Every once in a while, the new guy inherits calm seas, and Ed Chmiel, principal at Ewing High School, counts himself fortunate to be in those kinds of waters.
Chmiel took over as the high school’s principal in August, following the retirement of Rodney Logan, who served as EHS principal for 12 years.
The school board accepted Logan’s retirement in late June. In the board’s formal acceptance letter, Superintendent Mike Nitti wrote that Ewing would be looking for “an outstanding, student-centered administrator” by Aug. 1, and according to Nitti in mid-September, he’s satisfied he’s found one in Chmiel.
Not that the board had terribly far to look. Chmiel comes to EHS directly from Lore Elementary School, where he served as principal for four years.
He was succeeded by interim Principal Chuck Welsh. In his resignation letter as Lore’s principal, Chmiel called his new appointment “bittersweet.”
He was excited for the new venture, but said he’d miss the kids at Lore. Then again, in a few years, he’ll see a lot of those kids when they get to high school age. For its part, the school board couldn’t be happier.
“We are very excited to have Mr. Chmiel assume the principalship at Ewing High School,” Nitti said. “He is a student-centered educator who brings a strong background in secondary education and high school administration to his new position.”
Nitti also said that the district has surrounded Chmiel with “an excellent administrative team who will be dedicated to promoting student achievement in academics, the arts, and athletics.”
From his own vantage point, Chmiel sees the future along these same lines. He doesn’t so much think everything will be cake, but remember he is happy to have the calm waters Rodney Logan left him to steer through. In short, Chmiel said, the district and the high school itself have been running smooth and steady for a while now, and the last thing he plans to do is disrupt what’s been working.
“Dr. Logan did a great job,” he said. “We’re not changing the program.”
Chmiel said his first year at the helm will be more of a “watch and learn” experience for himself and his staff.
“If something needs tweaking, we’ll tweak it,” he said. “But I’m not looking to make any changes this first year. I don’t see anything that needs changing—the programs are excellent; the kids are great.”
‘We try to create communication with our kids… It’s about speaking to kids and actually listening to them.’
The only notable change at the high school other than his own new position is that the Ewing School District also named two seasoned administrators as Chmiel’s assistant principals. One is Clifford “Kip” Harrison, former EHS dean of students, who came to Ewing in 1995. Harrison also has been a teacher (Teacher of the Year for Ewing High School last year, in fact), coach, director of the ALP program and interim assistant principal.
“Mr. Harrison has certainly proven his value during his career at Ewing High School,” Nitti said. “He is invested in our students and the community, and we think he will do excellent work in his new role.”
The second assistant principal is Karen Allen Benton, who has been a district supervisor of curriculum and instruction with the district since 2014. Nitti said Allen Benton was a good fit because “she knows our staff, our students, and will be a very valuable part of the leadership team at the school.”
Chmiel said that Harrison and Allen Benton bring different experiences from each other and from himself, but together, “we make a good team.”
While Chmiel is new to being a high school principal in Ewing, he’s not new to being a high school administrator. That experience he got where he grew up, in Bordentown, though his first days at school were, admittedly, somewhat unusual.
“My parents came from Poland,” he said. “I went to school and I couldn’t speak English.”
Chmiel’s parents met as teenagers, ironically not in Poland, but, rather, at a dance after immigrating to the States. His father worked for General Motors in Linden, and the young Ed Chmiel had to learn English through an ESL course.
His parents, he said, knew that he needed to get to college, even if they weren’t sure how to get him there. He graduated from Bordentown Regional High School and attended Kutztown University on a football scholarship, which got him into coaching back in Bordentown.
He started his career as a teacher and coach in 1991, and spent 17 years in those roles. He eventually served as principal of that district’s Peter Muschial Elementary School and later as assistant principal and director of athletics at BRHS.
When he got to Lore four years ago, Chmiel brought with him a lot of the character-building program that had worked so well for him at Peter Muschal. And while he enjoyed his tenure at Lore, he said taking over the high school was a good fit. Even if he still misses coaching.
One of the bigger challenges for Chmiel, fittingly, is piloting a bigger district than he had in Bordentown. That district had about 700 kids, while Ewing has 160 staff and 1,200 students.
After being an assistant principal himself (the ones who “do all the legwork”), the job of being principal is a comparatively easy venture, he said. Or, at least, it’s familiar. But “learning everyone’s name is the hard part.”
The biggest challenge Chmiel is expecting is nothing unique to him—how to manage a school district when the rules and policies of how to do so are always a question mark and money is always an issue. Schools still need supplies like computers on which to take state-mandated tests and textbooks with short shelf lives. There’s infrastructure and buildings and grounds and preventive maintenance, but all that stuff is business to be handled in a business way.
What Chmiel wants to do at the rudder of EHS is keep steering steadily and keep steering clear of rough seas. How does one do that?
“Very carefully,” he said. But it all starts stops with the kids, and what’s best for them. “We try to create communication with our kids. We want to get to know them, build a relationship with them. It’s about speaking to kids and actually listening to them.”
That also holds true for the teachers, Chmiel said. He wants to be able to converse with them as well, and understand what they need and are saying. And he wants to make it all work, despite the shifting winds of politics that sometimes rough up the seas.
Chmiel feels he’s got the best perspective on dealing with that:
“My politics is kids,” he said.