Individual students from all grade levels of the school located at 149-11 Melbourne Ave. held a sit-in at their school on Dec. 8 asking that interim principal Rosemarie Jahoda not be considered for a permanent position.
Townsend Harris, located next to the Queens College campus, is consistently ranked among the best public high schools in the country for academics. It was ranked 40th in the nation by U.S. News and World Report this year.
A Facebook live video posted on the school newspaper’s page shows dozens of students sitting in the fourth-floor hallways in protest.
“Students are here in protest to Ms. Jhoda possibly becoming the permanent principal following the release of a petition the garnered over 2,000 signatures,” the student-interviewer, identified as Sumaita Hasan, said.
The petition, titled “STOP Rosemarie Jahoda from being appointed the PERMANENT principal of Townsend Harris HS,” was published four days ago and currently has over 3,000 signatures. Authored by “Stop Jahoda” and addressed to the Department of Education (DOE), the petition cites “rumors of numerous instances of faculty harassment, significant changes to programs and course offerings without input from the faculty and SLT, and as time has passed, less parent engagement” among the concerns.
Hasan and videographer Mehrose Ahmad begin the video with shots of students lined up in the halls. About 5 minutes into the stream, the camera moves to Leticia Pineiro, superintendent for the DOE, who is shown discussing and writing down concerns voiced by students at the sit-in while Jahoda stands beside her.
An article from the school’s newspaper posted online on Dec. 6 claims teachers have “expressed frustrations with changes to procedure at Townsend Harris that have accrued over the course of the past months,” including assignment scheduling coordination, field trip procedures, uniform grading policies and contest submission procedures.
The online petition has been signed by a mixture of students, faculty and alumni.
“Having just concluded a 33-year career in the Department of Education, the last 26 years, at Townsend Harris, an institution, an experience and a ‘family’ I will always cherish, I find it deeply disturbing that Rosemarie Jahoda would be given serious consideration for the position of principal,” petition signer Helen Rizzuto wrote. “One cannot have ‘a high respect for the humanities tradition’ that has defined Townsend Harris since its inception, when one clearly demonstrates a lack of respect for the faculty and staff that work tirelessly to foster these traditions.”
Jahoda has held the position since the beginning of the school year, following the departure of former Principal Anthony Barbetta.
“The C-30 process of hiring a principal for Townsend Harris HS has not yet occurred,” a DOE spokesperson told QNS in an email. “Principal hiring and assignment decisions are made by the superintendent in accordance with the chancellor’s regulations, and based on consultations with members of the school community. We listen closely to the feedback and concerns of all school communities, and engage them as part of the C-30 process.