Crude attacks on Princeton superintendent disconcerting

I write as a colleague of Dr. Kelley, a recently retired New Jersey superintendent and principal, a longtime resident of Princeton, and a parent of children who attended the Princeton Public Schools from kindergarten through graduation; I have lived here in Princeton and raised my family here since 1983. 

The recent vitriolic attacks on Dr. Kelley are inappropriate, defamatory, and disrespectful. Moreover, they are reminiscent of earlier attacks that led excellent superintendents to forgo choosing to work in Princeton or to leave.

Unfortunately, some of you who have publicly attacked Dr. Kelley have a false consciousness and think that you are entitled to be privy to confidential information and to evaluate and opine upon educational decisions that a superintendent may make. 

Some of you have expressed that since our Princeton tax dollars partially fund school budgets, you have a right to challenge our educators at large and Dr. Kelley in particular – that idea is simply ludicrous. 

It is disconcerting that some of you are engaging in this ridiculous, crude behavior and allowing and encouraging your children to do the same. I would suggest to you that instead of channeling your “woke, inner 60’s protest selves,” be the grown-ups. Model respectful and kind behaviors, act as if you have dignity and home training, and teach your children to do the same in this instance as it pertains to Dr. Kelley, and in all of their school interactions.

For those who have short memories – or perhaps no memories at all, because you are recent arrivals in our community – I would like to remind you that on many occasions as my two children navigated the Princeton Regional Schools, excellent educators were chased out of our community by the uninformed who thought they knew the best practices in education – including what to teach and how to teach it. 

Through the 39 years that I have lived in Princeton, individuals have joined together – as now – and publicly asserted that there were better staff members who could and should work in and lead our schools; often what they were really saying was that the educators had not acquiesced to their individual requests regarding their own children.

Historical perspective shows how truly misguided these outspoken, self-appointed arbiters were because the School Leaders who left went on to lead other districts to achieve excellence while the Princeton Public Schools has continued to fail to attain the goal of all public schools, which is to provide opportunities for all children to excel academically and to reach their individual potential.

School leadership requires specialized knowledge, training, and abilities and I know from my collegial experiences with Dr. Kelley that she has excellent academic credentials, is extremely well qualified, and has the heart to work towards moving our district forward and creating a climate where all children can achieve. 

Dr. Kelley could have chosen a myriad of places to be head of school. Perhaps, like her predecessors before her, she will tire of the rude and combative interactions of our community and choose to move on to a district that values her leadership. Please understand that if she does, it will not be a victory but a loss, and that once again our community will continue to face the same historic challenges as it always has of educating some children very well and some very poorly.

In closing, I would suggest that the mission of the Princeton Public Schools is no different from any of the other 500-plus public school districts in New Jersey and that is to educate ALL of its children consistent with fair and equitable best practices. 

Understand that a public school, no matter where it is located, does not endow privilege based on parental socioeconomic status or abilities to navigate the system; by its very nature, it is designed to be a democratic system that invites everyone who enters it to learn and to achieve.

I would urge my neighbors in the Princeton Public School community to act with decorum and decency and to treat Dr. Kelley as you yourselves wish to be treated in your own employment arenas; teach your own children by modeling this golden rule. 

Mary Robinson Cohen


  1. I certainly agree with the title that crude attacks have no place in this conversation. Of course, I have yet to hear any crude attacks nor any comments that reflect the other adjectives used in this editorial: vitriolic, ridiculous, disrespecful, inapprorpiate and defamatory.

    What I see is a number of parents and other members of the community asking why a highly regarded principal was dismissed during the school year without explanation and being told it’s all confidential. Did Chmiel break a law or violate some policy or does Kelley just want someone else? What is the problem with asking this question?

    What is concerning is the statement that since Princeton tax dollars fund the fund the school system, people think that they have a right to challenge educators. Actually, the people do have that right. It’s called a democracy. They are voters and their children attend the school and they have a right to question policy that affects their children and their educations.

