Angela Siso Stentz, who had been an assistant principal at Princeton High School, assumed the role of interim principal at the Johnson Park School on July 1.
The Johnson Park School educates pupils in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
Stentz was appointed to the position by a 5-4 vote at the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education’s June 23 meeting.
She will succeed Robert Ginsberg, who has been named the school district’s interim assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Board President Beth Behrend and board members Jessica Deutsch, Betsy Baglio, Brian McDonald and Susan Kanter voted “yes” on a motion to appoint Stentz as the interim principal.
Board members Debbie Bronfeld, Daniel Dart, Michele Tuck-Ponder and Dafna Kendal voted “no” on the motion.
In casting their dissenting votes, Tuck-Ponder and Kendal made it clear they did not object to Stentz. They said they objected to the process that was used to select the interim principal.
Stentz, who has worked in the school district for more than 20 years, was one of nine internal candidates for the position. She will be paid $156,000 plus $4,800 in longevity pay.
Stentz started her career in Princeton as a special education teacher. For nearly 10 years, she was the K-12 director of guidance. Stentz most recently worked as an assistant principal at Princeton High School.
When Kendal asked if there were any other candidates “of color” who applied for the interim principal’s position, Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane said that of the nine candidates, four individuals were minorities.
“This is not easy for me,” Tuck-Ponder said as she voted “no” and explained her reasoning.
“My issue is the process. When there is a lack of transparency, it shakes my confidence in the process. I understand this particular position is short-term and a decision had to be made quickly,” Tuck-Ponder said.
“We had four candidates of color. We don’t know what the criteria is for the decision, what the basis is for the decision. It makes me concerned because this is a school board that is going to be hiring the next superintendent and the next assistant superintendent, and it is going to be hiring a permanent principal at Johnson Park,” she said.
If the hiring process is not transparent, “if we are led to believe our input is going to have some sort of effect and we find it does not, or we ‘rubber stamp’ an appointment,” then the board is complicit in potentially engaging in behavior that blocks people of color from getting full consideration for these positions, she said.
Tuck-Ponder said she will continue to push against a process that is not transparent, one in which “we have not clearly articulated what our priorities are as a school district and given direction as to what characteristics and qualities we would like to see in a person appointed to that position.”
Cochrane said Stentz identifies as Hispanic, a person of color. He said she understands Spanish and brings to the principal’s position the qualities and the heart of a great elementary school principal.
Tuck-Ponder repeated that the issue is not the candidate, but the process.
“I can’t say it more clearly,” she said.
Kendal said she has been “complicit” and said it was a very difficult decision to make.
“We talk, talk, talk about equity. We don’t know what the standards were which makes a candidate acceptable for this job. If we don’t start to change things, it’s not going to get any better,” Kendal said.
Kendal said her heart “really breaks” for the candidates of color who applied for the interim position. She said she does not want to lose those individuals, but said if the board keeps going about business as usual, “we are going to lose some really great staff members.”