Message From the Superintendent
June 1, 2020
Dear Students, Staff, and Families,
Like many of you, I am deeply upset by the actions – and inactions – that led to the death of George Floyd. As a white person, I am angry and saddened. I can’t begin to speak, however, to the level of anger, sadness, fear, and sheer exhaustion felt by those in our communities of color. I want to offer my condolences to the family and friends of Mr. Floyd. I want to offer my condolences as well to all those in our community who experience racism regularly, who have been fighting it throughout their lives, and who continue – despite the efforts of so many – to experience genuine fear when their children walk out the door.
So what do we do? I don’t have easy answers to this question. I believe we need time to grieve, and to feel, and to listen to one another – and particularly to listen to our students and families of color.
What I can offer at this time is an affirmation of our values as a school district, our support of our students, and our continued commitment to use the power of education to make a difference in the world.
Affirming Our Values
Our Equity Principles as a district can be found here. They begin with the statement: We are color brave – not color blind. First used by Mellody Hobson, the phrase “color brave” acknowledges that the color of someone’s skin shapes their experiences in the world, and that we can only overcome systemic biases and cultural injustices when we talk honestly about race. As a district, we are continuing to have those honest conversations as we consider our curriculum, our teaching, our hiring, our emphasis on restorative justice, and our distribution of resources. Do we always live up to our values? We do not. Nevertheless, I believe we are willing to look honestly at our shortcomings, and address them. In that spirit, I want to highlight the current work of the Board in developing Equity Impact Statements to help ensure that, moving forward, every major programmatic and budgetary decision for our District will be filtered through the question: Who does this decision benefit and who does it disadvantage?
Supporting Our Students
Our students need our support. Many have seen the video of the events leading up to Mr. Floyd’s death, the death of a Black man in the custody of white police officers. They have watched the reactions to that death play out across the country and perhaps in their own homes. They undoubtedly have questions, concerns, fears and hopes. And we are here for them. Our Supervisor of School Counseling, Kristina Donovan, sent a message today to our families. “We, the counseling department, see you and we hear you,” she wrote. She described our counseling offices, whether real or virtual, as “safe spaces” for students to share their lived experience. She provided links to articles to help students and families process these difficult events. She also commented on our continued work with Dr. Tara Doaty to build our capacity as a school district to support our students with our implementation of trauma informed practices. You can find Dr. Donovan’s message here.
In addition to the work of our counseling department, all of our school administrators are working with their Equity Teams on ways to support our students and families. I know that at PHS, Principal Jessica Baxter and Dr. Joy Barnes-Johnson are planning zoom sessions with students to allow them to talk through their feelings and share their ideas.
Educating to Make a Difference
Nelson Mandela once stated, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” As a school leader, I have to believe that. As I consider the educational objectives we have for our children as they graduate from our schools, I can think of none higher than racial literacy. We have state and national standards for language literacy, math literacy, scientific literacy, even economic literacy, but there are no standards for the ability to navigate a culturally complex and often racially unjust world. I am proud of the teachers and students who have pioneered the racial literacy elective we have had at Princeton High School for the past two years. And I am proud of the efforts underway to expand an understanding of racial literacy to all students by making it a part of our peer group lessons for ninth graders and by creating an online course that students and teachers can take together. As the District continues to advance its mission of equity, and as I prepare to retire as superintendent, I would ask our teachers, counselors, administrators, students, parents and community partners to continue to work together to develop a K-12 pathway to racial literacy, one that provides our students with the knowledge, skills and values they need at each stage of their development, and one that culminates in their ability to address injustice wherever they see it.
On Sunday afternoon I attended the Not In Our Town ceremony honoring 13 Princeton students who are role models in their efforts to advance racial equity, literacy, and justice in our community. The students acknowledged the anguish so many are feeling here and across our country, and yet they showed deep resolve to continue their efforts and deep gratitude for the adults who support them. Those students gave me a glimmer of hope in these dark times – as did the song they sang at the end.
Here is Rise Up by Andra DayRise Up by Andra Day. For those of you who are struggling as I am, perhaps it will bring some needed solace and inspiration.
