May 17, 2023

Board of Education Must Earn Faith, Trust of Their Constituents 

To the Editor:

In the past few weeks, Town Topics has published two letters that have argued that the large and diverse population of students, parents, and citizens who are distraught over Frank Chmiel’s sudden and wildly unpopular dismissal as principal of Princeton High School should put more faith in our Board of Education (BOE) members because they were elected in a fair and open process. What an absurd message that citizens should put faith in a person simply because they won an election.

Donald Trump won an election a few years back. I suspect many Princeton citizens, myself included, put no faith or trust in him simply because he was elected. No, winning an election does not and should not automatically earn people’s faith.

I do not believe any of the BOE members are bad people or have bad intentions. But that does not mean they are making good decisions or earning our trust or faith. Based on dismissive comments I have heard attributed to multiple BOE members, along with the recent vote at Mr. Chmiel’s Donaldson hearing, I believe many of them are operating in a bubble that’s left them largely detached from their stakeholders.

Indeed, this entire episode has underscored precisely why the citizens of Princeton should critically evaluate the current BOE members’ performance rather than simply having faith in them. What exactly have most of the Board members done to warrant people having faith in them? Is it the ambiguous and opaque communications to students and their families? Is it the appearance of near total disregard for the turmoil this sudden decision has caused our students and community? Is it the hiding behind procedure and purported legal restrictions? Is it the body language that projects indifference and contempt towards anyone who challenges them? Surely, it’s not the mere fact that they were all well-connected and/or well-resourced enough to win a local school board election.

Perhaps if more of the BOE members would have the courage to engage their constituents in some genuine straight talk about the situation and perhaps show a little empathy towards students and families who are distressed by the sudden and shocking dismissal of their beloved school leader, people might have a little faith in them. But faith, patience, and trust — these don’t come for free. They must be earned.

Moore Street