May 17, 2023

BOE’s Vote to Not Renew Chmiel’s Contract Leaves Unfinished Business

To the Editor:

Monday night’s Princeton Board of Education meeting had regrettable moments. Notably when a few of the hundreds assembled interrupted comments by the single Princeton High School (PHS) student or Board members counter to the otherwise unanimous support of former PHS Principal Frank Chmiel. On behalf of the community, I apologize, especially to that student, for actions of the few. Our democratic process and society demand respectful interactions even with those we vehemently disagree with and a respect for facts.

In this regard, the most regrettable moment of last night was the Board’s failure to pass a motion to renew Chmiel‘s contract as principal of PHS. They failed to respect the facts or at least show a willingness to get them.

After dozens of parents and students spoke in support of Chmiel, Superintendent Kelley read her Statement of Reasons for non-renewal. On its face, it was a damning indictment of Chmiel‘s tenure as PHS principal. It’s accusations of failures to comply with policies; vote of no confidence from teachers; instances of putting students, teachers, or staff at risk; poor performance creating an inclusive environment; weak communication and need for excessive supervision; and, poor judgement were (and remain) in stark contrast to the experience of everyone in attendance.

Multiple relevant speakers called by Chmiel’s attorney refuted much of the “facts” in the Statement. Chmiel’s own comments strongly indicated that essentially all of the Statement was misleading, inaccurate, or simply fabricated. He made credible assertions that Superintendent Kelly failed to follow procedure, keep accurate and complete personnel records, weaponized the review and performance coaching process against him, and was non-responsive and non-communicative to him. His recitation of his accomplishments over two short years was long and detailed. He reaffirmed the broad community’s sense of his exceptional character, leadership, and uncommon care for PHS’s students, teachers, and staff.

The Board’s vote to not renew Chmiel’s contract leaves much unfinished business and open questions that the community deserves answers to.  Chief among these are whether Kelley created the “constant drip, drip” of negative info about Chmiel that Board member Mara Franceschi referred to by failing to properly supervise and support the principal, inaccurate record keeping, or by outright lying to or misleading the Board. Fundamentally, last night’s meeting, rather than providing closure to a contentious issue, opened more concerns. Those concerns center not on Chmiel’s competence and judgement but rather on those of Kelley and the Board.

Jean Durbin, who is up for reelection this year and moved to overturn Superintendent Kelley’s recommendation, admonished Chmiel and his team of bringing “this circus to us.”  But from the community’s perspective, the Board created the circus and leaves itself and community open to potential legal repercussions (and monetary damages) if Mr. Chmiel’s assertions about the process that Superintendent Kelley oversaw are anywhere near accurate. The Board has an obligation to get to the facts, report those openly to the community, and act if they show malfeasance on the part of Superintendent Kelley.

Christopher Drive