Planning for Re-Opening
Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Dear Students, Staff and Families,
On Monday, Governor Murphy announced that New Jersey schools will remain closed through the end of the academic year. While we had all anticipated this possibility, the reality still hits hard.
I want to acknowledge the disappointment we are all feeling at not being able to come together in person before the end of June. Nevertheless, I am grateful to Governor Murphy for making a decision based on what is best for the health of our students, our staff, and our state.
And it is with that health in mind that we are moving forward as a District with three phases of planning. First, we are planning for the celebration of this current year and the accomplishments of our students. Second, we are planning for the implementation of summer school. And finally, we are planning for the safe reopening of our buildings in September for in-person instruction.
Based on the Governor’s announcement, we will be completing this school year remotely. The last day of school for PPS will be June 16, and Princeton High School graduation will happen on that day. PHS will have a virtual graduation. Mindful of how important this ceremony is to our students and their families, Principal Jessica Baxter and her team are putting in place plans for a video that would show each senior physically walking on stage to receive their diploma while wearing their cap and gown. Senior Awards and the Gold Key ceremony will also both be virtual. We are hopeful that other senior celebrations could possibly be held outside later in the summer, but only if it is safe and restrictions have been lifted.
The John Witherspoon Moving On Ceremony for our eighth graders, which has traditionally been held in Richardson Auditorium, is also scheduled to be a virtual event in June. We are looking forward to this event as our JW community has already shown itself to be creative and flexible by, believe it or not, hosting grade-level dances on Zoom!
The elementary school principals and PTO’s are also thinking about virtual approaches to the fifth grade Moving On Ceremonies. Their goal is to celebrate with our students the relationships, accomplishments and memories through those magical first few years.
Summer School will also be virtual. We look forward to supporting remotely our many students who attend our Extended School Year program as well as our STARRS, LEAP, ESL and JUMPSTART programs and the various summer courses offered at the high school. If there is an opportunity to bring some of those students into our buildings safely at the end of the summer to get them acclimated for the start of the year, we will certainly try to facilitate that.
And what will happen when school starts again in September? PPS has established a Re-Entry Leadership Team of nearly 30 administrators, teachers, support staff and Board members who are considering this question. We are viewing all answers through the lens of Health, which we are categorizing in three ways.
First, we are prioritizing the physical health of our students and staff. Will we need to be taking their temperature as they enter the building? Will they need to wear masks? What will our cleaning protocols need to be? How will we maintain social distancing protocols on the bus, in the classroom, during recess? We have a subcommittee working on answering these questions and many more.
Second, we are prioritizing the emotional health of our students. This crisis has been a trauma for all of us. We have all experienced, and will continue to experience, varying degrees of fear, anxiety, and loss. As students reenter our schools, we want to assess their emotional wellness; we want to support them individually and collectively; and we want to inspire them. Schools need to be places of hope and excitement. We have another subcommittee charged with making this happen.
And, of course, we are prioritizing the educational health of our students. While many have fared well during this period of remote learning, we know that others have struggled. We need to assess the gaps or losses in learning, and we need to have a plan to address them. We have yet another subcommittee focused on this goal.
The reopening of our schools in a climate of social distancing will pose significant and complex challenges. We are not likely to flip a switch in September and suddenly have 4000 students and 800 staff back in our buildings with learning happening as it always has. We may have a phased re-entry such as in Denmark where younger children came back first. We may follow the example of Quebec, where to maintain the smaller class sizes required for social distancing, half the students in a class will come on one day and the other half the next.
Regardless of the plan, it is likely that at least initially, we will have some hybrid of remote learning and in-person instruction. It is also clear that the new normal will be very different than the previous normal. Nevertheless, as we all adjust, I hope we can hold onto the “silver linings” of our response to this crisis. Silver linings of flexibility, creativity, patience, and partnership. Sliver linings of care, compassion, grit and gratitude.
I will remain focused on working with my colleagues to create a reopening plan prior to my retirement, and I am grateful to be part of a community that will continue to value joy, purpose and innovative solutions to complex problems.
