Princeton schools searching for interim superintendent

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Princeton Public Schools officials expect to appoint an interim superintendent of schools and to have that person in place on or before July 1.

Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane announced his plans to retire in February after six years at the helm. His last day in the district is June 30. He said he is moving back to Seattle.

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The interim superintendent will fill the top administrative post while the school board launches a nationwide search for a permanent superintendent.

School board President Beth Behrend said the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on the school board’s search for an interim superintendent.

“Although coronavirus has required us, like our students, to work virtually, the board is on a path to finding an interim leader up to the task of helping us deliver on our mission,” Behrend said.

The school board has created an ad hoc committee, chaired by school board member Betsy Baglio, to search for an interim superintendent. It has already advertised the opening for the post.

The ad hoc committee also has reached out to potential candidates for the job, either through recommendations or a list of retired superintendents provided to it by the New Jersey School Boards Association, she said.

The full school board expects to interview candidates for the post over the next few weeks, and will make an appointment. Interim superintendents are retired superintendents, and may serve for as long as two years.

Once the school board has hired an interim superintendent of schools, it will turn its attention to finding a permanent superintendent, school district officials said.

The school board plans to hire a search firm to lead a nationwide search for a new superintendent of schools. The process could take several months, stretching into 2021.

“We are not in a hurry, we are not in a rush. We are going to be deliberate (in filling the superintendent vacancy). These are big shoes to fill,” Behrend said of Cochrane at the school board’s Feb. 25 meeting.

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 was founded in joy and purpose.

Cochrane came to the Princeton Public Schools from the Upper Freehold Regional School District, where he was an assistant superintendent of schools.

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

Cochrane became the principal at the Hopewell Elementary School and then principal at 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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