Parent starts petition calling for immediate removal of Princeton superintendent and reinstatement of high school principal (updated)

Carol Kelley

The second petition to be launched in five days related to leadership at Princeton High School was posted online on Wednesday.

Lisa Potter created a change.org petition calling for the immediate resignation of Princeton Superintendent of Schools Carol Kelley and the reinstatement of Princeton High School Principal Frank Chmiel.

The reasons the district put Chmiel on paid leave have not been released. Chmiel issued a statement to Planet Princeton on Tuesday describing events leading up to his removal last Friday. Chmiel did not detail in the statement the contents of his performance evaluation and has not said yet whether he will waive his rights to privacy and agree to have his job discussed at a public school board meeting. Chmiel has fired the lawyers provided to him by his union and instead has hired lawyer David Schroth of Ewing and lawyer Ben Montenegro of Brick.

District officials can’t comment on why Chmiel was put on leave or on his performance as a principal due to New Jersey state statutes regarding the privacy of personnel records. The regulations governing the privacy of personnel records were meant to protect employee privacy. A lawyer for the school board said at the board’s public meeting Tuesday night that the statement issued by Chmiel contained some inaccuracies. The lawyer said the board still can’t comment on Chmiel’s situation without Chmiel opting to have the discussion be public.

Kelley is serving in her second academic year as the head of the district and so is Chmiel. The petition calling for her removal claims there has been a lack of transparency and leadership, as well as a decline in academic excellence throughout the district.

“The Princeton High School students and parents are frustrated and very upset with the lack of transparency, accountability and respect from Superintendent Dr. Carol Kelley.  We are requesting for her resignation immediately, and the reinstatement of Princeton High School Principal, Mr. Frank Chmiel.,” reads the latest petition.

“Since she came onboard, she has caused immeasurable mental distress and harm to the high school community in less than two years.  Instead of focusing on their education, students from the high school are spending time and energy fighting against the sudden removal of their beloved Principal Frank Chmiel,” reads the petition. “Dr. Kelley refused to listen to the voices of the students.  One petition from last year was not enough!  The students rallied another petition last week that gathered more than 2,400 signatures in two days. Princeton High School is the flagship of the Princeton school district.  Many moved here because of it’s stellar reputation.   We have no confidence of Dr. Kelley’s leadership to help maintain our school’s reputation and ranking now or in the future.”

Some petition signers who posted their reasons for signing claimed that Kelley promotes race-based grading, in other words, giving out grades based on a student’s race. They linked to a website posing as a local news site called the West Cook News that is a fake news website. These websites are known as “pink slime” because they post false or misleading information that is not grounded in facts, but instead partisan politics. The websites are produced not by reporters, but by inexperienced writers who are paid to spread propaganda.

“Check the ‘legacy’ Dr. Kelly left during her tenure at Oak Park School District. The implementation of a race-based grading system and turnover of four principals in four years were among the issues that concerned parents in that school district,” reads a comment from one petition signer who links to the bogus West Cook News website.

“I’m signing this petition because I cannot agree with her politics at all,” wrote another parent.

Some signers blame Kelley for a “rapid and steep” decline in educational performance in grades K-12 since her arrival in July of 2021, less than two years ago.

“The superintendent’s recent actions have greatly damaged our famous school district, these actions not only lacked transparency but also were invalid,” wrote one parent. “The superintendent and some boe members are ruining our children’s future in Princeton and US.”

Kelley has put two assistant principals in charge of the high school since Chmiel was put on paid leave last Friday. The two assistant principals have worked at the high school for many years.

Editor’s note: An earlier edition of this story said Schroth specialized in criminal defense law, personal injury law, and DWI cases and Montenegro specializes in land use, zoning, and education law. Schroth said most of his cases now civil court and employment cases.


  1. The superintendent is responsible for evaluating and supporting their school’s principal. The fact that Mr. Chmiel was put on a PIP means that last year he was rated as “partially effective” in at least one of the designated standard areas of his performance. All schools in NJ are required to have an evaluation tool and rubric and most are on a 1-4 scale, 1-ineffective, 2-partially effective, 3-effective, 4-highly effective. The scores for each evaluation are then averaged and if the rating is below 2.75 then the principal/educator is rated as partially effective and to continue to be gainfully employed they must professionally improve via a plan developed with their supervisor, the superintendent. It seems like Mr. Chmiel may not have met the goals or targets set in his PIP and this could be due to a number of factors. The superintendent may have had evidence and data to support their ratings of Mr. Chmiel. Although disagreements in leadership and decisions could have played a role in the superintendent’s decision, something seems like there might have been some subjectivity that made it’s way into his evaluations.

