April 28, 2021

Frank Chmiel Ready to Take Reins As New PHS Principal

By Donald Gilpin

Frank Chmiel
(Photo by Marek Malkowski)

Frank Chmiel, selected last week as the next principal at Princeton High School (PHS), reflected on the school’s motto, “Live to Learn, Learn to Live.”

“When I first saw ‘Live to Learn, Learn to Live’ etched into PHS’s outer wall, I thought about how great it would be to work there. It has been many years since then, and I still embrace that motto, and now I have the chance to serve as Princeton High School’s principal. I am excited about becoming the learning leader of PHS’s phenomenal learning community,” he said.

A Princeton resident since coming to Princeton University as an undergraduate 26 years ago, Chmiel has been serving as principal of Franklin High School in Somerset for the past three years.

His selection as PHS principal culminated a “rigorous hiring process including four rounds of interviews,” according to Interim Superintendent Barry Galasso, who noted that the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) began its search in January, conducting extensive interviews with more than a dozen candidates. “We were fortunate to see many qualified candidates, Galasso said. “Frank Chmiel stood out for several reasons, including his excellent academic and leadership credentials, as well as his commitment to and knowledge of the Princeton community.”

Chmiel’s appointment was scheduled to be voted on by the Princeton Board of Education at a public meeting on April 27, and he will officially assume his role as principal on July 1, 2021. PHS Assistant Principal Jared Warren has served as acting principal since mid-January after taking over from former Principal Jessica Baxter.

Chmiel discussed what living to learn and learning to live might mean for him and for the future of PHS. “A lot of times when schools put out mission and vision statements, they’re very long and complicated. This one is very short and easy to remember as a reminder of everything we’re supposed to be trying to work for with our students.”

He continued, “We want to instill in our students a love of learning that will carry them for the rest of their lives. At the same time the content and skills that we’re teaching them throughout high school will help them to live happy,
successful lives. It’s something that I really embrace as the leader of the building, to let the faculty, staff, and students see that I’m the lead learner of the building. I have to model what I want from them. I personally love learning new things.”

Chmiel was a vice principal at Franklin for five years before becoming principal. Before that he taught social studies at Montgomery High School for 15 years and also AP Art History. He earned his B.A. degree from Princeton University and an M.A. in Education Leadership, Management and Policy from Seton Hall University.

A PPS press release noted that Chmiel has been a strong advocate for school safety, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion during his 23 years as an educator. “He is known at Franklin High School for his enthusiasm and love of learning, promoting a positive school climate, and his collaboration with students, faculty and staff, and the community,” the press release stated.

Chmiel, a longtime community resident whose older daughters graduated from PHS in 2013 and 2015, says that one of his top priorities now in his leadership of the high school is to learn about the school “from the inside out.”

“I was very happy with my daughters’ educational experience at PHS, and I know they were too,” he said. “I’ve always been a parent and a community member, but not an educator inside the building.”

He added that, in pursuing his learning goals, “My top priority is going to be building relationships with students, faculty and staff, as well as the families and community members who want to partner and work with us.”

Chmiel pointed out that the process of building relationships, whether in Franklin or in Princeton, “doesn’t happen overnight. I know I’ll have my work cut out for me.” He continued, “When you get to know the students and they trust you, and their families and the faculty and staff trust you, when they know about you, and you know about them, then you can get into the bigger initiatives that have to do more directly with learning.”

Listening carefully is a key tool he’ll be using in building relationships. “I don’t want to go in and make any assumptions,” he said. “I’m so excited to be coming to PHS, and I really want to learn more about the school from the inside out. I’m ready to listen to people and what they have to say.”

One of the steps he’s planning towards building relationships is the establishment of a solutions committee, something he initiated at Franklin, where a representative group of teachers from every department “would meet monthly and they would advise me about things we need to work on as a school, and we would make collaborative decisions.”

He hopes to create a similar committee of students, both student government leaders and a range of others. “I’m very interested in hearing from students who run for class office and meeting with them regularly, but I’m also looking to incorporate other voices that haven’t always been heard and to hear from their perspective,” he said.

He added, “I want the students and teachers to know that they are the major stakeholders in our school—not just to say it but really involve them and share leadership.”

Chmiel and his wife first came to Princeton to enroll at Princeton University in 1994. They had grown up in Elizabeth, New Jersey and married right after high school. “Growing up in Elizabeth provided its own valuable experience that would help us to be successful in life,” he said, “but once we came to Princeton, she never wanted to leave. By the time we graduated from the University we had two little girls, and we both wanted to stay here for the rest of our lives.”

Their two sons are in fifth grade and kindergarten at Riverside School. “The spirit of learning in Princeton is palpable as you walk around,” said Chmiel.