| |

Live Blog: Princeton Board of Education Donaldson Hearing for Principal Frank Chmiel

Editor’s note – You must hit refresh to see updates in real-time.

10: 54 – School Board Member Jean Durbin said lawyer David Schroth brought a circus to the school district. She said the informal proceedings should have been between Frank Chmiel and the board so they could discuss the issues more. She said the Donaldson hearing did not provide the board with an opportunity to cross examine Chmiel. Some audience members booed Durbin, but she said she was making a motion to reinstate Chmiel because she had enough questions about the process. The representative for Cranbury, where Chmiel has a broad base of support, seconded the motion.

The school board votes down the motion by Durbin to reinstate Chmiel. Only Durbin and Cranbury school board member Robert Christopher voted to reinstate Chmiel.

School board President Dafna Kendal tells Frank Chmiel and his lawyers he will receive a formal notice in writing within three days regarding the board’s decision not to reinstate him.

10:43 – School Board President Dafna Kendal asks the superintendent to address the board. Superintendent Carol Kelley says nothing she has heard changes her mind about reinstating Mr. Chmiel.

Kendal asks if there is a motion to reinstate Mr. Chmiel.

School Board member Mara Franceschi. tries to speak and is booed by Chmiel’s supporters in the audience. “This is not easy for me. I take this very seriously,” Franceschi says, asking for the public to let her speak for three minutes after she sat silently all night.

“I believe enough of the statement of reasons stand,” Franceschi said. “There is not one specific thing. There has been a constant drip, drip. You have been Rice noticed more times than any other employee, 11 times. We have had a multitude of discussions about the principal since my tenure. My first concern was the amount of resources that had to be diverted from the main office to support basic functions at the high school. You were ineffective in the main tasks…The second part to my view was that a statement was made that he calls when he doesn’t need to and doesn’t when he should… Sound judgment is critical to the safety of students.”

Franceschi said it took too long for the lanyard program to be implemented. She added that she saw a disturbing video that contradicted claims about response times to incidents.

“I spent a lot of time thinking about whether this was just a situation between a boss and a worker who didn’t get along. But fundamentally, we’ve all had bosses with whom we don’t work well and as adults, it’s upon us to figure out a way to effectively work with people we don’t necessarily enjoy working with, Franceschi said. “So even if the problem was as simple as this and even if there’s a new superintendent, that was to join the district, who’s to say you would get along with them superintendent or work well with them?”

Franceschi said she couldn’t make a motion to reinstate Chmiel.

Former School Board President Beth Behrend, who was president when Chmiel was hired, said she respects Chmiel and some of his work but has listened to a disturbing number of complaints and violations of rules and procedures related to Chmiel over the past 18 months. “I count on a principal who is responsible for the safety and care of over 1,500 children and 200 staff to have excellent judgments, to be a true team player, to have the trust of staff, and to be accountable for the adherence to the rules necessary to ensure the safe and smooth functioning of the school. As a parent, I can’t always be my child’s friend, particularly when it comes to rules that protect their safety and well-being. It just can’t. As a board member, I have to say that despite the extraordinary communication skills which we’ve heard tonight. It’s been amazing. I really appreciate what you said but school spirit and communication are not enough for me as a fiduciary for our children, and I’m unfortunately I cannot make a motion.”

10:35 – Lawyer David Scroth asks to sum things up. “We’re here tonight anew, with each of you as individuals, ten individuals, to evaluate the evidence, the testimony, the claims against Frank. His responses to it. It’s not a popularity contest. Frank is not popular because he shakes pom poms. He’s popular because he’s done a good job. I would suggest to you it’s beyond a good job…This is not just serious because of what Frank is going through. It’s serious for students and parents. It’s serious for me as an attorney of the court because I have a document here that contains false statements in it that we showed you tonight are false…There was never a no-confidence vote period. Frank was evaluated with bad data. Everything in the statement of reasons has been refuted, legitimately. All Frank asks is that you think back to when you run for office and you talked to them and you asked them for your trust and you asked them for your vote, not to do what is popular, the easy thing, but to do what’s right…My hope is Frank is reinstated and students here tonight and the ones yet to come are inspired by this man.”

10:22 – Chmiel says the school board members must have gone along with his being put on administrative leave because they were misled. His supporters start to chant “We want Chmiel.”

9:36 – Frank Chmiel speaks about his COVID-19 vaccination status and masking at the high school. “I want to refute claims in the statement and rumors that I told people I was vaccinated or intentionally led people to believe I was vaccinated. In fact, I am vaccinated having got the COVID vaccine between January and March of 2022. When it came to the COVID vaccine last year, I kept my mouth shut on the topic and I respected everyone else’s privacy. My decision not to get vaccinated right away had to do with my father’s sudden death from a cardiac event when he was only 40 years old, leaving me as an only child and my mother as a widow based on my family’s health history and the relative newness of the vaccine. At the time I chose not to get vaccinated right away. I did comply with the mandatory testing required twice per week.”

Chmiel, whose wife is a nurse, expressed concerns about him getting vaccinated. “She saw what my mother went through and she didn’t want to become a widow at an early age and we have two young children,” Chmiel said.

