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