May 31, 2023

HELPING HANDS: “It’s very important to provide fresh seasonal food to families who need it. This is our mission. Our primary focus is for families with children in Princeton Public Schools.” Shown are the team members who guide and operate the Princeton Mobile Food Pantry. From left are Wendy Wilton, Debbie Bronfeld, Liliana Morenilla, Dafna Kendal, Shilpa Pai, Sharon Litvinsky, Mandy Arshan, Amy Lansky, and Jennifer Lea Cohan. Missing from the photo is Jackie Swain.

By Jean Stratton

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, that’s the only thing that ever does.”

—Margaret Mead

How to translate that conviction into action? Some people see a need and don’t know what to do about it. Some are unaware of the need. Others see the need and find ways to address it.

The last statement is the story of the Princeton Mobile Food Pantry (PMFP) and the remarkable team that created it, and continues to make it happen.

In 2007, Princeton resident and volunteer Liliana Morenilla became aware of students who did not have enough to eat.

“I was volunteering at Johnson Park Elementary School translating for Spanish-speaking parents,” she explains. “There was constant mention of food insecurity in their homes. One day, I had to separate two little ones who were fighting for a granola bar. What started the fight was that the kids never had snacks from home, and were hungry.” more

To the Editor:

It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore that Princeton is facing a full-blown crisis in its public school system (PPS), historically one of the top districts in the state. If its quality and reputation continue to drop and teachers/staff continue to leave, we will see declining property values and tax revenues, with fewer people and businesses wanting to come to or stay in Princeton. 

At the root of the crisis is a divisive superintendent, hired by the Board of Education (BOE) in July 2021. Unfortunately, the BOE seems to be taking the fall for their CEO’s ineffective leadership and expensive missteps. The few supporters of the superintendent and BOE who have spoken publicly have tried to minimize the voices of thousands of PPS parents and residents by calling them an insignificantly small group. In a May 24 letter, they even belittled them as “recent arrivals” — apparent anti-immigrant rhetoric we should not accept in Princeton.  more

To the Editor:

On Friday, May 26, I tried to take my wife to catch the train. There were barricades blocking the entrance to the Dinky station. I tried to enter the station parking lot but half of it was also barricaded, and the open half was packed with cars and trucks, many blocking in others. I suspect some were train customers and others Wawa customers. In the afternoon I went to pick up my wife — again the barricades and no space for the usual customers. What a mess.

The scene looked like there was an emergency safety event and the area had been cordoned off. Was it a sink hole, a bomb threat, an outbreak of Ebola? No, I discovered it was to reserve space for University alumni buses. At the times I visited, the cordoned-off area was empty, there were no buses.  more

To the Editor:

On May 24, the Town Topics published a letter from four Princeton residents where they openly ask the PPS superintendent and the Board of Education (BOE) members to “please accept our sincerest apologies on behalf of the Princeton community.”  This letter further stated that the community’s oppositions to recent PPS/BOE decisions were “the attacks, apparently led largely by non-residents and recent arrivals to Princeton.” This letter was indeed written very eloquently but was wrong, and insulting, in many ways.

First and foremost, why would taxpayers need to apologize to local elected officials and a particular public worker if they don’t agree with their decisions? By the same token, can I openly apologize, on behalf of Princeton community, to the mistreated public worker whose career and personal life were put on the line by the particular public worker, and blindly supported by the BOE?  more

To the Editor:

When they go low, we go high.

These past two months have been a blessing in disguise. Through the turmoil, I’ve met so many wonderful people and made amazing friends from all walks of life. I’ve decided to write this letter to address the feelings of those who feel offended by personal attacks, name calling, and the spread of misinformation. Unfortunately, people screaming the most about equity and inclusion are the ones that cast the sharpest stones and create exclusions far beyond what most of us have ever known. more

To the Editor:

I came to live in Princeton on July 1, 1999. I am from Ecuador.

In response to the letter published on May 24 signed by Shirley Satterfield, Miki Mendelson, Mary Robinson-Cohen, and Christopher Foreman Sr. [“Open Apology to the Superintendent, Princeton Board of Education Members,” Mailbox], I have a number of questions to ask.