“Inside the building, I never told people to take off their masks. When I met with a small number of staff members in the summer of 2021, the COVID numbers were low. I told them that they could take their masks off if they wanted. I was behind my desk well over six feet away from them and I took off my mask. One union leader said something like ‘Hey, we’re all vaccinated right’ and I did not respond one way or the other,” Chmiel said. “I spoke with the PREA leadership in December of 2021 because I had to go on quarantine because family members got COVID. I got COVID too at this point. I apologized to the PREA leaders about having my mask off in my office in the summer of 2021. None of us should have had our masks off in the building. Also I had the opportunity to disclose that I was unvaccinated, and I did not do that back in the summer. After apologizing to the PREA leadership, they allowed me to address the entire faculty and staff via Zoom. Most faculty and staff had only seen me without a mask if I was on Zoom by myself or outside of the building. Still, I apologized for not disclosing my vaccination status.”

Chmiel said he left that meeting and was told later that union leaders tried to initiate a vote of no confidence against him. He said the superintendent’s use of an informal vote of no confidence is “categorically false.” He said he regained the trust of the teachers and has the data to prove it. he conducted his own survey in 2022 and he says 80 percent of the 150 teachers who responded supported him.

9:19 – Frank Chmiel begins to speak.

“Tonight I will discuss with you why I should be reinstated as the principal of Princeton High School. I will respond to the statement of reasons which you’ll hear me call the statement for my nonrenewal. I will bring everyone through several parts of the statement and show how this document is inaccurate and wrong. To rebut the statement I will share the good things that I’ve done. I will explain some of the wrong ways I have been treated by Valley Road actions that were not just unethical but illegal,” Chmiel says. “I want to make sure you have all the information tonight and that it is accurate, and not just a statement of reasons that is inaccurate, incomplete, and frankly speaking, dishonest. The statement is saturated with so much dishonesty. It’s outrageous. My team I will expose the lies. My attorneys have asked repeatedly several times for emails and my Google Drive access wherein lies several articles of proof to support my arguments tonight and all of those requests were ignored.”

Chmiel claims there has been a pattern of leaving out little details, including inaccurate and false information in official documents. mischaracterizing events and knowing and using faulty data to craft an image of him as an ineffective principal.

“You will also hear repeated times when Dr. Kelly did not answer the phone and did not get back to me on texts. I asked the board to please listen to all of the evidence and the facts and decision based on the evidence as well as the overwhelming support from the community whom you represent. You don’t represent Dr. Kelly, you represent the community who elected you and they are telling you what they want. And I feel that you have been severely misled by Dr. Kelly and Valley Road over the last year and we will show this tonight,” Chmiel says. “So first I want to talk about my annual performance review at the end of last school year. In response to my annual performance review my APR. Dr. Kelly knowingly rated my administrative goals using inaccurate data. So that she could assign twos for each of my goals meaning partially effective. The most egregious offense occurred with my school goal related to chronic absenteeism.”

Chmiel claims data for Princeton High School indicates that he helped to reduce chronic absenteeism, from over 23% to only 9.1% in one year. He claimed Kelley left bad data in his file that was outdated that overstated absenteeism at the high school.

Regarding security, he refuted claims that he put students at risk. “Princeton High School is a safe place and if anything, actions that I’ve taken as principal I’ve taken steps towards making it even safer.”

Chmiel said he never needed hand-holding and claimed the superintendent often did not answer the phone or return calls. He also said her statements about him not holding regular meetings with staff were false. “I held all my monthly faculty meetings at least once per month. If there were meetings that were not necessary, then I canceled them to give staff members a chance to complete some of their other responsibilities,” Chmiel said.

Chmiel said he was aware of students who were struggling. “My assistant principals know about the students we needed to keep an eye on due to academics, attendance, and behavior issues, and they briefed me on the interventions that they and school counselors and case managers were implementing to help the students,” Chmiel said.

Chmiel said he completes paperwork properly and records will prove it. “There was one bad hire on my part, and that was because of having to be rushed to conduct instructional aide interviews,” he said.

Regarding a professional improvement plan, Chmiel claimed the superintendent violated state law by using a Google document made by a consulting company, not the New Jersey Department of Education. He said the superintendent only conducted one official observation of his performance when he should have had three.

Chmiel said his administrative leave was unwarranted. “The statement reads that she had no other choice because of erratic behavior that could disrupt the rest of the school year at PHS. If this were the case, isn’t this something she should have spoken to me about sooner? In fact, Dr. Kelly never spoke to me about erratic behavior. I never exhibited erratic behavior towards students, faculty and staff, and families that would justify putting me on administrative leave. Rather, I was level-headed,” Chmiel said. “I was a good listener. I made time to meet with people and provided reasonable suggestions for solving problems and getting work done…Putting me on administrative leave was arbitrary, capricious, and punitive.”

Chmiel said he had an agreement with the superintendent to resign. “The agreement between Dr. Kelly and I was for me to resign, and for me to request a leave of absence, and she would have to provide a good letter of reference to me. I wrote my letter of resignation and request for a leave of absence so that Valley Road wouldn’t have to put me on administrative leave,” Chmeil said. “Then Dr. Kelly decided she was not going to give me the letter that was agreed upon. Dr. Kelly said I should tell her where I was applying and that she would send the letter directly to that district. That violated our agreement. Sometime around March 14, Dr. Kelly changed her mind and provided a letter of recommendation to my attorney. I had grown tired of how she was dangling that reference threatening to put me on leave, and I refused to give them that resignation. My refusal to resign by March 17 led to me being put on administrative leave.”