    The comments about Kelley’s excellent academic credentials and how she could have gone to “a myriad of places” are superfluous. No one is questioning her credentials and those credentials do not mean that no one can question the actions being taken. As far as the other positions she could have taken, that’s also not germane. Kelley accepted this position and her performance as Princeton superintendent is the dicussion at hand.

    1. Apparently you haven’t seen some of the emails and images the superintendent has been sent and didn’t watch the meeting last night where the angry mob of parents was an embarrassment to our community.

      1. No, we haven’t seen those emails or images. Have you? I’m guessing Vic Lapirra will be at the next board meeting to tell us that they can’t share this information so we should just trust them.

      2. I was not at the meeting nor have I seen any offensive emails. I have followed the discussion on PP and people are behaving respectfully.

        PHS Parent raises a core issue here. Everything is a secret. Nobody will say if Chmiel was dismssed for cause or if Kelley just wants someone else in the job. And apparently Princeton residents should stop asking questions, be quiet and pay their taxes. It’s as if the message is how dare anyone question the workings of the school board and superintendent.

    2. No one has said that Dr. Kelly or the BOE cannot be questioned. No one. The problem with asking the particular question that you have asked yet again, is that it has been answered NUMEROUS times!!! What part don’t you understand??
      The Superintendent , the BOE as well as their lawyer has said that they have told us ALL THEY CAN LEGALLY TELL US!!! Yet folks continually feel entitled to more and since they cannot have more, they want to throw a collective tantrum like a bunch of toddlers!! Calling for Dr. Kelley and or the BOE to step down because they refuse to BREAK THE LAW to make you and the rest of the toddlers comfortable is rooted in a sense of superiority(we will leave it that), whether you want to face it or not. The fact that you feel like you need to defend this behavior further proves my point.
      As a parent to multiple children in this district, I feel like Mr. Chmeil was in fact the “real deal” and the best thing that has happened to this school in forever! However, they said what they said!!! Let’s exercise some self control and patience and respect the process.

      1. You might have been able to make this argument in good faith before last night. But not anymore. I stayed very quiet and reserved judgment these past few weeks. And then at the meeting last night it became very clear that the board was not deserving of trust. 2 hours of public comment, multiple people asking the board to delay voting on Foster or to flat out vote no. Ample opportunity for board or administration members to offer something, anything in the way of acknowledgment of the chaos this is causing in the school. Nothing. Actually, worse than nothing. At the close of the meeting they hastily stuffed Foster’s appointment into the consent agenda and voted. Which I’m not even sure they are allowed to do, as consent agendas are generally reserved for non-controversial items. So now they no longer have any benefit of any doubt from me.

      2. Actually, the reason for Chmiel’s dismissal has NOT been answered NUMEROUS times.

        The only public statement I have read has come from Chmiel’s attorney who said Chmiel had not violated any laws nor done anything wrongful to students, faculty or staff. This certainly begs the question what else would necessitate dismissing someone in the middle of the school year.

        If the BoE has identified someone to start next year, they certainly could disclose that now (even without disclosing the name) rather than wait until after the school year ends.

      3. You are somebody that I don’t know
        But you’re taking shots at me like it’s Patrón
        And I’m just like “Damn, it’s 7:00 a.m.”
        Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out
        But you say it in a Tweet, that’s a cop-out
        And I’m just like, “Hey, are you okay?”
        And I ain’t trying to mess with your self-expression
        But I’ve learned the lesson that stressin’
        And obsessin’ ’bout somebody else is no fun
        And snakes and stones never broke my bones so
        So, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh, oh-oh
        You need to calm down
        You’re being too loud

  2. As a 50 year resident and retired educator, I support Ms. Cohen’s statements one hundred percent.

  3. One wonders which of the geniuses at KQ Communications devised this evident strategy to mischaracterize what has been strikingly respectful criticism of someone who might reasonably be met with much worse as “crude,” “defamatory,” and “disrespectful.” The aim, of course, is to form a false impression in the minds of Princetonians who have not paid close attention to the actual debate and to foster a sense that those who object to the ill-considered and arbitrary decisions of an autocratic leader and her shameful amen corner on the board are unreasonable. Nice try. Expect more misleading, planted letters of “support” for our disastrous superintendent in days and weeks to come.