    It sounds like Mr. Chmiel is a great person and leader according to those he worked closely with, students and families. While that is an important factor, I would ask the community to review the school’s performance, discipline, and HIB data before and after his hiring. Has there been growth in this data, positive or negative, since he took the reigns? What decisions and steps has he taken to improve the educational performance at PHS? Community building seems to be a real strength for Mr. Chmiel, but it has to combined with curriculum, instruction, human resource management, facility management, school safety/crisis management as well as others to determine how effective he was as a principal.
    The superintendent is responsible to support her principal. She/the Board hired him because they saw something he could bring to PHS, if he had areas to grow, there should have been collaborative efforts to ensure he would grow to meet their expectations. Only the superintendent knows if this happened as part of her evaluations of Mr. Chmiel, but to the community I hope you can look into your school and district data to see the whole picture, which might shed some light on the situation as it stands.
    I haven’t looked at the data myself, but ask yourself do you want a kind and nice principal who did not effectively progress the school towards levels of achievement that could make it on par with the university at the center of your town but knew everyone’s name or would you prefer a principal who might not know everyone’s name, but worked to ensure students in your school we’re learning, growing, and performing in ways that demonstrates significant levels of achievement. Keep in mind one of these choices impacts your property values.

    1. I was just about to say this myself. I have a few friends that worked in the Franklin School District and they themselves have stated that they’re still cleaning up the “mess” he left. Great guy, very personable, but not a great building administrator. If he allows the discussion of his employment to be public, then we’ll really know. If he keeps it private, maybe he has something to hide. Who knows?

    2. You make good points. But the question is: why was Mr. Chmiel dismissed in the middle of the school year? Poor job performance does not explain such an abrupt firing. If that’s all there is, the superintendent and the BoE should have simply let him go at the end of his contract in June, instead of putting us in this hot mess, including a threat of litigation that we will pay for with our tax money. The superintendent and the Board have shown poor judgment and leadership, and have unnecessarily enraged the community. Draw your own conclusions.

      1. agree …. Why not wait and avoid the costs and disruption to the children who are now focused on this rather than school. Also destroying a career.
        The community is outraged at how this been communicated and hany

    3. I agree, that there’s a lot we don’t know about the way the decision has been made. The ruminations can go either way. But it seems pretty clear that the community values Mr. Chmiel a lot. From what I understand, the teachers had positive experience working with him as well.

      I’d like to point out, that the academic excellence , achievements and curriculum (or lack of thereof) is very much the responsibility of the superintendent and NOT the principal. She is in charge of the school district, she makes the decision whom to hire or let go and so on. So if you want to hold someone responsible for the state of the education in PHS I suggest you evaluate Dr. Kelley’s performance.

      1. Agreed! If she hired Chimel knowing it/he was messy in Franklin is in question as well. Is the decision making in question which goes forward as Superintendent decisions.

      2. You and yous buddies are full of it. I read right between the lines – bottom line you don’t want anyone of color in charge, period.

    4. Putting aside the details of this particular incident, I hope you will reconsider the last sentence in your post. It’s a sad state of affairs if we allow the impact on property values to inform educational policy for our children. Unless you believe that the metrics that affect property values really correlate to quality education.

    5. You miss the point that Kelley and Tidwell de-emphasize academics versus other priorities and that will hurt your property values even more.

  2. Well, the previous two comments take very objective approach, asking people to sit tight and wait for the truth to come out. I can’t say I am 100% disagree with the comments. But we do need to take the following into consideration:
    1. We all know that the Superintendent wanted and tried to get rid of the principal the first year she arrived. Was her rubric so effective and accurate and it only took a few months to make that judgement? Keep in mind, the board did not unanimously support the superintendent’s decision least year and voted it down (8 to 2, rumor has it);

    2. If the principal indeed did poorly this year again, it might justify the termination. But why in the middle of the school year? Why have to be so abrupt? And why the principal’s name was not even mentioned in their Friday’s email to the community, which shocked everyone. If the principal did indeed fail the evaluation, the board can just wait a few months to not renew the contract and it would not put the high school and the community as a whole in to this turmoil, which the superintendent and the team has put the district through quite a few times in the past two years since she arrived;

    3. The Rubric itself: what is it? Is it reasonable to achieve? Is it designed to target certain things that cannot be objectively measured? During the 3/21’s BoE meeting, the president of the BoE did ask the lawyer to clarify if they can release a blank rubric form for the evaluation. We, as a community, still do not see it yet.