9:01 – Gymm teacher and driver’s education teacher Matt Wilkinson, who is retiring at the end of the school year, speaks and says Chmiel is the best principal he has ever worked under. He has been in the district for 30 years. Wilkinson grew up in Princeton. “I’m here because of what Princeton values. I’m here for the students. I don’t want it to be forgotten. They went through a period none of us experiences in our lives. It was horrific. So close to the finish line and yet another horrific thing is thorn at them. And it is horrible. I heard a lot of things about the faculty. I am part of the faculty. The part about this faculty not supporting Principal Chmiel, I don’t know where that is coming from.”

Chmiel’s lawyer refers to the staff meeting regarding vaccination and masking from 2021. “There was an unfortunate incident and Frank took ownership of that more than a year ago with regard to the faculty meeting and masking, and issues of vaccination.”

Schroth asks Wilkinson about the informal vote of no confidence by teachers. Wilkinson said there was a poll over Zoom. “We cast our informal ballots and then the union came back to us and said it was inconclusive. I had to ask my wife who is also a teacher to explain that to me. The ballots, the poll, did not give the union a strong point for him or against him.”

Wilkinson talks about opening convocations by principals. “We as a faculty need to make sure every student that steps into our classroom is seen, that we see them and let them know we see them and imprint upon them that they aren’t just a number. They are valued. Thirty years we have been hearing that, and no one provided a better example of doing that to me than Principal Chmiel. I can say this with some certainty – you are here because you care about education. I am confident at least some of you had that teacher that did something special to you and you were seen by them, and you know the power of what that does for you. I’ve heard teachers mocking Principal Chmiel about how he knows everybody’s name. Yes. Can you imagine how that makes them feel? He knew things about them which were astonishing to me. You can’t put a price on that.”

Wilkinson said there should have been a lockdown at the school board meeting tonight after the student who spoke about Chmiel was booed. He said the incident referred to in the statement of reasons about the intruder who was in the building for three hours, a former student, was less volatile than the incident at the board meeting Monday night. He talked about restorative district measures in the schools in Princeton and asked where Chmiel’s restorative justice was. He said he would rip his retirement papers up and return if Chmiel si brought back.

8:41 – The coach who was hired to help Frank Chmiel with his improvement plan, Ed Leibfried, speaks. He said he and Chmiel had many interactions. He said he took a lot of notes. He met with Chmiel in September and Chmiel told him the school year was off to a good start. He received positive feedback from parents and a positive Tweet from the superintendent. They met again later in September via Zoom. Chmiel told him the superintendent was starting to see his value. Chmiel initiated Sunday night text messages to all parents, who said it was unprecedented communication. Chniel had a one-on-one meeting with Chiel. “My notes reflect relational skills more than operational skills,” Leibfried said. Consultant talks about notes from October regarding Chmiel’s speaking ability, honoring of staff with “Wheel of names,” and other commendations like providing opportunities to staff and commenting on things in progress in the building. In November, the consultant said he was part of an email between human resources and Chmiel. “I wanted Frank to know when you cc’d me to Ms. Gould I responded to her very positively about you. And what I responded was after 50-some years in education, I wanted her to know I was very impressed with Frank’s motivation, his desire to succeed, his reaching out for guidance, and his desire to be a team player. I responded that to Ms. Gould.”

“I’m going to skip to a very important date. Dec. 21, 2022. Mr. Chmiel asked me to sit on his mid-year PIP review. I’m going to read sincerely from my highlighted notes.” Kelley, Gould, Chmiel, and Leibfired met via Zoom. It opened with a review of goals. “Moderate improvement.” Intervention and referral services was a recommendation. Kelley wanted to know about academic supervisors attending regular meetings. Chronic absenteeism, equity design teams, new instructional practices, too many phone calls for nonemergent issues. The second part was Frank’s opportunity to speak. He spoke of the PTO purchasing lanyards and student ids, signs outside the building, dates and times being forwarded to the superintendent. He would write up a plan for more student activities. “I would like to say that those are my complete notes from that meeting. Nowhere in my notes and nowhere in my memory is there a statement of nonrenewal. Nowhere in my notes or memory is there a statement that it will be difficult for us to bring you back. Full transparency: I did not see a copy of that PIP review. I can attest if those words were spoken I would have noted that in my notes.”

Jan. 27-2023 – “I had a telephone conference with Frank. There was no intention of rehiring. Up until that point, we thought we were still in the hunt. Then things happened rapidly after January. Frank and I spoke about March 31 being his last day. Here we are tonight.”

“My assessment was he did everything I asked him to do in terms of professional development and coaching. I could tell from our conversations his strengths were student and community relationships and culture. In terms of the day-to-day operations, I was not there, and again that is an honest statement. In my dealings with Frank, he’s good and he’s effective.”

8:33 – Bill Urian, a Princeton High staff member who works in school security and building monitoring, said he has worked under four principals. Urian said lots of fights and things happen in the bathrooms. “One thing that was brought up was there was never a lockdown called (by Chmiel). In four years I’ve never seen a lockdown called.” The other members of the staff found the student in a bathroom. He was verbally abusive. That was basically it.” Urian said last week a past student entered the building when a student opened a side door. “When it happened the administrative staff spent some time looking for that student. There was no lockdown called.” Urian said Chmiel was generally one of the first people on the scene if there was an issue. He said he would rank Chmiel top in his experience in dealing with security.