Am I considered out of town because of my origin? Am I considered a new arrival or do my close to 24 years living in town meet the guidelines to be considered a member of Princeton community? more

To the Editor:

I am writing to express my solidarity with the outraged Princeton residents who, at a recent public forum, expressed their complaints about poor and even non-existent cell phone service in our town [“Residents Air Grievances at Special Work Session on Cell Phone Service,” May 24, page 1].

I just spent a solid hour on my front porch less than a half-mile from Palmer Square attempting to make an important call — only to be informed via a tiny blurb on my cellphone screen that I had “No Service.” At this point I’d say I endure this inconvenience about 20 percent of the time. Which prompts me to ask: Why should I pay for nonexistent service? Am I not entitled to a credit for — not poor service — but nonexistent service from Verizon? more

May 24, 2023

FINANCIAL FOCUS: “We lead with advice and planning, which allows us to understand each client’s full financial picture. With this knowledge, we can act in the most thoughtful way in accordance with each client’s best interest.” Elizabeth Walsh, Princeton regional director for Glenmede Trust Company, looks forward to introducing more clients to Glenmede’s expert financial services and solutions.

By Jean Stratton

These are challenging times in many ways. Peace of mind regarding financial worries, concerns, and decisions is something everyone wants and needs.

Elizabeth Walsh, Princeton regional director for Glenmede Trust Company, works hard to help clients move forward with that all-important peace of mind.

“We can help take that worry away from people,” she explains. “Our Princeton team works mainly with individuals and families. We help our clients wherever they are in life. Young families building their wealth, some setting up college funds, and others planning for retirement.”

Joining the firm in 2021, Walsh has had a lengthy career in wealth management, initially in New York City and now for decades in the Princeton area. A Princeton University graduate, she is very happy to be working within a stone’s throw of her alma mater at Glenmede’s 47 Hulfish Street location. more

To the Editor:

On Friday, May 5, the Princeton-Blairstown Center (PBC) held its Soirée Under the Stars benefit fundraiser at Springdale Golf Club in Princeton after a three-year hiatus due to COVID. This event drew 170 people and raised more than $77,000, which will support PBC’s award-winning Summer Bridge Program. Each year, Summer Bridge offers hundreds of students from Trenton and Newark a high-quality summer enrichment experience focused on social emotional learning, literacy, and STEM as well as outdoor experiences such as canoeing, kayaking, swimming, high- and low-ropes course adventures, and roasting s’mores over campfires, completely free of charge.

During the evening, PBC presented the 2023 Frank Broderick Award to John S. Watson Jr. and NJM Insurance Group with the 2023 Reverend David H. McAlpin Jr. Community Champion Award. To conclude the program, student speaker Issac Evans from Trenton spoke about how his experiences at the Center made him the person he is today. more

To the Editor:

On May 15, there was a public hearing requested by Mr. Frank Chmiel to persuade the Board of Education (BOE) to renew his contract. The statements from Dr. Kelley and Mr. Chmiel were so different that nobody can easily conclude from it without further investigation.

Here are several observations I made during this hearing:

1. Only two Princeton High School (PHS) staff members spoke in the hearing, who are both near retirement age. It means teachers are afraid of being punished by saying anything about Mr. Chmiel (either in support or not in support). more

To the Editor:

Dr. Carol Kelley and Princeton Board of Education members, please accept our sincerest apologies on behalf of the Princeton community, particularly those of us who have remained silent or have not aggressively challenged the tone, disrespect, and harshness of the opposition to your decision to remove the former high school principal.

After release of the reasons for termination and the former Principal’s recent public comments deriding the people he managed, we are now clear that you have been the persistent target of lies, rumors, innuendos, and threats in the effort to force you to reinstate your former employee. After hearing the superintendent read a detailed 20-plus pages regarding the reasons for your decision, we understood that 11 RICE notices alone revealed that many witnesses were involved in the investigations, evaluations, and responses to the documented behavior and performance of the former employee.  more

To the Editor:

In was great to see so many attendees at the town’s recent [May 6] meeting regarding the redevelopment of five Princeton Theological Seminary properties. I appreciate the acknowledgment that this is an important gateway to town and that the neighbors have been living with this uncertainty since 2018 — longer than all but one elected official has served.