Thank you all for your ongoing support. Stay well.
P.S. If you are looking for a feel-good story, please check out this video of ducklings being rescued at Littlebrook.
From Superintendent Cochrane: Annie Kosek's Retirement
April 30, 2020
Dear Colleagues, Families and Friends of PPS,
Last Wednesday, Annie Kosek, our Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, announced that after 17 years with PPS she will be retiring at the end of June. The next day, Alicia Keys debuted her song Good Job. The song has been hailed as an anthem for all those who are working courageously behind the scenes not only to help us come through this crisis but to come through it stronger and healthier. The song begins with the words, “You’re the engine that makes all things go.” It is in that spirit that I want to celebrate the legacy of Annie Gonzalez Kosek and ask us all to help ensure that legacy continues.
Many of you have known Annie in her role as Assistant Superintendent, a position she has held for the last three years. An equal number probably know her from her days as the principal of Littlebrook, which under her leadership became a Blue Ribbon School. And some of you may not know Annie at all, other than as a name at the top of the PPS organizational chart or at the bottom of recent emails explaining and affirming our efforts with remote learning.
I have known Annie for more than 25 years, both here in Princeton and in our days together as colleagues in the Hopewell Valley School District. She is a force. And she is truly one of the most remarkable educators with whom I have ever worked.
Annie is motivated by two passions. She rejoices, first and foremost, in her relationships with students, staff and families. She also relishes the challenges of changing cultures, programs, and systems. Her efforts are always driven by doing what is right for kids. And her efforts are always collaborative. She listens, and then she leads.
The successful implementation of remote learning for the entire district during the extraordinary circumstances of a global pandemic may be the collaborative effort that will culminate Annie's career at PPS. But it is only part of what she has accomplished in her time as assistant superintendent.
Under Annie's leadership, the District has established a process of program review for all subjects; engaged in a comprehensive update of all curriculum now accessible in an electronic database; implemented a new school-wide enrichment program; revised the elementary school report card; and implemented a Summer Academy for professional development by teachers for teachers.
Perhaps most significantly, Annie has overseen an incredible effort to provide professional development related to equity with a sustained focus on culturally responsive teaching and differentiated instruction.
Annie’s legacy will be in the quality of our curriculum, the diversity of instruction in our classrooms, and in the educators, administrators and staff who will continue to focus on improving both.
Bottom line: All of our children have been impacted by her work – and will continue to be.
"I've always loved a good challenge," Annie wrote in her retirement letter to staff as she acknowledged the work they had done together. All those staff now stand ready to face the next challenge of reopening our schools, whenever that might be.
Annie and I are currently working with an amazing, and growing, team of people to plan for that reopening. We will continue to do so right through June 30. And come July, we will step back in confidence knowing that our district’s values of care, innovation, and partnership will continue to fuel the “engine that makes all things go.”
The Princeton Public Schools will be in good hands as we face the future. It will be in the hands of those who will reach out in collaboration - and with sleeves rolled up - ready to do what is right for kids. That is the legacy Annie leaves.
I am grateful to Annie and to all of you who will continue her legacy.
Message from the Superintendent: Moving Forward
March 24, 2020
Dear Students, Staff, and Families,
The applause began last week in Spain.
Following an order by the prime minister to stay in their homes, thousands of citizens throughout the country began taking to their balconies every night at 8:00 p.m. to give a standing ovation to the health care workers who are on the front lines caring for those suffering from the coronavirus.
And the applause is spreading. From Spain to Italy to France and beyond, hundreds of thousands are now joining the nightly tradition. Gratitude spreads faster and is more powerful than COVID-19.
And so I begin this message with my own applause. For our health workers, absolutely, but also for our educators, our parents, our students. All of you have had your lives upended by the coronavirus; all of you are feeling anxious about your own health and those of others; and yet all of you are finding new ways to continue learning and working and showing your care for one another. It is not always easy, I know, but you have the appreciation of many.