8:25 – A junior speaks about a classroom environment lacking warmth. Her math teacher expressed frustration about students not submitting assignments the teacher never gave out in the first place. The teacher withheld grades and imposed restrictions on access to their own work, making it difficult to improve. Concerns were dismissed by the teacher. “It instilled fear,” the student said, adding that 23 students were in the class and 10 dropped the class. The student reads anonymous responses from other students. “Not a single day went by that Mr. Chmiel was not speaking to students. He didn’t just want to know our names. He wanted to know our stories. He connected with us.”

8:20 – A student speaks about how Frank Chmiel made her feel like a part of the community when she came to Princeton. He helped students promote Black history at the high school all year round. She said students are now required to wear lanyards in the high school. She said after Chmiel left, another student made racist comments to her and administrators did not handle the situation properly. “To secure the successful future of Princeton High School, we need Chmiel.” Her father then speaks and says it is a huge mistake not to bring Chmiel back. “This man called my phone and told me what needed to be done. I support you.”

8:13 – Senior Bianca Ivanovich says it has been alleged Frank Chmiel has not fulfilled his duties regarding security at the high school. Ivanovich said she made a list of safety issues, Chmiel met with the school safety team and took notes. She said after he left at the next meeting no notes were taken, and the team was ended for the year. She said the team had six, and that was enough. The legal requirement was two. “In the absence of Chmiel, there has been inconsistency and dysfunction.” She says Chmiel made the students feel loved and knew almost every student by name. “The board has been grossly misled,” she says. Chmiel’s supporters scream, cheer, and waive blue flags.

Frank Chmiel (r) listens as a student talks about how much he cares for students.

8:05 – Frank Chmiel’s lawyer, David Schroth, speaks. He said when he read the document the only thing he could come up with was “a genre of literature called historical fiction.” Schroth claims there is no evidence the discussions referenced took place. “There are documents missing from Frank Chmiel’s personnel file that should be in there. His rebuttals and analyses. Because the superintendent didn’t like it or agree with it. It is an official document and he has the right to have it in his file.” Schroth claims there was no vote of no confidence. “The letter referenced was not signed or seen by union leadership. They were denied that opportunity,” Schroth says. “As you sit here today, you as board members sit here differently than you did in March. Tonight you sit here as the board of education to hear the full story and Frank’s explanation of these events so you can make an independent judgment as to whether he should be renewed. It’s a new night, a clean slate, and you should hear the full truth and the full evidence.”

Schroth said the board received bad or incomplete information in March.

8:04 – Superintendent Carol Kelley said Principal Frank Chmiuel backed out of a tentative agreement that had been worked out for him to leave after spring break. Lawyers for his administrator union worked out the agreement. Editor’s note: Chmiel has since fired those lawyers and retained his own lawyers.

8:03 – Superintendent Carol Kelley says she issued 11 Rice notices to Frank Chmiel over the past year to discuss his job performance.

More than 1,050 people are watching the Donaldson hearing on YouTube as of 8:02 p.m.

8:02 – Superintendent Carol Kelley summarizes the reasons she did not recommend that Princeton High Principal Frank Chmiel be renewed for the 2023-24 academic year.

8:00 – “Your ability to lead the high school has been repeatedly called into question by the staff, once with an informal vote of no confidence,” Superintendent Carol Kelley says, adding that Frank Chmiel does not accept constructive criticism and is not responsive to feedback.

7:57 – Kelley says Chmiel did not attend meetings with staff to address the needs of students who were not performing well but were not special needs students.

7:55 – Kelley says Chmiel failed to implement a process to monitor the impact of changes made at the high school.

7:53 – Kelley references a suicide note sent to more than 300 students and staff members and how it was handled by Chmiel. The incident caused legal and school board involvement.

7:51- She said Frank Chmiel did not make progress on student safety and security issues at the high school.

7:48 – Kelley claims Chmiel failed to follow appropriate policies and procedures regarding students and staff. A teacher then filed a complaint. She said an investigation revealed that Chmiel failed to follow a teachers’ union agreement. She said Chmiel said he was not aware of the requirements and exercised questionable judgment about the investigation into students’ complaints about the teacher. The transfers out of class created an imbalance. She alleged that Chmiel relied on one side of an issue when making a judgment or decision.

7:46 – Kelley claims Chmiel showed poor judgment and decision-making. She said he failed to follow procedures for a major event at the high school. When a student tried to speak to him about the handling of the mistake, the student felt Chmiel didn’t care and tried to gaslight the student.

7:43 – Kelley says Chmiel didn’t improve his communication with the central staff. A central administrator came to observe a meeting with administrative staff and discovered the meeting was canceled. He suggested other dates for a visit. Another administrator tried to schedule an observation but was unable to do so.

7:40 – Kelley says Frank Chmiel failed to provide critical details regarding a bullying incident to the superintendent. Students video-recorded the bullying incident and posted it on social media. The student was stomped on and had a footprint on his chest. He was not sent to the nurse and was allowed to walk home from school. Kelley says Chmiel did not conduct a bullying incident investigation until a week later. The incident led to a legal issue.

7:39 – Kelley discusses problems with timely communication by Chmiel to the central office administrative staff about urgent issues. The issues have implications for student and staff safety, she said.

