Princeton, NJ –In a weekend filled with many wonderful distractions, from St. Patrick’s Day party to both Princeton basketball teams competing in the NCAA post-season tournament, more than 2,000 people took the time to sign various petitions, participate in several online groups, and plan a demonstration on Monday, March 20, in support of Frank Chmiel, the high school principal whose termination was announced in a brief e-mail sent after school hours on Friday, March 17.
The demonstration is scheduled for 12:30 pm on Monday, a previously scheduled early dismissal day at the high school. Parents are expressing their support for Chmiel on a newly formed Facebook page, PHS Parents Discussion. Sasha Weinstein, a PTO leader who worked with Chmiel to organize the high school’s race day earlier this year, also formed a Google group. A change.org petition has been organized.
And a GoFundMe page has been set up to raise funds for legal action if Chmiel chooses to engage in any.
An “info hub” has also been established containing, among other information, procedures for arranging the recall of a member of the board of education.
Many of the parents were upset or angry that the district had no explanation for the firing – the original announcement, in fact, didn’t even mention Chmiel by name. Several parents eventually contacted Chmiel and discovered that a year earlier, when his position at the high school seemed in jeopardy, the administration had placed Chmiel on a “performance improvement plan.” The plan calls for the principal, who is completing his first academic year at Princeton, to improve the areas of “racial integrity” and “community of care.”
In a series of comments on Facebook pages and in e-mails to TAPinto, parents from diverse backgrounds praised Chmiel for his inclusive and caring behavior, including specific actions he took on behalf of various minority groups.
By Sunday, March 19, the Board of Education and the current assistant principals assigned to run the high school in Chmiel’s absence, began to provide some response. the difficult decisions that need to be made. Without a public employee providing the Board with a written waiver of his privacy rights, the Board cannot say more.”
The statement from the Board also made the first official gesture of “well wishes” to the terminated principal. The Board also announced that its Tuesday, March 21 meeting, scheduled to discuss school demographic projections, will instead begin at 6 p.m. with a one-hour public comment period.
The Board of Education’s response:
The Board has received many inquiries regarding the status of Princeton High School Principal, Frank Chmiel. We understand that the lack of information in Friday’s communication is frustrating, but unfortunately we are limited in what we can say by New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act, NJSA 47:1A-10, and the privacy rights that held by public employees. We know that leadership changes during the school year are difficult, but please know that whenever they occur, the Board and administration always engage in a long, deliberative process, consider the impact of those changes, and discuss them with all affected employees (as well as their legal representatives). The Board unanimously supported, and continues to support, the Superintendent and the difficult decisions that need to be made. Without a public employee providing the Board with a written waiver of his or her privacy rights, the Board cannot say more.
We have a previously scheduled meeting this Tuesday evening at 6pm via Zoom. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss demographics and future planning, and that meeting will still take place. However, we will use the first hour (from 6 to 7 pm) for public comment. We will then continue with our meeting, and public comment will continue after the planning discussion concludes.
We thank Frank Chmiel for his service to Princeton High School and his strong connection with students, which is especially important as students return from Covid isolation. We wish him all the best in his future endeavours.
The statement was signed by all 10 members of the Board.
From the Assistant Principals:
Dear PHS families,
Congratulations! We are Assistant Principal Rashone Johnson and Cecilia Birge. Together we have had the privilege of working and leading Princeton High School for 35 years, including the challenging times brought on by the pandemic. Our role as assistant principals is to ensure the smooth running of day-to-day operations, making it possible for our students and teachers to teach, learn, grow and excel.
We understand that the sudden change in leadership may have caught you off guard. Please know that we aim to actively engage with our students, listen to them and support them. We often say that our Tower is magical. Over the years, we have witnessed his greatness, determination, and unwavering spirit. We have no doubt that this magic will continue. Our student achievements to date are a testament to our shared dedication to achieving educational excellence, and we fully intend to continue on that path with renewed vigor and commitment.
We would like to take this moment to let you know a little more about us:
Rashone Johnson – I received a BA in corporate fitness from The College of New Jersey and earned my Master’s in Educational Administration and Supervision from Rider University. I am a member of Phi Delta Kappa. As a lifelong learner, I earned 30 credits from the University of LaVerne, taking courses related to health education and wellness, and a certificate in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell University in 2021.
I have been a part of the Princeton Public Schools community for 24 years. I taught health and physical education at Princeton High School and served as Head Coach for Wrestling and the Spring Boys’ Track and Field Team for 19 years before becoming Assistant Principal. My passion for athletic excellence in the classroom and team environment is driven by my own experience as an Amateur Athletic Union Espoir Freestyle and Greco Roman Wrestling National Champion, an NCAA Division III All-American wrestler, and a US Olympian Wrestling Team Trial Regional Medalist. These experiences continue to inform me as I lead the Wrestling and Spring Boys’ Track and Field teams to individual and team NJ State Championships. I have received numerous Coach of the Year awards for my dedication and steadfast support of our athletes.
Cecilia X. Birge – My educational journey began in Beijing, China, where I spent my formative years. After the student protest in Tiananmen Square in 1989, I moved to the US and began to build a life full of diverse experiences. With a decade of experience as a bond analyst on Wall Street, I went on to make history as the first Asian American woman elected mayor in New Jersey.
I have a BA degree in history from Bryn Mawr College, PA and a master’s degree from Columbia University. Currently, I am a doctorate student of educational leadership at Rutgers University. Despite my love of history and politics, I have dedicated my career to teaching math and special education at PHS. I am an award-winning debate coach for our PHS Speech and Debate Team, which has won multiple championships at both the state and national levels over the years. I also enjoyed coaching our Girls’ Volleyball Team very much.
My close ties to the town and PPS are evident, as I am a town resident and parent of four wonderful children – three recently graduated from PHS. I am so proud to be a part of the fabric of diversity that makes PHS so special.
Over the years, both of us, individually and together as a team, have developed a deep bond with our students, enriched by our own unique experiences. We learned a lot from them and from each other. In turn, we were able to empower them to grow and develop both academically and personally. Our shared commitment to excellence has enabled us to make a meaningful difference in their lives. As we look ahead, we are confident that our unwavering dedication to engagement will continue to guide us toward greater educational excellence. We invite you to reach out and contact us – please feel free to contact us at any time. Our emails are RashoneJohnson@princetonk12.org and CeciliaBirge@princetonk12.org.
Editor’s note: This story will be updated as new information is received.
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