So what is next? Our governor's executive order 104 has closed schools indefinitely throughout New Jersey. I don't know when schools will be officially allowed to reopen, but I do know that staff and families are looking for guidance beyond this Friday, which will mark the end of our initial period of remote learning. Consequently, after consulting with our local Health Officer, I am extending the remote learning period for the Princeton Public Schools at least through Friday, April 17, 2020. We will re-evaluate as we near the end of that time period.
Some important points to keep in mind as we move forward:
Our schools and offices are now all operating remotely. District buildings are open on a very limited basis only to essential employees. If you have questions or requests, please email us. We are trying to protect our staff, our students and our community.
Reach out if you need food or know someone who does. Here is a link to our application (in both English and Spanish) to receive free or reduced priced meals during this time period when schools are physically closed. We recognize that this crisis has placed an economic hardship on many of our families - a hardship that is likely to increase. If your economic circumstances have changed or if they do in the future, please go to the link above to review the income guidelines for receiving federally funded meals. You can also get help in completing the application through the Princeton Children's Fund or make a donation to a family in need.
Spring Break will be a true break. We all need to take a breath right now. During the week of April 6-10, please do just that. Relax. Laugh. Spend time with neighbors and family - just do it from a distance and remember to wash your hands!
Once again, I am grateful for all that you are doing during this unprecedented time. Give yourselves a standing ovation!
September 3, 2019
It's the start of a new school year. Do you have a message for our PPS community?
My message is this: Our kids are coming! They are coming with their backpacks and binders. They are coming with their hopes and dreams. They are coming with their unique experiences, perspectives, and potential. And we will be here to welcome them – every one of us!
The Princeton Public Schools are a team – and not just a team of educators. We are joined by parents, guardians and community partners in supporting and inspiring the children of our town. Indeed, it is only through our collective expertise and commitment that we are able to meet the varying needs of all the students about whom we care. It is only through our collective efforts that we can fulfill our remarkable mission of ensuring that every one of our students is prepared with the knowledge, creativity, and compassion to truly lead a life of joy and purpose.
Is the district focusing on specific goals this year?
At the top of our list is the implementation of restorative practices. Building on our work in the area of equity, restorative practices are strategies that students and staff can use together to foster a strong sense of community and connection in our schools and classrooms. They create the environments that lead to the highest levels of learning and engagement. And when missteps happen, they provide the pathways back to trusting, healthy relationships. In addition, we are continuing our focus on differentiating instruction through project-based learning, authentic assessments, and enrichment experiences designed to inspire and challenge every child.
Are there curriculum changes in the district this year you would like to highlight?
We are excited to be implementing the new ReadyClassroom math program in our elementary schools. A researched-based program, ReadyClassroom is designed to deepen discourse, engagement and understanding regarding mathematical concepts. We are also beginning our rollout of a school-wide enrichment program starting at the elementary schools. We are calling the program FOCUS (Fostering Our Children's Unique Strengths), and our vision is ultimately to provide enrichment in Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics, or STREAM. Our school science specialists, now STREAM teachers, will continue to provide science enrichment to all students and, additionally this year, talent- and interest-based enrichment opportunities for students in grades 3, 4, and 5. Later this fall, we will be asking parents to complete a survey describing their children's strengths and interests. We will also hold parent Q&A meetings to present the multi-year plan for FOCUS, which will continue to evolve K-8.
At the high school, we are continuing with the successful changes we made to the schedule last year, including a later start time and longer blocks of time for more engaged learning.
What's happening with facilities?
We have a knowledgeable and energetic new Director of Facilities, Dave Harding, who hit the ground running in July! He is helping to oversee multiple referendum projects, including the installation this summer of air conditioning at Riverside and the PHS gym, as well as upgrades to the electrical capacity at all six schools. During the course of the coming year, we will be installing security vestibules at all schools, expanding space at JW and PHS, and renovating the guidance area and some athletic spaces at Princeton High School. Next summer, we will install HVAC units in classrooms at Littlebrook, Community Park, Johnson Park, and John Witherspoon.
We believe that welcoming, well-maintained, and energy efficient facilities support the wellness of our students and staff and the learning in our schools.