7:37 – An intruder was allegedly in the high school for three hours before the situation was dealt with properly.

7:33 – The superintendent discusses an issue regarding a problematic teacher. She says Frank Chmiel did not report the issue to central administration so it could be dealt with. Editor’s note: We will detail each claim in a story after the meeting is over.

7:30 – Kelley discusses a vaccination investigation. She says Chmiel either lied or failed to disclose his vaccine status to his staff members, putting students and staff at risk in 2021. He did not wear a mask in meetings with teachers. Teachers lost trust in him because of this issue. She says teachers have repeatedly raised issues about trust.

Princeton Superintendent Carol Kelley begins to read from the statement of reasons for Frank Chmiel’s nonrenewal.

7:24 – Superintendent Carol Kelley begins to detail the statement of reasons for principal Frank Chmiel not being renewed. The room is quiet.

7:20 – A resident named Aron who has dreamed of teaching in the district says no one would want to “F-ing” work in Princeton after hearing all of this.

7:18 – A Cranbury parent tells school board members they should listen to themselves, and that they should want their kids to have a principal like Frank Chmiel who listens to kids. “He’s a good listener. It’s really important. He knows their names because he listens to them. That’s what this is all about.” He says maybe with leadership training and coaching Chmiel can become better at things he is not good at.

7:16 – A student questions why the school board decided to hold the meeting in the middle school cafeteria and not a larger auditorium. Some people have to watch in an overflow room or on YouTube.

7:15 – Resident Nadia DeGregorio says her kids are out of college now but that she has known Frank Chmiel since he was 17. She says she has seen the district have a superintendent that does not share communications, does not reach out to the community, and does not bring everyone to a consensus or even to a discussion about how things could get better in the past. She hates to see the district go back to how it was 20 years ago. “I want every kid to have a great opportunity my kids have for a fabulous school experience at PHS. They loved it more than anything in the world. And that’s all I want for everybody else’s kids. So unless he’s done something completely egregious …,” DeGregorio said. She said Frank Chmiel has two kids who graduated from the Princeton schools and has two more children coming up in the Princeton schools. “I don’t understand why you would take someone who’s not a part of the community who’s gonna leave when her tenure is done, and pit her against someone who is invested in our community, in our schools, his entire adult life.”

7: 14 – School Board President Dafna Kendal says the board will listen to one more speaker before the board moves on to hearing from Frank Chmiel.

7:12 – Princeton parent Grace Chang says she has seen lots of turnover in Principals and teachers.”None have generated such a strong response as the removal of Principal Chmiel in speaking of neighbors and parents. It has become clear that nearly everyone, whether they have children in Princeton public school or not, has deep concerns and they are seeking transparency from the board. The numerous changes have resulted in divisions and confusion. The sudden dismissal of Princeton shall have caused significant emotional distress upon our children, amplifying the feelings of isolation and anxiety caused by COVID-19…It’s imperative for the board to provide a clear explanation to the public, regarding today’s decision on principle Chanel’s renewal.”

7:10 – A former school board member, Jeffrey Spear, speaks. “I don’t have an opinion on this matter, because I don’t know what the matter is. We have not heard, and as I gathered the way that these meetings go, public comment comes first. But likewise, I don’t know and don’t have an opinion as to whether this could have been handled in a manner that might have been more tactful and more open to the community just in terms of communication. What I do know, having sat up there is one of the hardest things in the world is to sit there and listen to this. And people have talked about the expression on the people’s faces and so forth. I would invite anybody to sit up here and listen, whatever side they’re on, to this kind of commentary and this attack and somehow maintain complete, indifferent, coolness. So I hope we will find out now what the case is so people can make up their minds on the basis of evidence as to what has happened here.”

7:08 – Princeton parent Ian Copeland of Princeton says the student’s comment about Frank Chmiel’s vaccination status was potentially libelous or slanderous. He asks the board to either confirm or deny the claims about his vaccine status.

7:06 – A former Chmiel student does a rap in honor of Chmiel.

7:05 – Resident Paul Budline of Princeton, who does not have students in the district, says the school board should swallow its pride and reinstate Frank Chmiel. “Have you ever seen anything like this?” he says of the crowd.

7:04 – School Board President Dafna Kendal says public comment will be extended another 15 minutes because of the break.

7:03 – Princeton resident Lilly Chen says she is disappointed that the voices calling for Chmiel to return have not been heard. She says he has promoted diversity like no other school leader. She says the district will send the wrong message to everyone that Princeton doesn’t respect talent if he is not brought back.

6:59 – Resident Jian Chen says as a first-generation immigrant he appreciates that the law allows the principal to plead his case in public. “Over the past two months, our community has been left bewildered and angered,” Chen says. “Princeton has a reputation for its values and commitment to justice. Our town’s reputation is at stake.” He questions the information collected to make a decision to put Chmiel on paid leave. “The bar for justifying your decision is very high,” he says.”Chmiel is adored.”

Frank Chmiel began his job as principal of the high school in July of 2021. He does not have tenure in the district. It takes four years to get tenure. He was put on paid leave in March and his contract has not been renewed for the next academic year.

6:57 – A Cranbury resident says it is abundantly clear Frank Chmile has an unprecedented effect on Princeton High School if one looks at the rallies and a student walk-out about 100 students participated in. He says the district will not be able to recruit quality teachers because of the turmoil. He says the superintendent’s agenda is not in line with what parents in Princeton want.