    And lastly, because “personnel issue can’t not be discussed”, there might be only 11 people know what’s going on. We, community members in large, could all be wrong, just because we don’t have all the information needed. Most people outside of that board meeting room smell something wrong, and justifiably reacted accordingly. It takes the entire town, two in this case, to build a good school. The school ranking has been declining, significantly in the past few years. We need a superintendent and the BoE to work on bring the ranking back, not to put the district into turmoil like this every year.

    That’s why we just can’t sit there and wait for all the objectivities to come out (if they will be release at all). PPS is about to lose more than a beloved principle, good people (teachers, staff member) are leaving for other districts, in this environment where there is a great shortage of good people in educations.

    1. Agree. Someone is trying to hide something. BOE member Kendall told parents today 3/ 23/ 2033 that the blank rubric used for evaluation would not be available / provided until Monday. Why do they need 5 days to provide a blank version of what is used to evaluate PPS employees?

      1. Understand that BOE is in a tough spot. Maybe there are legal ramifications the board needs to clear with their attorney. I think if they made a promise, the rubric will eventually get posted.

  3. When this mess is sorted out, I hope that the Board and the district will adopt a new hiring philosophy prioritizing nurturing administrative talent within our own community. Splashy nationwide searches with fancy consultants are not aligned with our interests. Search consultants make money when there is constant churn at the top. Glowing letters of recommendation may reflect a previous district’s ardent desire to be rid of someone. Administrators hop from post to post burnishing their resumes without building the relationships and knowledge that allow for effective leadership.

    I understand that internal candidates will inevitably look less shiny and new. They will have some weaknesses, because no one is perfect. But at least with an internal candidate, you know what those weaknesses are and you can make an informed decision about whether they are a dealbreaker or not. I think we are all tired of unpleasant surprises.

    Another advantage of building talent from within is that it helps us to retain good people. If our teachers and administrators feel that they have to leave in order to grow, we lose out and our children lose out.

    We need stability, trust, and a strong district culture. Going forward, I hope the Board will think carefully about what it can do to give us effective, known, and trusted leadership, and that it will make nurturing internal talent an explicit goal for our district. We could all do with a break.

  4. Chmiel sounds as if he was well liked but also a puppet in the hands of the students and parents. Kelley is a much better administrator but inaccessible. Students are stressing themselves over Kelley instead of focusing on their classes, homework and tests. Unfortunately the parents’ skewed identity politics won’t allow them to accept a HBWIC of their kid’s education.

  5. @Cedita Graves. Can you explain what HBWIC means?

    Also, it isn’t a part of the current uproar, but Chmiel has been someone who has pushed for more learning and focusing on the classes. It has been the initiatives coming from Kelley’s office that have been hurting academic learning at the high school and the middle school. The problems I have had at PHS, Chmiel tried to address, but the cause of the issues came from the people who are direct reports to Kelley and Chmiel couldn’t touch them. There are a lot of politics at PPS. His firing may have been due to him trying to get some of Kelley’s underlings to do their job correctly.

  6. It’s so unfortunate whats happening in school districts all across America. Everything and I mean everything has become “political”. Do people absolutely believe someone instructs their teachers to give grades based on race? Could it be we have a woman who is doing her job and because of her race, parents want her removed? I think schools should be more transparent about funding, district goals etc but I also feel folks need to be transparent of their alterior motives when making complaints.

