In a meeting that became raucous at times, the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education hired Kathy Foster to serve as Princeton High School’s principal, despite calls to reinstate former principal Frank Chmiel.
The school board voted unanimously to appoint Foster at its March 28 meeting. She will earn 820 dollars a day. She started work on March 29 and will work until June 30. She is a retired superintendent of schools and principal, and in 2022 was the Princeton School District’s interim assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Dozens of parents waited patiently in line outside Princeton High School, waiting to be let inside, where the school board was meeting. In-person school board meetings are usually held in the Valley Road Administration Building.
Many parents carried signs showing their displeasure with Superintendent of Schools Carol Kelly and the school board. Some of the signs call for more transparency, “Stop abuse of power” and “Listen to your community”. There were several signs in support of Hmel.
On March 17, Khmil was placed on administrative leave from Princeton High School and locked out of the school and his office. There was no explanation for his dismissal, nor was his name mentioned in the email that said he was no longer a director.
Once the doors opened before the 7:30 p.m. meeting, parents carrying signs were told they could not bring them to the meeting. One parent protested loudly and told observers that this was a violation of her First Amendment rights.
The guards relented and allowed their parents to take them to the meeting. They held signs during the meeting, which became raucous at times. School board president Daphne Kendall threatened to end the meeting if the participants continued to be disrespectful.
In her opening remarks, Kelly defended her decision to place Khmel on administrative leave. She said that as a school leader, she has to make difficult decisions. They are never personal and are made in the best interests of staff, students and the community.
Her comments were loudly booed.
Following Kelly’s remarks, Kendall allowed one hour for public comment before proceeding with the meeting’s agenda. She allowed one more hour of public comment before adjourning. About 40 parents and students made statements, most of which supported Khmel and were critical of his dismissal.
Several speakers urged the school board to delay Foster’s hiring. They also declared a loss of confidence in the school board.
Cranberry parent Gwen Parker said she had a “simple request” for the school board to delay Foster’s appointment as acting principal for several reasons, including what she said was an apparent loss of trust between the school board and the superintendent, as well as many questions about Khmel’s sudden departure.
And Kelly’s announcement last week that she was awaiting Foster’s appointment made it seem like a “done deal,” Parker said.
Another Cranberry parent urged the school board to postpone the meeting with Foster to avoid further disruption. She said two assistant principals should handle administrative tasks at the end of the year, instead of appointing an acting principal.
“The community is speaking loud and clear. We don’t want Foster. We want Frank Khmil back as director,” she said.
Princeton resident Laurie Mountainland chided the school board for taking action now instead of waiting for Chmiel’s contract to expire on June 30. There was no need to put Chmiel on administrative leave in the middle of the school year unless he committed an egregious act, she said.
“I have experience with the contract termination process. Why would Dr. Kelly make such a recommendation at this time and not wait until the end of the school year? In my opinion, there can only be one reason – an ulterior motive on Dr. Kelly’s part,” Mountainland said.
Mountainland worked for the Franklin Township School District for 40 years. She is a past president of the Franklin Township Education Association, which is a teachers union. She worked with Chmiel, who was vice principal and principal at Franklin High School before he took the job at Princeton High School in 2021.
Princeton High School sophomore Zoe Shavitz said Chmiel’s termination was rash and ill-advised. As secretary of the high school sophomore student council, he said his staff asks students what they want.
The school board is elected by residents to make decisions and represent them, he said. If the community has to come out and tell the school board it’s making the wrong decision, then “what’s going on,” he asked.
“You’re not representing what the people want,” Shavitz said.