6: 52 – Parent Julie Zhu of Princeton says Frank Chmiel is respected by the Asian community in Princeton. She says Chmiel and his team worked hard to communicate with families. “Losing Mr. Chmiel is losing faith,” she said, telling the school board it will be rewarded for reinstating him. She says he and the superintendent can work out their differences.

6:50 – Parent Charles Hsu of Princeton says Frank Chmiel helped his family reach a resolution regarding a teacher’s interactions with a student at the high school. He said Chmiel genuinely cares and modeled patience, compassion, and moral character that helped his child persevere at the high school.

6:48 – Parent Peter Meyers of Princeton claims he has done his own research and it doesn’t support what the student said. He says everyone he has talked to is a fanatical supporter of Frank Chmiel. He asks why the room for the meeting has been changed. He says it is “ass-backwards” that public comment was first before Chmiel speaks. He calls on the board to reinstate Chmiel and then continue the discussions. Chmiel’s supporters cheer, clap, and wave blue flags.

6:46 – Student Elle Bernstein begins speaking again. Bernstein says teachers helped so much at the high school and Bernstein doesn’t want to see them hurt. Bernstein says most teachers at the high school don’t support Chmiel, and that nice is different than good. “Every good thing Chmiel has done for the district is valuable and important. But that doesn’t justify his other behaviors. And whatever the reason for his current forced leave. It’s my belief he should have been fired last year,” Bernstein says. “I also want to emphasize that you’ve all said that you’re here to support the students. I am a student, whether you agree with me or not. I’ve just had a bunch of adults ask me to sit down and shut up. And I’m not going to do that. You don’t have to agree with me, but I am telling the truth.”

6:44 – The school board meeting resumes. School Board President Dafna Kendal asks the audience to be respectful of all speakers, but especially students.

6:34 – The school board recesses for 15 minutes after some members of the audience shout down a Princeton High student who has repeatedly raised the issue of Frank Chmiel’s vaccine status. Student Elle Bernstein has claimed several times at school board meetings that Chmiel lied about his vaccination status to teachers and attended meetings with teachers without a mask. Bernstein says several teachers have confirmed this. In response to being booed, the student curses at the audience using the f-bomb. The school board president calls for a recess.

6: 30 – Parent Christine Richie of Cranbury claims the board could have been more transparent without breaching privacy. She calls on the board to do the right thing and earn trust back by reinstating Frank Chmiel. She tells the board to do its job by listening to Chmiel with an open mind and tells the board to remember who the board represents. “You do not work for the superintendent. The superintendent works for you and by proxy for the people who voted for you.” She asks for a roll call vote on reinstating Chmiel. Editor’s note: The board does not have to vote to reinstate Chmiel. If the board does not take action, Chmiel’s contract expires.

6:28 – Princeton High Student Ashley Chen calls for transparency. She highlights things she says have not been talked about yet. Chmiel reactivated the Green Team at the high school and hosted the first sustainability fair at the high school. She said he has made personal efforts to meet with the freshman class about creating “no idling” magnets. She asks the board to take these examples as a testament to his dedication at the high school.

About 200 people are attending the special meeting. The public is being given an hour to speak. Chmiel will be given two hours to talk. Many members of the public are cheering loudly after each speaker.

6:25 – Parent Sasha Weinstein of Cranbury pleads with the board to consider what will happen to the high school community if Frank Chmiel is not reinstated as principal. “When I see a really good motivator, I recognize that person.”

6:24 – A parent talks about how Mr. Chmiel knows everyone’s name and sang Nirvana at a sporting event. He boosted school spirit and belonging. She says putting Chmiel on leave was “arbitrary and capricious.”

6:21 – Student Ida Siddiqui of Cranbury talks about what Frank Chmiel has done to make life better for minorities at the high school. She says the definition of equity is being fair and impartial. She chastizes officials for yawning of looking bored at previous meetings.

6:20 – A sixth grader is asking the school board to keep Chmiel and listen to the community.

6:17 – Student Gabe Silverstein said he has had the unwavering support of Frank Chmiel at the high school. He said Chmiel assembled a group of parents, students, and staff to create a Jewish Studies Group at the high school to combat antisemitism. He said depriving students of Chmiel’s leadership would be negligent. “An attack on Chmiel is an attack on the community.”

6:14 – Resident Arthur says he doesn’t know Frank Chmiel and never interacted with him. He has heard good things about him. He wants stability for his daughter when she attends Princeton High School.

6:12 – Princeton resident Michael Brown claims Superintendent Carol Kelley lied and misled the school board about Frank Chmiel.

6:11 – Princeton resident Carter Serxner talks about how kind Frank Chmiel has been to her children. He is friendly, listens to students and parents, and attends sports events.

6:08 p.m. – Princeton Resident Adam Bierman asks the school board to keep Frank Chmiel. Bierman says he has done his own investigation and Chmiel is the kind of principal the district needs. He tells the board they should ignore Princeton’s elite “chardonnay Antifa.”

6 p.m. – The Princeton Board of Education has kicked off the Donaldson hearing for Princeton High School Principal Frank Chmiel with an hour of public comment. The informal hearing is being held at Princeton Middle School.


