May 10, 2023

The Bar for Reasons Justifying the Dismissal of Principal Chmiel is High

To the Editor:

The sudden and unexplained dismissal of Principal Chmiel on March 17 has left many students, parents, and community members of Princeton and Cranbury confused and angered for nearly two months. While privacy law restrictions prevent the School Board from defending its decisions, the lack of information has led to speculations and accusations that have unfortunately tarnished the reputation of both Chmiel and the PPS. Local real estate professionals have noted that recent developments at PPS are already weighing on the minds of prospective homebuyers. To benefit all parties involved, it’s crucial to have the facts on the table. Regardless of whose side one is on, we can all appreciate that Chmiel has chosen to have the Donaldson hearing held in public. His honorable decision to defend his reputation provides the school district leadership the opportunity to do the same.

It’s important to note that on March 17, the school district made two decisions — not to renew Chmiel’s contract and to place him on administrative leave. These decisions carried significant and foreseeable costs. The School Board was aware that Chmiel was widely adored by PHS students, as evidenced by the almost 1400 signatures gathered in a student petition for extending his contract last year. The petition praised Chmiel for his attention to “race/cultural equity” and for “bridging the gap between minority students and administrators.” His dismissal was a blow to the continuity of school operations, student morale, and the welcoming school environment that many students claim didn’t exist before his arrival.

These decisions also resulted in unplanned expenditures of possibly well over $150K for the salary and benefits of the interim PHS principal, as well as additional recruitment costs to fill the principal position permanently. By dismissing Chmiel, the School Board asked PPS students and community members to absorb these costs at a time when student well-being is a top priority for the district and when Board members have recently warned of a “structural gap” in upcoming school budgets and urged for cost-cutting measures.

In its email to the PPS community shortly after Chmiel’s dismissal, the School Board stated that “[when it comes to leadership change] the Board and the administration always engage in a lengthy, deliberative process, consider the impact of those changes, and discuss those with all affected employees (as well as their legal representatives).” If the Board carefully considered the costs of dismissing Chmiel, the public deserves to know what compelling reasons they had for making such extraordinary decisions. The bar for justifying the dismissal of a beloved principal is rightfully very high.

Jian Chen
Stone Cliff Road