Unfortunately, the meeting ran longer than scheduled, and I was unable to stay to comment. However, there are some clarifications that I feel are important to offer.  more

To the Editor:

I want to register at least one voice in favor of Sakrid Coffee Roasters’ proposed coffee roastery at 300 Witherspoon Street in advance of the Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting on Wednesday, May 24. The main concern that opponents have voiced is the potential smell produced by the industrial coffee roasting process. This is a reasonable concern, but one that can be allayed by actually visiting a modern roastery. I’ve visited several industrial roasteries around the country and also roasted beans in my own kitchen during the pandemic. In all these cases, I have found the smell of roasting coffee totally unobjectionable, and even pleasant.  more

To the Editor:

Growing up in Princeton, I was impressed with the town’s progressive and impactful environmental initiatives. I attended my first climate rally in Palmer Square when I was a sophomore in high school at 16 years old. Now, as a 20-year-old sophomore in college, my passion for environmental activism has only grown. Thus, when I heard about the Bridge Point 8 project warehouse proposal, I felt compelled to take action.

Not only will the installation of a 5.5 million-square-foot warehouse development congest roads with thousands of trucks, polluting our airways, but it will also destroy land home to endangered species and 160 acres of flood-mitigating wetlands. Especially with the advent of COVID, many people have found solace and peace in exploring the outdoors within their local community. We have a moral obligation and duty to protect our environment. We must also look out for New Jersey brick-and-mortar small businesses that have taken a hit due to the pandemic and the continued rise of e-commerce services. more

To the Editor:

The Princeton Parents for Black Children (PPBC) Executive Board commends the BOE for affirming its nonrenewal decision at Principal Frank Chmiel’s Donaldson hearing. The Board made the difficult but correct decision despite vocal but misguided opposition. We are saddened to see that decision underscored by the former principal’s and his supporters’ post-hearing words and actions.

This was not a “he said, she said” contest. Dr. Kelley’s well-supported statement of reasons was held to a higher legal standard than the response. It was supported by witnesses and complainants including Board members, teachers, students, and parents in numerous investigations and documented meetings over an 18-month period. His response was not subjected to fact checking nor cross-examination.  more

To the Editor:

Across Princeton, there is a great deal of enthusiasm among forward-thinking residents for creating more affordable housing and for mitigating climate change. During the May 6, 2023 roundtable on redevelopment of the lots on which Princeton Theological Seminary’s (PTS) Tennent-Roberts-Whiteley Gymnasium (TRW) campus formerly sat, Council President Mia Sacks said these two issues are national crises that would be irresponsible to ignore. This proposal addresses both issues.

Based on press reports and other sources, the expected proposal from the private developer to redevelop the TRW lots is likely to be a luxury apartment complex with an underground parking garage for over 100 cars. Most of the large old-growth trees would be removed, resulting in a significant negative environmental impact. By law, there will be a 20 percent set-aside for affordable housing. We expect the developer would request and receive a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) from the town, with taxpayers subsidizing the development. The rents for these apartments, with the exception of the few affordable units, are unlikely to be affordable for many who would wish to live in Princeton. Projections for the Thanet Avalon project indicate that the expected rent for a 727-square-foot one-bedroom apartment will require someone to be earning over $120,000 a year if the HUD guidelines on rent affordability at 30 percent of income are to be considered. This is more than twice the current salary of an experienced teacher or police officer and would freeze many out of living in Princeton. more

To the Editor:

While we appreciate community input on this and every topic, we believe PCRD’s recent proposal is incompatible with how the vast majority of affordable housing in New Jersey is created, funded, and maintained — and would impose a considerable financial burden of tens of millions of dollars on the taxpayers of Princeton.

