Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 10
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
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Upcoming Numina Gallery Exhibition Offers Retrospective of Education in Princeton

Ellen Gilbert

The exhibit, “150+ Years of Princeton Public Schools: A Pictorial Retrospective,” was taking shape this week as students, teachers, and volunteers busily prepared for the exhibit’s official opening on Wednesday, March 18, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Princeton High School’s Numina Gallery. Sponsored by the Princeton Education Foundation (PEF), the event is free and open to the public. 

The two Princetons have been providing free public education for over 150 years, and Charlotte Bialek and Lisa Paine, co-chairs of the 150+ Years of Princeton Public Schools Committee, have the photographers, maps, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia to prove it, thanks to the Princeton Historical Society, the Princeton University Archives, the Drumthwacket Foundation, and numerous teachers, staff, alumni, and Princeton residents who contributed the materials that now fill the gallery.

The exhibit begins with school board minutes, commencement programs, and newspapers dating from as early as the 1850s, and continues through the late 20th century, when the Princeton Regional Schools system reached its current six school configuration. While forerunners to Princeton’s public schools can be traced to the 1830s, a key milestone occurred in 1858 when state laws enabled the formation of school districts, public funding of schools, leadership from superintendents and boards of education, and teacher training, and the Borough opened doors to its first incorporated schools. Township schools were incorporated in 1875, and the two school districts ultimately merged into a regional system in 1965.

The exhibit is divided into three parts reflecting significant periods in local history, with a timeline created by PHS students to provide the context of national and world events. The pictorial displays will illustrate each of 20 identifiable public schools on 13 distinct sites. Changes in location, the addition of new buildings, as well as changes in educational and social structures, influenced the identities of each school.

The Art of Collecting

“What really snagged us were these old photographs collected by Liz Lien,” said Ms. Bialek, referring to the PHS’s instructional technology coordinator. “I can’t throw things away, especially when it’s history that you can’t get back again,” Ms. Lien commented. Many of the materials, she noted, came from longtime PHS teacher and administrator, the late Florence Burke.

Over 150 people of all ages participated in the exhibit’s creation, Ms. Paine commented. Particular mention, she said, goes to long-time Princeton resident Shirley Satterfield, Middle School Social Studies teacher Connie Escher, Numina Gallery Advisor Scott Cameron, and retired teacher Sybil Parnes. Photographers whose work appears in the exhibit include Orrin Jack Turner, Ken Bowers, and Alan Richards.

A Bigger Picture

“The materials reflect what was going on in the whole country,” observed Ms. Bialek. “The transition from country to city schools, busing issues, the end of segregation — it’s all here.” Events in the world at large are reflected as well: a copy of The School Observer from October 4, 1918, for example, recounts the closing of schools due to Spanish influenza, and encourages students to bring peach pits to school for use as filters in gas masks during the War drive. Ms. Paines pointed to the coincidence of the opening of PHS only ten days after the 1929 stock market crash. Although the high school was already integrated, elementary schools did not follow suit until 1948 when the “Princeton Plan” took effect. Visits to Princeton by Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy in the 1960s are remembered in photographs, along with maps depicting the turnover of farmlands into developed areas during those years.

Princeton’s 150 years of public schools will be celebrated again on April 25, with a PEF Gala Cocktail Benefit Reception at Drumthwacket from 6 to 9 p.m., featuring a photo exhibition and entertainment by student musical groups. PEF’s mission is to “support educational excellence in the Princeton regional schools by encouraging community, corporate, and charitable contributions to support public education.”

Numina Gallery exhibition hours are March 18 through 21, 6 to 7:30 p.m. (prior to the performance of this year’s Spring Musical, Into the Woods); March 23 and 24, and 26 and 27, 3 to 6 p.m.; and March 25, 1:30 to 6 p.m.

Additional Princeton public school memorabilia is still welcome and may be donated by contacting Charlotte Bialek at (609) 921-2389.

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