Princeton school board to move forward following superintendent’s retirement

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The pending retirement of Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane was formally accepted by the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education at its Feb. 25 meeting, setting the stage for the school board to launch a search for his successor.

Cochrane announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2019-2020 school year on Feb. 24, citing family reasons for his decision. He is planning to move closer to his mother, who is in her 90’s and living on her own in his hometown of Seattle, Wash.

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Cochrane’s last day in the Princeton Public Schools district is June 30.

School board president Beth Behrend said the board will take its time to develop a plan for its next steps, which may include hiring an interim superintendent of schools while it seeks a replacement for Cochrane.

The school board will meet with a New Jersey School Boards Association representative at its March 17 meeting to discuss the issue, Behrend said.

“We are not in a hurry, we are not in a rush. We are going to be deliberate (in filling the vacancy). These are big shoes to fill,” Behrend said of Cochrane, who has led the Princeton Public Schools since January 2014.

Meanwhile, school board members were quick to praise Cochrane at the Feb. 25 meeting.

School board member Dafna Kendal said the word spread quickly that Cochrane was retiring and that the news caused “great concern.” She praised Cochrane for his concern for every student, and said she wished he could have stayed longer.

Behrend said the school board and the district are grateful to Cochrane for his steady leadership and dedicated service to the Princeton Public Schools over the past six years. To those who know him as a colleague and a friend, his retirement “leaves a big hole,” she said.

“Steve’s visionary leadership around issues of equity and student well-being has transformed and inspired our community, both within the Princeton Public Schools and beyond, to the great benefit of our current and future students,” Behrend said.

During his six-year tenure in the Princeton Public Schools, Cochrane worked to address issues of educational inequity, particularly racial disparities, and also focused on student wellness. He emphasized an approach to learning that founded in joy and purpose.

Cochrane told the school board that he did not have any prepared remarks, teasing the school board that “I’m not retired yet.”

There is a lot of exciting work to accomplish in the next four months, Cochrane said. There is a budget to prepare and contracts to settle and of course, there are the students, he said.

School is fundamentally about relationships – with students, with staff and with the community, Cochrane said. He said he had experienced “wonderful relationships” in his six years in the school district.

“That’s what matters the most. It’s the relationships that truly matter,” Cochrane said.

Cochrane has led the Princeton Public Schools since January 2014. He came to the school district from the Upper Freehold Regional School District, where he was the assistant superintendent.

Cochrane began his career in the public schools in the South Brunswick School District as an elementary school teacher.

He became the principal at the Hopewell Elementary School and the Timberlane Middle School in the Hopewell Valley Regional School District, before moving to the Colts Neck Township Schools to become its director of curriculum and instruction.

Cochrane earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Princeton University and a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration from Harvard University.

Before embarking on a career as an educator in the public schools, Cochrane was a residence director and associate dean of admissions at Wheelock College. He also was an admissions officer and assistant dean of students at Princeton University.

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