The proposal, for 100 percent affordable (i.e., municipally-sponsored) housing, would require the financial backing of the municipality, including millions of taxpayer funds to purchase the property, to construct the housing, and to provide tax subsidies over time. Further, the low unit count would make it uncompetitive for state financing, causing Princeton residents to make up significant funding shortfalls.  more

To the Editor:

On Wednesday evening [May 24] at 7:30 p.m., via Zoom, the Board of Zoning Adjustment will hear a third presentation from Sakrid Coffee Roasters, LLC. Concerned neighbors feel that our air quality is threatened and ask every other concerned resident or parent of a Community Park School child to attend, listen, and voice an opinion.

Since the Board of Zoning Adjustment hearing on March 22, two new issues have surfaced that directly bear upon the inappropriateness of the requested variance to roast coffee commercially (process for additional “owned locations” and “for sale to others”) at 300 Witherspoon, which sits on the boundary of the Witherspoon-Jackson (W-J) and Community Park (C-P) neighborhoods. more

May 17, 2023

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

To the Editor:

Next Wednesday’s [May 24] Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting will be the third time Sakrid Coffee Roasters will present their case to install a coffee roastery at 300 Witherspoon. In the last two meetings nothing has changed other than their acknowledgment that the amount of roasting will increase in the future. The proponents have yet to explain why nearby residents, pool and park users, and parents of Community Park students should risk diminished air quality for the luxury of witnessing coffee being roasted.

While we are excited and supportive of a cafe nearby, there is no compelling need to roast coffee where they are proposing, much less to change township statutes to enable this kind of use. A prior letter of opposition pointed out that other coffee shops in town roast their beans outside residential neighborhoods in industrially-zoned areas.

The smell of roasting coffee is far different than the aroma of a freshly-brewed cup. Roasting produces air pollutants and particulate matter, including VOCs and other chemicals that pose health risks to workers and neighbors — which is the reason Sakrid proposes installing technologies to limit most of these pollutants. However, there is good reason to be especially cautious in areas so close to hundreds of residents and school children. Making an exemption for a use that has the potential to be unhealthy or a nuisance — and has become so in other places — is foolish.

Meanwhile the town is in a growth phase and trying to create affordable housing and find acceptable ways to incorporate higher density development. Along this section of Witherspoon, future development could include new shops, restaurants, and accompanying kitchen exhaust, A/C condensers, increased traffic, laundry, etc.

The town should be mindful of cumulative impacts with each new project that is proposed, especially in this neighborhood. For example, noise and municipal traffic often begins in the wee hours of the morning when the street cleaner heads towards other sections of town. Additionally, non-resident parking and traffic is steadily increasing, and includes the several-ton municipal trucks.

These issues go beyond this proposal, but are important for context. The quality of life of Princeton residents, including this neighborhood, should be more forcefully safeguarded when permitting new amenities and meeting township planning goals. The localized impact to air quality of increased residential and commercial development, and associated traffic in the Witherspoon corridor is already consequential to residents. Unnecessarily adding new emission sources that may impair air quality should not be allowed.

So while we are excited by the prospect of a cafe, granting a variance to roast coffee in this setting is unwise.

Birch Avenue

To the Editor:

Thank you so much, on behalf of The Friends and Foundation of Princeton Public Library, to all of you who came to the Book Lover’s Luncheon on April 28 at the Nassau Inn to hear author Lynne Olson speak about her new book, Empress of the Nile, in conversation with William Storrar, director of the Center for Theological Inquiry.

We had a record number of people attending at 211!

Thank you to Beatrice Bloom of Weichert Real Estate for her long-standing support. Thank you too to the library staff for all their hard work: Dawn Frost, Tim Quinn, Janie Herman, Mariem Mahmoud, and Joe Caruso.

Thank you to all our volunteers and supporters who help to make Princeton Public Library such a special place.
We look forward to seeing you all at Beyond Words on October 21, 2023.

Chairperson for Book Lover’s Luncheon
Coniston Court
Vice President, Friends and Foundation
of Princeton Public Library
Witherspoon Street

To the Editor:

Princeton residents may be surprised to hear that students in the Princeton Public Schools do not do particularly well on state math tests. While all schools took a hit from COVID, algebra scores in Princeton fell nearly twice as far as scores in New Jersey overall, and in 2022, PPS students floundered on the state exams for algebra and geometry. Despite its resources, Princeton barely beat the state average, and trailed far behind neighboring districts like West Windsor and Montgomery.