  7. A principal is first and foremost an administrator and a leader. This position in our district high school obviously comes with heavy responsibilities, heavy work, and numerous rubrics for evaluation. Trying to and sometimes remembering students’ names can’t possibly be the main criteria and the uniquely valuable reason some parents have to discredit the decisions/serious work of a superintendent who inherited a district in complete disarray two years ago. It seems to me that Dr Kelley admirably works intensively to implement thoughtful and impactful initiatives through extensive auditing and data based decisions. It’s difficult pinpoint the justification of the anger of a few very loud parents. Their resistance to accept a capable woman of color in a position of power seems to be the cause of their outrage. The superintendent is willing and able to implement meaningful and profound change in the interest of all our children. It is of note that the former principal did not articulate an impressive vision for the school. That being said, employees have rights, and it’s up to him to protect or renounce his privacy. He has every right to move on from a difficult moment in his professional life. Parents or students are not entitled to invade administrators’ or teachers’ private lives. We do not know the reasons for Mr. Chmiel’s dismissal, and we are not entitled to them. What we do know (from his statement) is that Mr. Chmiel was given a second chance this year, and that he is on paid administrative leave. Mr. Chmiel’s statement makes clear that this is not an abnormal or unjust situation. As he said, that is how a professional organization works. It seems that he could have dismissed someone under him in the same way.
    A skilled superintendent has dismissed an employee in a professional manner. She is supported by the board, the union, and a bunch of reasonable parents/Princeton residents who have come to appreciate the quality of her analysis and actions. Although Mr. Chmiel may be a kind and agreeable individual, Dr. Kelly is simply doing her job. Perhaps our community will come together in support of our next principal, who will hopefully lead, encourage, and inspire students.

    1. Please tell me how one of the most highly regarded school districts in the country was in complete disarray two years ago?

      Would you please provide some examples of the meaningful and profound change the superintendent is willing to implement?

      Can you explain how the former principal did not elaborate an impressive vision for the school (i.e. what specifically he said that made his vison unimpressive)?

      And would you be kind enough to tell me what skill is demonstrated by dismissing a principal 70% through the school year without explanation or consideration of input from parents and students?

  8. I am curious as to what being well-liked makes Chmiel a puppet in the hands of parents and students per one commenter. And what mess the other commenter refers to that this commenter’s friends are still cleaning up?

    Since there is no detail about the cause for asking for his resignation but it was clearly done with great urgency, this seems to be fertile ground for planting the seeds of innuendo. This strikes me as grossly unfair to Mr. Chmiel and also a disservice to the community at large.

  9. Under administrative of Principal Frank Chmiel, Princeton high school ranking has risen from over No.700 to N0.490 in USnews report within only one year, that is the biggest and strongest evidence that Principal Frank Chmiel is sufficient enough to complete his job duties, that is also the major attractive reason I move to Princeton and would like to pay higher property tax. If Princeton high school lost the reputation, no one wants to pay such high property tax any more. As tax payer, we are the right people to ask insufficient superintendent to resign her job immediately.

  10. Actions speak louder than speculation. The superintendent’s performance in the last two years specifically on communication regarding the math curriculum and staff turnover is the reason that I no longer have confidence in her leadership.

  11. “Devil’s advocate”: all of the feedback I have seen is the opposite, give proof; teaccher’s afraid to speak publicly at PHS report that Chmiel supports their efforts at excellence and diversity.
    “Paul B.”: The topic of who is actually responsible for what is crucially important; and when the Principal is responsible, to what extent are higher ups impeding correct actions; my own experience with PPS past Superintendent was incredible and meaningless obstructionism
    “Shenwei Zhao”: This is a very clear and helpful intervention…have you posted it on any of the PHS parents lists?
    “Eleanor Hubbard” : I hope you post this elsewhere, too. As you rightly say, the system of authority building for methodically trained administrators is deficient in key respects, and localism, carefully balanced, is a partial antidote.
    “Cedita Graves”: I don’t get what is being suggested here, and the obscurity seems intentional.
    “James Smith”: So far, the vast majority of comments here and elsewhere that refer to real life interactions involving Chmiel support the belief that he is effective not only in morale-boosting but in facilitating people’s attempts to get things done and advance learning.
    “Mrs. Mack”: Given your good intentions, I wonder if repeating insinuations is the best way to fight them.
    “Princeton high school parent of two”: This is a weird mash-up of mostly unrelated statements with no evidence to back up the gist of it, that Kelley is good and doing her job. But the superficial impression that this a presentation of obvious facts is entirely undermined, once again, but the unfounded and nonsensical assertion that (summarizing here) *because I say that Kelley is good, therefore objections against her must be racist.* She tosses off the lines:
    “It is difficult to pinpoint the justification of the anger of a few very loud parents. Their resistance to accept a capable woman of color in a position of power seems to be the cause of their outrage.”
    I have decided that since there is no way to argue with, against, or even for this, and it (does not “seem” to be but clearly) is bullsh*t, the only way to respond is to call by its proper name and leave it at that.

