June 19, 2024

Busy Summer, Many Projects Ahead for PPS

By Donald Gilpin

Activity at the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) might look as if it’s winding down following last Friday’s Princeton High School (PHS) graduation, but two key administrative appointments and a slew of construction projects are two indications of a busy summer in preparation for the 2024-25 school year.

Fifth graders at the district’s four elementary schools celebrated their moving-on-to- middle school ceremony on Thursday morning last week; 257 Princeton Middle School (PMS) students, who will attend PHS in the fall, participated in a moving up ceremony on Wednesday; and on Friday, with the time moved up from 5:30 to 4 p.m. in order to outrun a major thunderstorm, 366 PHS seniors received their diplomas.

Meanwhile, PPS staff who are working with building contractors, architects, and engineers; numerous teachers and administrators with summer projects; and two new administrators, in particular, are wasting no time in getting down to work.

Todd MacDonald

According to announcements made over the past week, Todd MacDonald, in a new position at PPS as the chief technology officer, will be part of the summer professional development team helping to establish PPS guidelines for students and staff on the appropriate use of artificial intelligence, and Alicia Carsdale, a sixth grade math teacher, will be a new assistant principal at Princeton Middle School, taking over from Ebony Lattimer, who recently became the new principal of Slackwood Elementary School in Lawrence Township. Carsdale will be joining the administrative team that also includes Principal Jason Burr and Assistant Principal John McCann, who is starting his second year in that position.

MacDonald has been part of the educational technology team at Hillsborough Township Public Schools since 2011. Prior to his career in education he was a senior geographic information systems (GIS) mapping specialist for a navigation software company for four years. He has also worked at Princeton University as a technical support specialist.

“Todd MacDonald has a vision of how to implement technology solutions that will have a real impact on student learning,” said PPS Interim Superintendent Kathie Foster, as quoted in a PPS press release. “He is passionate about supporting teachers and staff and we look forward to welcoming him to the district.”

MacDonald earned his bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in economics from The College of New Jersey, a master’s degree in GIS and cartography from Temple University, and an additional master’s degree in learning technologies from Drexel University.

“Integrating technology effectively into K-12 districts in this era of rapid technological innovation is an exciting, but challenging endeavor,” MacDonald said. “I’m looking forward to working with the PPS administration to leverage the district’s technology in strategic, effective ways that serve the needs of teachers and students.”

He continued, “I believe that PPS has the potential to be a leader in technology and that begins with true collaboration among district stakeholders. We need to collectively view technology not just as an enhancement tool, but as a catalyst for innovative learning.”

Summer Construction

A renovation of the PHS cafeteria, new security vestibules, additional security cameras, new interior doors at PMS and PHS, new roofing, improved playground drainage, and HVAC improvements are among the PPS projects scheduled for the summer, most of which are funded by taxpayer-approved bond issues.

“The projects we are starting this summer will enhance safety and improve learning and common spaces for our students and staff,” said Foster.

“We have an ambitious schedule and a relatively short time period, about 10 weeks, when schools are mostly empty,” added PPS Board Administrator Matt Bouldin. The window is even briefer in schools where summer classes are in session.

The renovated, updated PHS cafeteria will have redesigned food stations, more seating options, improved acoustics, and new furniture, according to the press release, which also promises more usable square footage with improved functionality, shorter wait times in line, and more choices for where to sit and eat lunch.

Bouldin suggested that the redesigned cafeteria and the new food service provider would “make a big difference in the way PHS students experience lunch.”

Also at PHS, at the main entrance and the Performing Arts Center (PAC) entrance, there will be new security vestibules with two sets of double doors, where visitors are buzzed in, show identification to the building monitor, and then are buzzed through a second set of doors.

Roofing teams will be at PHS during the summer, replacing and repairing parts of the roof which were not included in previous upgrades. Repairs to the masonry on the PHS tower and turrets and repairs to the historic slate roof have recently been successfully completed.

PPS has recently been working with Sustainable Princeton, local naturalist and plant expert Steve Hiltner, and others to expand the native plantings in the PHS detention and retention basins. One of those basins, known as the EcoLab, is used by biology classes. In addition to serving educational purposes, the basins provide necessary drainage of the school grounds.

Summer facilities projects at PMS include new pool lighting, new starting blocks for the pool, and a new safety drain at the bottom of the pool. Also at PMS, some doors will be replaced, and some outdated HVAC equipment will be upgraded. Upgrading the PA system and a new rooftop HVAC system are planned for future projects.

The playgrounds are a priority at the elementary schools with about $1 million in improvements, approved in the 2023 referendum, in the works. Also in the planning stages are improved drainage and new accessibility features for playgrounds and new fencing at Community Park. New siding, gutters, and skylights have recently been completed at Littlebrook and Johnson Park.

Future projects for this fall, 2025, and beyond include elevator improvements, HVAC ductwork, tennis court drainage, replacing the turf field, resurfacing the track, and continued HVAC work.

“We have a broad scope of work for the summer and an experienced team overseeing the portfolio of projects,” said Foster. “Our current team works well together. I’ve been impressed with their dedication when it comes to completing projects on time and on budget.”

Foster went on to cite the contributions of Bouldin and David Harding, director of plant and operations.