These lackluster results can be traced to the district’s incoherent middle school math curriculum. In recent years, administrators have adopted a haphazard approach to math placement, and in a well-intentioned but disastrous 2019 decision, the district combined all sixth graders into a single Accelerated Pre-algebra course. To make this feasible, critical content was removed, producing a wealth of unfortunate downstream consequences. For our middle school students in general, between 2019 and 2022, the proficiency rate plummeted from 72.6 percent to 52.3 percent for Algebra 1 and from 94 percent to 54 percent for Algebra 2. Students without outside tutoring have been hit especially hard: the percentage of economically disadvantaged students passing the Algebra 1 exam fell 41 percent between 2019 and 2022, down to a disastrous 10 percent proficiency rate.

The district is finally reckoning with the damage it has created. As it hires a new math supervisor and reviews the curriculum, it would do well to consider the rigorous and well-designed math program at West Windsor, a similar school district that far outperforms Princeton, with higher scores overall and smaller achievement gaps between demographic groups. In West Windsor in 2022, for example, despite COVID, nearly 57 percent of economically disadvantaged students taking the Algebra 1 test passed, as did nearly 84 percent of students at Thomas Grover Middle School.

One hallmark of successful math programs is that they use targeted direct instruction and focused practice, recognizing that different students learn at different paces and that all students learn the most when they are taught content that is neither over their heads nor so easy that they know it already. This approach, sometimes called “tracking,” has been disfavored in recent years in Princeton. Our low scores and widening achievement gaps should prompt the Board of Education to revisit this prejudice. Math presents a particular challenge for heterogeneous classrooms, and struggling students are most likely to get lost in the shuffle. Genuine equity means giving all students the careful placement, direct instruction, and support they need to learn the most that they can within the framework of a rigorous and coherent curriculum.

I urge the district to hire a math supervisor with a strong math background and a record of running a highly successful program, and to use West Windsor as a model for reform. I am concerned that district leaders are more focused on making excuses than on making improvements. They have suggested that Princeton could not possibly match our neighbors’ success because of our demographics. That’s no excuse for not trying.

Prospect Avenue

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

SUCCESS STORY: “I think about who we are and what we offer. We are a place where people can come to be together, find special records and CDs, and talk about music.” Jon Lambert, owner of the popular Princeton Record Exchange, is proud of the store’s extraordinary selection of thousands of CDs, LPs, and DVDs, and of its long history and reputation.

By Jean Stratton

When you come to the Princeton Record Exchange, don’t be in a hurry. Plan to spend some time. It is totally intriguing!

Filled with thousands of CDs, LPs, DVDs, Blu-rays, and more, it offers every category of music, from rock and jazz to classical and country to blues and soul, rap and hip-hop, movie soundtracks, shows, and more. More than 100,000 titles in stock!

This is a special place. It has been rated a top record store in the U.S. by BuzzFeed, Time Magazine, Rolling Stone, CNN, USA Today, GQ, and the Wall Street Journal, and featured in many other publications. The New York Times is quoted as saying, “Customers come from as far away as Scotland and Japan or as close as around the corner.”

In this age of online shopping and digital messaging in every way, Princeton Record Exchange (known informally as PREX) is a bricks and mortar, walk-in store. Customers can browse, find something special for their collection, and share information with each other.

As it reports in its mission statement: “Princeton Record Exchange is dedicated to providing an alternative to the streaming services and online stores that have come to dominate the music and movie retailing world. We take pride in our low pricing, the high quality of our merchandise, and the depth of our selection.”


May 10, 2023

To the Editor:

As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude for all the teachers and staff who have made a difference in my life.

I can remember my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Campbell, who always called me Dr. Carroll (my maiden name) and had a kind smile for me each morning. Even though I was just a child, she made me feel valued, seen, and important. I will never forget how much she inspired me to learn and excel in school.  more