  12. The road paved with good intentions leads to firing of Mr. Chmiel. I believe members of BOE joined it with good intentions. They hired Carol Kelley with good intentions of addressing long-standing racial inequalities. These problems are hard to solve, especially on short time scale, so would require drastic actions. BOE now feels that they have to support their superintendent. Mr. Chmiel clearly has a rare skill in connecting with people and he spent a lot of time talking to students and parents. Perhaps he paid less attention to some other aspect of the job, for example building administration. A supportive superintendent would suggest that those aspects could be handled by an assistant principal or a facilities manager. A superintendent intend on making drastic changes would, for example, order surprise building inspections and write up at length any deficiencies.

    I ask that BOE members step back from the path they have chosen, with good intentions, and acknowledge that overall well-being of PHS students is more important than statistical differences between their scores. By all accounts, all members of PHS community have a good feeling toward Mr. Chmiel and there have not been any specific complaints about him that we heard about. So please also acknowledge that he is a great principal in spite of any specific score on an evaluation rubric.

  13. Dr Kelley was hated by IL parents. She left mess and moved to NJ. How can you explain that FOUR principals left (actually they were forced to leave) when she was a superintendent for 4 years at Oak? I lived in her district at that time and I can assure you that yes, only people of color were her priorities. We moved to Princeton and there she is! This is the same tactic: she wanted Mr. Chmiel to resign before Christmas. Well, look at the whole picture, do you see the pattern? During her leadership in Princeton there was a project, prepared by one of her puppets, to remove pre-algebra from middle school !

  14. Chmiel doesn’t know my kids names and it’s not important to us. It’s a nice to have, but I guess need to have for others. Don’t be confused that is not the issue. The issue is that he is a committed, passionate educator that is wrongfully taking the fall for PHS truancy, which is a bigger issue than him. The letter sent to families in January, the plan for students to wear IDs and I’m sure the upcoming letters due about attendance as we approach the end of the school year. Attendance and truancy is an age old high school problem, it was for us in the 80s and it is still the case, another principal is not going to make a difference. It comes with the little independence we offer the students and it starts at home, it is up to families and educators to have disciplinary action. Don’t make it a Chmiel problem, he has much greater strengths to offer our students.

  15. The core of this issue is an ideological board and superintendent that are principally focused on promoting their own political bias issues and not ACADEMICS. Their own agenda is not aligned with the values of the majority of parents, students, property owners and taxpayers. And they are promoting their agendas using TAXPAYER funds and at the expense of children’s education and your property values. THEY ARE NOT SERVING THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE PEOPLE.

    Look at Kelley’s twitter handle, it shows where her priorities lie. Tidwell is aligned with her and has caused immeasurable harm to the math program. Please remove Kelley before she causes more harm and please sign the petitions. Block Tidwell’s upcoming tenure application.

    Petitions can be found at http://www.change.org

    “Immediate Resignation of Dr. Carol Kelley as Superintendent of Princeton Public Schools” * over 1700 supporters *

    “Chmiel Has Been Fired. We demand transparency and that the Board rescind his termination” * almost 3000 supporters *

    1. Tidwell and Kelley are sorority sisters. The Math program at PHS under Tidwell is in shambles. Our new math teacher is wasting students’ time preaching about his ‘unique’ approach to math that can be best summarized as ‘calculus is magically learned with zero teaching’, and ‘you need a tutor to help your teacher’ and then shamelessly pitching his own tutoring services at $150/hr in class and in PHS podcasts. Shame on you, Mr you know who you are, shame on Tidwell, shame on Kelley! These mediocre individuals and their pedagogically unsound practices have no place in our schools!

    2. When Kelley was hired, it was very clear from her bio what her priorities would be. There appears to be a clear disconnect between those priorities and those of the many residents who are signing the petitioons and voicing concern. Let me put it another way: People pay a lot of money for homes and in property taxes in Princeton to assure their children have a top flight secondary education, access to the best colleges and a meritocratic school (not one ruled by a single autocrat who just wants her way).

      IMO, the BoE focused on the wrong priorites in selecting a superintendent. And the 10-0 support of the dismisssal of Chmiel underscores that. They should all be voted out.

  16. Everyone wants to have it both ways here. “Academic achievement is rapidly declining in the district. It’s the superintendent’s fault.” Then in the next breath “The high school students’ performance rapidly went up and it’s all because of the principal.” Which is it? OMG get a grip. Since when is leading a school or district a popularity contest also? Maybe they are both not the best fit for us. They both seem to have baggage and issues. Why are people acting like this is the civil war or life and death?

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