May 11, 2022

Rumors Fly at Princeton Public Schools, Fueled by Social Media, Online Petitions

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Public Schools (PPS) community was abuzz with rumors, social media posts, and two widely-circulated petitions in the week leading up to last night’s anticipated Princeton Board of Education (BOE) vote, after press time, to renew more than 600 employee contracts for next year. The renewal vote was expected to include Princeton High School (PHS) first-year principal Frank Chmiel.

The first petition “In Support of Principal Chmiel,” initiated by PHS seniors Kyara Torres-Olivares and Joycelyn Brobbey and sent to PPS Superintendent Carol Kelley and the BOE, claimed that Kelley had recommended that Chmiel’s contract not be renewed for next year. The petition, which had almost 1,200 signatures as of May 9, went on for two pages, praising Chmiel’s many contributions to PHS and closing with the “hope he remains principal of PHS for years to come to allow all students to experience the inclusivity we have felt this year.”

Apparently the rumor of his proposed termination was a product of misinformed social media. The question of Chmiel’s nonrenewal never came before the Board of Education, according to an anonymous district official. Chmiel’s name was on the list to be approved for renewals at last night’s meeting.

By law the district must keep all personnel discussions confidential, and could not comment on the rumor in advance of last night’s decision. 

“As a district, PPS works hard to be as transparent as possible regarding all district procedures and decisions,” a district statement issued last week noted. “While we are glad that we have staff and families who are invested in the district’s team, all personnel decisions are required to be confidential. As a part of a longstanding policy, evaluations are conducted for all staff members before contracts are offered for the next school year. We ask members of the district community who may be concerned to allow this process to run its course. We look forward to sharing the board’s decisions on staffing when finalized.”

The petition supporting Chmiel thanked him “for making us feel welcome in our school environment” and cited several examples of how “he has used his status as a way to bridge the gap between minority students and administrators.”

Chmiel was appointed a year ago and took over as PHS principal on July 1, 2021. He had been principal of Franklin High School in Somerset for three years before moving to PHS. Chmiel and his wife and four children are longtime Princeton residents.

One parent commented on Chmiel’s care for and interaction with the students. “His communication with the school community has been exemplary, and his school spirit is palpable,” she said, adding that he had been responsible for a positive shift in the mood of the student body.

Last week’s second petition, which was initiated by Federica Zanet and also sent as an email to the BOE, expressed concern at the “loss of important members of PHS” and called for greater accountability and communication from the superintendent. The petition, signed by 730 by mid-day on Monday, mentioned in particular the departure of “the excellent science supervisor,” Mridula Bajaj, who is reportedly moving to the Mount Laurel School District, and “the preoccupation that the principal could be dismissed.”