  1. The hearing laid bare a high degree of dysfunction in the district and the Board’s helpless deference to the Superintendent as their only source for information.

  2. Shame on the board members to be so easily manipulated by the Superintendent! They say he had 11 Rice notices, well, what was in them? Dr. Kelly could do her worst and all she could come up with is a bunch of exaggerated claims about routine school incidents. According to her, filling forms is more important than talking with people. So she constantly complained about him to the board and no one would see through it? And about those lanyards that took “too long to get implemented”. Well, lanyards have been a common place for more than a decade, and so unfortunately, have school shootings. So where were the school board members who served on the board for close to a decade? How come this was only initiated on Mr. Chmiel’s watch? We should hold the school board responsible for not focusing on student safety, as well as having extremely poor judgement as demonstrated tonight!

  3. What took the board so long? 1500 kids and 200 staff in harm’s way for almost two years, before the board understands that they are/we are as taxpayers, liable for maintaining this person in place?

  4. Can’t thank former president of the board enough for being able to change her mind when presented with the reality of the kids being in danger at the school.

  5. The much-anticipated evening was hard and important and necessary, as much was learned on both sides – but it seemed the Board was ultimately too entrenched in their previous decision, despite all of Chmiel’s support and evidence/testimony presented which cast serious questions on the credibility of the allegations.

    To my mind, however, the most shocking statement of the night came at the very end from Board of Ed member Jean Durbin.

    After months of the community pleading for greater transparency from the Board and Superintendent, with their consistent response being that they were regrettably unable to comment because the matter was not made public, Durbin …incredibly… actually criticized Chmiel (and his counsel) for exercising his legal right to open the Donaldson hearing to the public to finally get things out in the open and hope to achieve some sort of transparent resolution to the matter.

    Durbin’s exact words (yelled): “What’s happening here, thanks Mr. Schroth, is you’ve brought the circus to our district – we really appreciate it. …and Mr. Chmiel, your judgment is in serious question for doing this in public. Why not have a serious conversation with the Board that is an informal proceeding. Who does this in public?”

    You could have knocked me over with a feather.

  6. Can we sue the board for not firing that guy before???? Thus perpetuating a high risk situation for our kids?
    why are we paying for his administrative leave, while it is clear now that he didn’t do his job? Also he indicated yesterday that the whole situation was of his own making, as he flatly refused his non renewal, thus triggering the administrative leave. The manis idolized by an ultra minority of Princeton parents and a couple of dubious and agressive old white men. This a just a cult like situation. Although he was not really helped by his lawyers, shout out to the board member who called all this a circus: 3 white male witnesses, all past the retirement age, maybe all having skin in the game:
    1) a security guard who was himself involved in the non-management of the intruder during three hours.
    2) a gym and health-sex ed-teacher giving his address as his highest credential. Everybody knows that the faculty and staff overwhelmingly support the dismissal.
    3) A coach, apparently helpless and obviously unhelpful, what did he bond upon with his pupil? was he afraid to never be called up again because of his own failures?
    Which district would go as far as to send 11 Rice Notices to a high school principal before taking action? Is this not unprecedented? What is the harm to our school reputation because of their inaction? They did receive complaints from faculty, staff, central office supervisors, students, parents, all about very serious if not fondamental issues.

    1. Daniel, it seems you missed another key moment at the end… In her pre-prepared statement, Board member Mara Franceschi said to Mr. Chmiel, “The spirit and warmth you brought to PHS must be acknowledged and appreciated. You have done many things very well and I thank you for that. I’m also grateful to finally have heard directly from you.”

      This reveals that last night was the first time the Board had heard directly from Chmiel – instead of what Dr. Kelley has been telling them about him.

      Later, Franceschi characterized the whole matter as ultimately coming down to a “he said, she said.”

      So the question is, who do you believe? Who do you think was more credible last night? Was the principal taken down by the superintendent for truly valid reasons, or by trumped-up allegations? Whose testimony do you think people found more compelling? Was it a set up, or was it real?

      Each person will have to make their own decision. But if this all comes down to a “he said, she said,” as the BOE member acknowledged, then the whole thing becomes a matter of trust.

    2. Sending 11 Rice notices could mean someone(s) just want to get rid of him, whether they are valid reasons or not— it’s clear since the public was not privy to the content of the Rice notices, just the number of them. I don’t call this “data”. So the public is not given important information as to their content to evaluate for ourselves. One of your biggest concerns is harm to your school’s reputation rather than seeking the truth which, admittedly the scenario last night was not the best forum for that, even though it was Mr. Chmiel’s right according to state law. So, a BOE member screaming about bringing a circus to town also appears to be very self-centered and highly unprofessional and shows a fundamental lack of understanding of Mr. Chmiel’s legal right. The BOE overall doesn’t get high marks in my book— pressing the rest button and starting over would seem in order. And Dr. Kelley’s visible yawning and looking bored during public comments at a prior Board meeting certainly doesn’t impress me— she represents the entire school district whether she agrees with all of her constituents or not— or is that not how things work in Princeton? Perhaps that is the personality of nearly all Princetonians today, regardless of which side you’re on. I would also caution you about making baseless conjecture and derogatory remarks about others in your comments. Demonizing certain groups of individuals “who are not like you”, regardless of their race or education level, implied economic status or lack thereof is shameful and harmful. That’s as bad as others trying to shout down the student who spoke against Mr. Chmiel last night. When taken too far, one only needs to look at 1930’s Germany as an example of where that can ultimately lead to.

