‘Turning the page’

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New principal earns endorsement from teacher unions

Princeton High School Assistant Principal Cecilia X. Birge was appointed as the next Princeton High School principal at a special school board meeting Aug. 31.

The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education voted 9-0 to appoint Birge, including Cranbury School District representative Robert Christopher. School board member Michele Tuck Ponder was absent. The Cranbury School District sends its high school students to Princeton High School.

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Birge started her new job Sept. 1 and will earn $165,000 per year. She was chosen from an initial field of 25 candidates.

Birge replaces former Princeton High School Principal Frank Chmiel, who was dismissed in March. His contract was not renewed. He is appealing the dismissal to the state Commissioner of Education and the state Office of Administrative Law.

Superintendent of Schools Carol Kelley said Birge was her choice as the next principal of Princeton High School, based on Birge’s dedication to ensuring student success.

“During the selection process, Ms. Birge showcased her exceptional leadership qualities, along with her deep commitment to the success of all students, her passion for education and her respect for the entire Princeton High School community,” Kelley said.

“For these reasons, I know Ms. Birge will be successful as the next principal of Princeton High School,” Kelley said.

Rebecca Gold, the interim assistant superintendent for human resources, said the vacancy was advertised for three weeks beginning July 10.

“The 25 candidates who applied for the job, including Birge and another Princeton Public Schools employee, went through a paper screen to check credentials,” Gold said, adding that the list was winnowed down to eight candidates, who underwent a short virtual screen. Then the list was reduced to five candidates.

Final interviews were conducted Aug. 28 with the 13-member screening committee that included administrators, teachers and parents. Kelley and two school board members were observers.

The candidates answered a series of questions and were rated on a grid, Gold said. A recommendation was made to Kelley, who in turn made her recommendation to the school board.

The president and co-presidents of the unions that represent administrators, teachers and support staff endorsed Birge’s selection as the next high school principal.

Renee Szporn, the co-president of the Princeton Regional Education Association, said “it’s a pleasure” to see Birge come up through the academic ranks at Princeton High School. Birge was a teacher before being she named as an assistant principal in 2020.

School board president Dafna Kendal said she was thrilled to welcome Birge as the next Princeton High School principal. This past spring was especially difficult for the district and the high school, she said, alluding to the turmoil in the wake of Chmiel’s dismissal.

“We are turning the page and we are looking with excitement into the future. Cecelia is well qualified for the position. She is a kind and compassionate person who shows who she is through her actions,” Kendal said.

Birge said she was excited to dive into the new school year with renewed energy and focus.

“Thank you for entrusting me with this important responsibility,” she said.

Birge praised the high school’s teachers and staff, who she described as “truly the front line champions in our school. They have consistently risen to every challenge.”

Education is a second career for Birge, who moved to the United States from China with her family in 1990. She worked as a bond analyst on Wall Street before switching careers.

Birge earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Bryn Mawr College in 1994 and a master’s degree from Teachers College, Columbia University in 2015. She is studying for a doctorate in educational leadership and administration at Rutgers University.

Birge taught math at Princeton High School for one year in 2012, and left to teach math at Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood for two years.

She returned to Princeton High School in 2015 to teach math and special education. She was named as an assistant principal in 2020.

During her time at Princeton High School, Birge has served as the head coach for its speech and debate team. She was the assistant coach of the high school’s girls volleyball team and also coached its junior varsity volleyball team.

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