February 26, 2020

“Visionary” Schools Leader To Step Down

By Donald Gilpin

Steve Cochrane

Steve Cochrane, superintendent of the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) since January 2014, has announced that he will be stepping down at the end of this school year.

In a letter to the school community on Monday, Cochrane, 60, stated, “Retirement is uncharted territory for me, but my wife and I have made the decision to move closer to my mom who is now in her 90s and living on her own in my hometown of Seattle.”

But Cochrane is not ready to leave behind the world of education. “I am also hopeful I can find a way to return to the roots of my career in higher education and take what I have learned over the last four decades to help prepare future teachers and principals,” he said.

After growing up near Seattle where his father was an Episcopal bishop, Cochrane  earned his bachelor’s degree in English literature from Princeton University and his master’s degree in education from Harvard University. Cochrane returned to Princeton in 1985 as admissions officer and associate dean of students.

Thirty years ago he left the deanship to become an elementary school teacher, then an elementary and middle school principal in Hopewell Township, and eventually assistant superintendent in the Upper Freehold Regional School District before moving back to Princeton.

Cochrane reflected on his past six years as PPS superintendent. “Together we have faced some daunting challenges, and together we have produced some profound changes,” he wrote. ”I am proud that as a community we have shifted the direction of our district and charted a course towards wellness, racial literacy, and a vision of success for our children that is grounded in joy and purpose.”

PPS Board of Education (BOE) President Beth Behrend highlighted Cochrane’s successful tenure. ”We are grateful for Steve Cochrane for his steady leadership and dedicated service to the Princeton Public Schools over the past six years,” she wrote in an email. “Steve’s visionary leadership around issues of equity and student well-being has transformed and inspired our community — both within the schools and beyond — to the great benefit
of our students.”

Behrend went on to note that the BOE is developing a plan of action for “an inclusive and comprehensive” search for Cochrane’s successor. “We will keep the community updated as we determine next steps,” she wrote.

Former PPS BOE President Andrea Spalla emphasized Cochrane’s contributions to the schools and the community. “I often tell people that hiring Steve to lead the Princeton Public Schools was the best thing I ever did as a School Board member,” she said. “Looking at all that Steve has accomplished in his six years, it’s clear that he exceeded even our high expectations for him. What distinguishes Steve’s leadership has been his laser focus on children’s wellness as not only important but a crucial, indispensable foundation for optimal learning.”

She continued, “With his inimitable blend of a beautifully articulated and inspiring vision, patient consensus building, and sheer persistence, Steve has instituted changes that are nothing short of groundbreaking. More than ever before, our schools’ classrooms are more equitable and inclusive, with well-supported teachers who know every child, and where students take joy in their learning. This is Steve’s beautiful legacy.”

Expressing his gratitude “for the opportunity to serve such an educationally vibrant and diversity-affirming community,” Cochrane praised the town and the people in the schools. “Every day I am inspired by our teachers, our counselors, our nurses, and our coaches,’ he wrote. “I am inspired by our secretaries and assistants, by those who drive our buses, serve food in our cafeterias, make sure our buildings are clean, and those who keep our technology flourishing. I am inspired by a remarkable team of administrators who serve our school with determination, joy, and intelligence.”

He continued, “I am inspired by our Board, every member of which values the power and importance of public education. And I am inspired by our students. They are knowledgeable, creative, and multi-talented, and they are young people of compassion and character. They want to make our world a better place, and they are doing that every day.”

Reminding the community that he’s not retired yet, with “much to do in the coming months,” Cochrane emphasized his determination to finish strong. “We have a budget to balance, contracts to settle, and the future of our schools to plan,” he said. “We also have our daily commitment to knowing, supporting, and inspiring every one of our students.”