    1. If a comment bashes Kelley and the board, it is legitimate. But if a comment supports her, all of a sudden it is a conspiracy and was drafted by the superintendent or board. Please. This was written by an actual resident of our community, but way to go trying to delegitimize anything that doesn’t align with your views.

    2. Dear Reverend. My wife, Mary, wrote the letter, above. I assure you that it was not solicited by any person or entity. See Matthew 7:1-3.

  4. Putting aside the wildly contradictory attitudes towards democracy in this piece, and the sad facts that educational credentials are public information and “heart” is not a well-defined term, I was interested in the history of Princeton superintendents that Robinson Cohen alluded to. The previous two permanent superintendents, Steve Cochran (2014-2020) and Judith Wilson (2005-2013) retired. Claire Kohn (2000-2004) moved back to Massachusetts, supposedly to retire with a better pension since she had worked 21 years there. Robison Cohen appears to be referring to Marcia Bossart (1994-1998), who was bought out of her contract.

    As a “recent arrival” to Princeton – I moved here in 2011 shortly after the birth of my fiest child – I wanted to share the results of a few minutes of internet research with fellow Planet Princeton readers.

    1. I was here during the Kohn years and she was driven out. There was also a turbulent two years after her departure before Judy Wilson came. This is in addition to the Bossart years and beyond.

    2. That would make sense. When Bossart tried to introduce accountability and certain standard practices, it was met with opposition. She also dismissed a popular PHS principal at the time and was met with protests from teachers, students, parents.
      It would be a shame if more power went to PCS again after this drama…

      1. There is an interesting history of the Princeton Charter School here

        It seems that Marcia Bossart was driven out because of her support for “curriculumism” and the charter school, and it seems that the same forces drove out the previous superintendent, an Asian woman who later won a state Superintendent of the Year award. So the three retirement-age Kelley supporters posting here were probably actively involved in forcing these two 1990s superintendents out, partly by inciting students to speak up against the superintendent (page 19 of the linked PDF, which is page 9 of the document).

        This all makes much more sense now – this is just dramatic irony, the older generation projecting their sins onto the younger generation.

        1. You are the one projecting things onto the past trying to dismiss anything that doesn’t fit your narrative with your twist on things and ridiculous unproven claims that the Kelley supporters must have been involved in forcing previous superintendents out. Bossart was driven out for a variety of reasons. The charter school being the only one is a narrow view from a conservative think tank with an agenda. Give me a break.

  5. Tell us why she hide the vote of the new high school principle in the BOE meeting in the agenda last night! Why she rushed into a new appointment while the event is so controversial and outrageous!
    Please let Dr. Kelly tire of our community and choose to move on to a district that values her relationship to appoint her friends and classmates, fire the principles who hold different pedagogy. We will appreciate her leave.

  6. Ms. Cohen seems to be saying that the dismissal of Mr. Chmiel is a done deal, because attacking Dr. Kelley is uncivil. If Dr. Kelley is questioned, and she reserves the right to not comment about it, as Ms. Cohen seems to defend, there is nothing anyone can do about it.
    I would like to review the resulting uncivil comments that result from her refusal to justify the dismissal. This would not be happening if Mr. Chmiel was not as popular as he is.

  7. I attended the BOE meeting last night in support of Dr. Kelley. I have lived in Princeton for over 10 years and I know Carol well. I have always known her to be kind, consistent, and professional. I don’t currently have children in the school district, but have lived in Princeton for over 10 years. I’ve been here long enough to know school business in this town can be akin to a rough and tumble sport.

    The conduct at the meeting last night was hostile and troubling. The current administrators who spoke in favor of the BOE’s actions were shouted down. The PTO representative, who pleaded with parents to stay involved in all school matters, was shut down. The crowd came with a narrative and an agenda to push and they weren’t open to reason or a difference of opinion. They seemingly wanted nothing more than to appease the desires of their children.

