on activities, field trips or whatever to enhance teaching the subject.

The purpose of using non-traditional or what some parents may consider as unconventional is for students to take what they learn in class and apply it to everyday life, often learning and using skills applicable to the workforce.

Representatives at the meeting addressed whether parents and teachers fully review students’ reading material to know if books are controversial, ensuring that it meets the criteria to pass as a high literary merit.

Although, what may be considered controversial to some, may not be to others, SUSD Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Dr. Kris Treat said, explaining that until he came on board at SUSD, the process of reading selections was left to an individual.

He favors a process allowing teachers to give proposals for supplemental reading material and have their colleagues and a committee determine if appropriate.

Barbara Perleberg (File photo)

Although existing supplementals will not be under scrutiny, it was advised that all supplemental material going forward is reviewed, especially by principals, to ensure that it meets qualifications for high-quality learning.

“Times have changed significantly. We’re in a divisive time in our history, so I’m wondering how strong those conversations are with the principals,” SUSD Governing Board President Barbara Perleberg said. “We know it’s not just because of one person’s complaint. It took a lot of work to shift this district. It is a work in progress.”

Independent Newsmedia News Services Specialist Delarita Ford can be reached by e-mail at dford@newszap.com.

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