What other changes are you particularly excited about this year?
Food! In Princeton, we view our cafeterias as an extension of our classrooms – and of our values. We are working with K. Lee Dixon, the new food service director we hired in conjunction with Nutri-Serve Food Management, the company that provides meals in our school cafeterias. Our goal this year is to enhance the wellness of our students – and our planet – by providing globally adventurous, locally-sourced, wholesome and delicious meals. I think students, parents and staff will notice some exciting changes in the months ahead!
Are there new security procedures in PPS buildings this year?
Yes. We have explored best practices in school safety and recently completed a review of security. With the help of expert advice, we are moving forward with recommendations that include new security vestibules, visitor protocols, video cameras and additional training for school safety personnel. All parents should be aware that we have new visitor procedures. To find out more about these procedures click here.
What's the enrollment at PPS this year?
As of today we have 3,890 students. Enrollment is a moving target but we are continuing to see an upward trend. We have been working with experts, including members of our community, on demographic projections that consider historic trends as well as future construction planned in our community over the next 10 years. Our goal in the months ahead is to engage in robust and collaborative planning with the municipality and with a broad cross-section of our community. Together we will refine our demographic projections, define school and community needs, outline multiple options for possible school expansion, and explore funding options that could potentially mitigate costs. We are planning for the future of our kids and our community – and we look forward to engaging everyone in the process.
What about new staff? Have there been changes in the district?
PPS has hired 15 highly-qualified new teachers for full-time and part-time positions. We have 17 new support staff employees, a category that includes secretaries, instructional aides, bus drivers, custodians and some part-time staff. We also have four new-to-our-district administrators, including a new special education supervisor, a new business administrator, a new math supervisor and a new facilities director, who are replacing staff who have retired or left the district. In addition, we promoted several of our experienced staff members to fill administrative openings. Jessica Baxter is our new principal at Princeton High School. Rashone Johnson is a new assistant principal at PHS. And Mridula Bajaj has been named as our new Supervisor of Science, Professional Development and Assessment. I am tremendously excited by the energy, expertise, and commitment of all of our new staff, and I know they are joining a community of educators who truly care about our students.
Do you have a message for teachers?
Our theme this year is Knowing Every Child - Supporting Them Together. Nothing great is ever achieved alone. I am grateful for the many ways our teachers, our administrators and our support staff work together to achieve our goal of joy, purpose, and high-level learning for every student. As educators, we are privileged to have the most important job on the planet. We are changing the world one child at a time, and we are doing it together.
I am truly excited about the year ahead and the opportunities we will have to support and inspire our students and one another.
Are there important dates to remember?
School starts on Wednesday, September 4 for all of our schools except Riverside Elementary. Our Riverside students will begin school one day later on Thursday, September 5thso we could ensure their building was clean and ready following the construction there this summer. Back to School Night for all of our elementary schools will be held Thursday, September 12. John Witherspoon's Back to School Night will be Thursday, September 19. Princeton High School's Back To School Night will be Thursday, September 26th. Check our website for more information about dates.
Anything else you would like to mention?
Two things actually. First, we are excited to announce that the State Department of Education has just approved our application to expand our preschool program! We will now be receiving more than $700,000 in additional state aid that will allow us to offer, free of charge, a new dual language immersion preschool class at Community Park as well a new class in partnership with the YWCA. We will also continue to offer preschool classes at Johnson Park and Riverside. Free, public preschool is widely recognized as an important path towards closing the achievement gap. This is an exciting opportunity for the Princeton Public Schools and for our entire community. We look forward to starting our new preschool classes on October 1, 2019.
Finally, earlier this summer, the organization Niche announced that Princeton Public Schools was rated as the number one school district in New Jersey and 17th in the nation. The rating was based on academic assessments but also on factors such as racial and economic diversity, school environment, health and safety, as well as survey data from parents and students. The rating is certainly a reflection of the care and commitment of our staff and students. It is reflection as well, however, of our desire as a district to continually improve. It is that desire, that sense of mission, that will motivate us in the year ahead.