    I can relate to how the children feel, after a period of Covid-related isolation, their principal made them feel welcome and included in the school community. I don’t seek to diminish the importance of this. The kids spoke with great eloquence about their feelings. Belonging is so fundamental to their development and in a world where they rely a lot on social media and “likes”. My heart goes out to them. At a minimum, they deserve kind and smiling adults in their lives. On the other hand, as a parent, I know that the ultimate kindness may be a decision they aren’t happy with, but will serve them best in the long term.

    I had a chance to speak with some of the other parents who were passionate but cited a lot of “internet research” and falsehoods. The crowd last night seemingly didn’t understand parliamentary procedures or how the board conducts business. I was shocked at what was on display in such a high-achieving community. I really hope that we can have a continue conversations on this topic, with nuance, and without rancor.

    I am grateful for the service of the Board of Education and Dr. Kelley. I admire their courage, restraint, and professionalism, under fire.

    1. That’s funny, because what I saw was Dr. Kelley ignoring the speakers while she played with Tiger the Emotional Therapy Dog while Dafna Kendal threatened to turn this car around right now. What not ONE of them could be moved to do was spare a single minute to acknowledge the harm this has done and continues to do to the students at PHS.

  8. This piece grossly mischaracterized, it should be posted under “opinion”, not “news”. It is clearly just one person’s opinion and does not contain any factual information.

  9. As predicted, the army of recruited “defenders” has been unleashed–though, curiously, they seem entirely focused on distracting from the merits of the issue at hand, and/or defending the person rather than that person’s (indefensible?) actions. No matter. Fact is, the horse is out of the barn here and, after the arrogant, frankly disgraceful, conduct of the Board at last night’s meeting there is no turning back. This will not “blow over.” The only question is how far down into the depths of educational and financial ruin the Board will prove willing to ride the sunk cost fallacy that apparently governs its present thinking. The battle is lost. There is no good way out. Sooner or later the Board’s veneer of unanimity–calculated to deter those who would challenge questionable decisions–will crack. And then things will get interesting.

  10. One always wonders how bad decisions are made. The defenses here reveal a mindset in which trust is an obligation and an entitlement, not something that has to be earned. If you do not feel you have to earn trust, it is not surprising when you don’t maintain it, when you lose it.

    School administrators are public servants.

    “Teach your own children” – “they seemingly wanted nothing more than to appease the desires of their children” – I would love to understand the mental model of persuasion that underlies these statements. Who is the target reader whose beliefs are changed and who is stirred to action? When I exercise my imagination, I envision a parent whose jaw drops at the arrogance and entitlement of someone telling them to accept on blind faith that they and their children are wrong, but surely there is some other type of reaction that is intended?

  11. Those previous superintendent or decades years of resident can not represent major part of real princeton parents and students fair voice, they only oppressed their own arrogant, selfish, extreme views. Obviously, they are those personal closely relationship to Dr. Carol Kelley. Up today, there are totally 2070 parents have signed the petition “Immediate Resignation of Dr. Carol Kelley as Superintendent of Princeton Public Schools”. That is the real voice from Princeton parents and students. Whoever the previous retired superintendent or 50 years of princeton resident, none of them can represent other people’s opinion. More important, our princeton property tax payer paid the superintendent salary, not the Education Board or others. Now, 70% or more employer are super upset about this incompetent employee, Dr. Carol Kelley, why our employer can not fire her right now? If the education board do not want to terminate her term, we will re-elect education board members, three of them has expired term in 2023, we need more impartial, competent, fresh blood in education board members.

  12. How ridiculous it is that Cohen asks for decorum, kindness and respect from the people who have legitimately been demanding from Kelley and the BOE proper democratic functioning, transparency and accountability and in the same breath chooses to insult these same people as “woke”, 1960s leftovers, infantile and worse. If one must be a lackey, one should at least be an intelligent and coherent one.
    And for those demanding decorum at all costs and above all: a) I have not seen anything other than that and b) a reminder that the most foundational exercise in democracy this country has seen, the American Revolution, was hardly a a show of decorum, and thanks to that it achieved its ends.
    Stop wringing your hands and clutching your pearls over politeness and start addressing the real problem, which is a lack of democracy, transparency and accountability.

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