March 29, 2023

Urging Community to Consider Why Chmiel Has Widespread Support of Students, Parents

To the Editor:

Like many parents of PHS students, I was stunned when Frank Chmiel was removed from his job. The fact and manner of his removal raises serious questions about Superintendent Dr. Carol Kelley and the Princeton Board of Education.

When my family moved to this area in August 2021, we carefully researched the schools. PHS — like most schools — had been through the wringer during the pandemic. However, parents and students also expressed optimism, and many mentioned Frank Chmiel as a reason for it. I soon understood why. Here, it seemed, was a remarkable principal: genuinely caring and deeply committed to the PHS community. The following year and a half only confirmed my initial impression, as Mr. Chmiel earned the trust of students, staff, and parents.

The fact that such a beloved principal has been pushed out raises many questions about Dr. Kelley and the members of the BOE. Didn’t they see the extraordinary value of Mr. Chmiel’s work? Didn’t they appreciate his efforts to unify the PHS community — efforts that were badly needed after the appalling, uncivil behavior that emerged during the pandemic? Didn’t they sense PHS students’ relief at having a principal they could respect and trust? Didn’t they see PHS pulling together and showing school spirit? I did.

And what does the manner and timing of his removal tell us? Does it tell us that Dr. Kelley’s top priority is to hire her personal favorites, whatever the cost to our current administrators, teachers, and students? Are our superintendent and BOE willing to hurt more district employees to put those favorites in place?

I am sure members of the BOE are doing their best as they weigh the facts surrounding Mr. Chmiel’s removal. At the same time, my work investigating allegations of wrongdoing in public companies has acquainted me with the kinds of group dynamics that can lead even conscientious people to go along with unethical or illegal conduct. From an outside perspective, it seems members of the BOE have been impeded from expressing their independent judgment. How else can one explain the bizarre email that went out under Dr. Kelley’s name and under the names of all BOE members on March 17? Through calculated omissions and references to student well-being and security, that email implied that Frank Chmiel had engaged in serious wrongdoing, warranting immediate removal. The timing of his removal sent the same message. Did all BOE members agree that these actions were warranted?

Do all BOE members think that what is being done to Frank Chmiel’s ability to work is ethical?

Something seems very wrong. I urge everyone in our community to consider the reasons why Frank Chmiel has the widespread support of students and parents, and to reflect carefully on how he has been treated. If BOE dynamics have squelched its members’ ability to express their independent judgment in recent weeks, this is an excellent time for them to speak up.

Gwen Parker
Parent of a PHS student
Old Trenton Road, Cranbury