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(Photo by Rebecca Blackwell ©2003 Town Topics)

NEW MAN ON CAMPUS: Shortly after the Princeton Regional Board of Education approved his appointment as the new Princeton High School Principal, Gary Snyder, second from right, shares a laugh with, from left, PHS senior Andrew Ferguson, PHS Assistant Principal Julianne Inverso, and District Superintendent Claire Sheff Kohn.
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School Board Names New PHS Principal

By David McNutt

At a special meeting on August 1, the Princeton Regional Board of Education approved the appointment of Gary Snyder as the next principal of Princeton High School by a vote of 7-1.

Scheduled to assume his new role on October 1, Mr. Snyder will succeed Sandra DeLuca, who announced in June that she would be stepping down after serving as the PHS principal for two years.

"I'm excited to work with everyone in the Princeton Regional School District," said Mr. Snyder. "I've heard great things about Princeton and its students. This is a wonderful opportunity for me, and I'm really looking forward to it."

"I'm delighted to have someone for this exciting and challenging job," said District Superintendent Claire Sheff Kohn.

Mr. Snyder, 40, is currently the principal of Pioneer Valley Regional School, a 550-student high school in Northfield, Mass. Prior to that post, he served as an assistant principal at another Massachusetts high school for six years, an athletic director at a high school in Virginia for three years, and a social studies teacher for eight years. As approved by the School Board, his $125,000 contract runs from October 1, 2003 through June 30, 2004.

School Board member Joshua Leinsdorf, who cast the only dissenting vote, said he preferred a candidate with experience at "a more academic" high school such as PHS, where the enrollment is expected to approach 1,200 students this year. "I thought that the learning curve is going to be too steep," said Mr. Leinsdorf.

"I'm very excited for Gary to come here," said Charlotte Bialek, president of the School Board. "He seems very student-friendly, and that will be critical during all the distractions we'll be facing with the construction over the next few years."

The district's multi-year, $81.3 million construction and renovation project is currently underway at John Witherspoon Middle School and all four of its elementary schools. The PHS portion of the project, however, has been delayed due to high cost projections, and its redesigned plans were put back out to bid on July 30.

Mr. Snyder stated that he intends to continue PHS's strong academic reputation and to provide a degree of constancy to what has been a shifting personnel position.

"The school's reputation is fantastic," he said. "I plan to keep those traditions while seeing what can be done to make this an even better place."

Regularly rated among the state's top school districts, Princeton Regional School District fared well on the most recent New Jersey State School Report Card, released in February. According to that report, PHS students earned the second-highest SAT scores in the state, the first time in three years they did not attain the highest state average.

"I hope to bring some stability in the leadership position," added Mr. Snyder, "and to create a vision for what we want to do."

Over the last decade, since the end of the 11-year term of John Sakala, the district has employed seven principals at PHS. Although he has made no formal commitment to the School Board beyond his one-year contract, Mr. Snyder stated that he is committed to Princeton.

"I believe that a principal needs to be in a building for a number of years," he said, "to find out what's good and to learn how to improve a school."

Originally from Pennsylvania, Mr. Snyder earned a bachelor's degree in secondary education and social studies from the University of Pittsburgh and a master's degree in public school administration from Virginia Tech. In addition, he is working towards a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Mr. Snyder's wife, who is currently a professor of nutrition and exercise at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will become an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Nursing this fall.

End of Process

During the interview process, eight semifinalists for the position were identified through the help of two consultants: the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, of Jamesburg, and Richard Fiander, of Basking Ridge.

Last week, those semifinalists met with an advisory interview committee that consisted of representatives from various groups within the school district, including staff members, administrators, parents, and students.

Following its interviews, the committee forwarded the names of three finalists to Superintendent Kohn, who interviewed the finalists on Thursday.

"I think we have an excellent candidate due to the work of the committee," stated Lewis Goldstein, the district's assistant superintendent of human resources. "I think he'll provide excellent leadership."

"Gary has all the points we were looking for," said Anne Burns, vice president of the School Board. "He loves kids, he has a long history of teaching and leadership, and he has a wonderful sense of humor, which is important."

"I've got great feelings about this guy," said Andrew Ferguson, a PHS senior, one of two student representatives to the School Board, and a member of the search committee. "I think we are off to the races this time."

Under contract regulations, a school district administrator must give 60 days' notice prior to leaving his or her position. With the beginning of school slated for the first week of September, PHS will likely begin the year under the leadership of its two assistant principals, Harvey Highland and Julianne Inverso.

"I'm delighted to welcome Gary," said Ms. Inverso at the meeting last Friday. Turning to Mr. Snyder, she added, "We've heard great things about you, and we're happy to have you."

In other business, the School Board unanimously authorized the district's administration to seek review by the state of the temporary classroom installation project at PHS.

Without seeking any state funding, the move will provide for four additional temporary trailers at PHS during the high school phase of the district's $81.3 million construction and renovation project.

Currently, there are 10 such trailers located along Houghton Road in preparation for the construction. The four additional trailers, to be placed in the Houghton Road parking lot, are expected to result in the loss of an additional 30 parking spaces.

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