  7. For elected officials, doing the right thing has two parts: acting conscientiously, and maintaining the trust of the public. Unfortunately, a Donaldson hearing is not an adequate way to establish the legitimacy of a decision, and this was clear in last night’s meeting regarding the nonrenewal of Principal Chmiel. But there IS evidence that can be objectively evaluated, and in my mind the arguments of Chmiel were strong enough to challenge Superintendent Kelly’s statement (e.g., chronic absenteeism statistics, suicide note, canceled meetings, PHS intrusion). This doesn’t mean I side with Chmiel. I might even agree with the BOE, but I don’t know their individual positions in enough detail. If BOE members remain silent at this critical juncture, it would enable the terrible rift in Princeton to grow.

    Moreover, there were some extremely unfortunate comments made by the BOE, e.g., describing five months for implementing lanyards as a failure (how long do you think it should take to develop, explain, implement, and execute a major new security policy?); the evasive comment “There is not one specific thing. There has been a steady drip, drip” (tell us in your own words what two or three of the drips are); yelling at Princeton parents (highly unprofessional); and criticizing Chmiel for exercising his legal right to a public hearing rather than a private conversation (no comment necessary). Mistakes like these harm the common weal. Yes, some parents were distressingly rude and hostile (I’m so proud of the young woman who confronted unruly Chmiel supporters), but BOE members should be held to a higher standard.

    The outstanding question at this point is whether Kelly and the BOE can lead us out of this difficult situation.

    1. Apologies for the mispelling. I should have written Superintendent Kelley.

  8. Dr. Kelly opened her memo by highlighting lost of trust repeatedly. I tried to keep an open mind and listened to the entire 4 hours and came away thinking that while Mr. Chmiel may have certainly had deficiencies that warranted a PIP, his testimony and rebuttal and the witnessed gave me enough pause to think that how can we take Dr. Kelly’s memo as gospel? At the very least Dr. Kelly should have been given an opportunity to address the conflicting facts. But I’m left with the feeling that this venue was not designed to sort out who’s telling the truth as this became a he said she said. If if fact Mr. Chmiel’s version of the facts are truthful and Dr. Kelly’s made any misrepresentations in the memo then a grave injustice has been done and the board should have taken time to deliberate before just relying on Dr. Kelly’s version of the events as the correct facts. Because if by any chance that Dr. Kelly’s memo contained material misrepresentations then she will have lost the trust of the parents, students and certainly the board as well. What if in a future any lawsuits brought by Mr. Chmiel then sworn testimony would have to be given, as what Jean Durbin bemoaned that it wasn’t possible in this venue, and if Mr. Chmiel rebuttals are proven to be correct then this board will have lost trust by the parents of Princeton forever.

    Just like Beth Behrend stated that she can’t be friends to her children, the boards job is oversight and not to be friends with the Superintendant.

    I don’t envy the difficult job the board had to perform but it’s what they signed up for when they asked for our votes.

  9. What concerned me most over the course of the hearing (other than the stunningly disrespectful behavior exhibited by some members of the audience) were the allegations of withheld email and other documentary evidence, rebuttals that allegedly were not included in Mr. Chmiel’s HR file, and what was alleged to be the superintendent’s license with several facts. As to the repeated Rice notices and the amount of time the BOE had to invest in this one employee–I sympathize, but if any manager, especially a school superintendent without full-time paid oversight, wants to get rid of someone, constantly bringing allegations to the BOE would be a good way to do it. This is especially true where, as is apparently the case here, a BOE has no reason to question what they were being told at the time. Mr. Chmiel may well have deserved to be terminated; I don’t think last night’s hearing settled that issue for anyone in the public or changed the minds of anyone who had already formed an opinion. But I hope the BOE takes a serious look at the broader troubling issues the hearing revealed in assessing whether it should be taking a closer look at this superintendent’s performance, reliability, and effectiveness.

  10. I’m impressed that two BOE members had the courage to stand up to the Super. They listened to the evidence and didn’t find it compelling. Sure, Mr. Chmiel did do a few things that were less than ideal but none of them, even in the aggregate, are fireable offenses. The Super has ginned up a case against him based on her own personal animus against a popular administrator. Of course, we want the principal to be a good administrator, but more than anything, he is responsible for the well-being of the children, especially in these days, their mental well-being. On that alone, Mr. Chmiel knocked the ball right out of the park. That’s why he’s popular with students and parents.
    Given that the Riverside principal, last year, was relieved of her duties, and yet the parents were accused by the superintendent of lying about how she did not fulfill the role of principal— she was not at all public facing, children did not even know who she was, because she did not visit their classrooms; she never introduced herself to parents, and she attempted to institute some very unpopular edicts. Well…after all, they are sorority sisters…
    The local police did not consider anything that Mr. Chmiel did to in any way endanger the children, yet Kelley, without a background insecurity, disagrees. Security staff, as well as teachers and support. Staff are afraid to speak out against Kelley because she is vindictive. You can check the minutes of the Oak Park district if you would like to see her rampant firing there.
    Frankly, if our Board of Ed had done, even the slightest due diligence, they will discover (as many of us have), that a five minute Google search, brings up all kinds of reports of the superintendent acting as a law onto her self.

Comments are closed.