The Townsend Harris High School (THHS) community has united to demand a change in leadership.
Dozens of parents, alumni, teachers, administration, students showed up at the Townsend Harris Parent Teacher Association’s (PTA) monthly meeting on Thursday, Dec. 15 in the Flushing school’s cafeteria to hear from the embattled interim acting principal, Rosemarie Jahoda, and discuss the reports of strained relations between Jahoda and the school community.
Although Jahoda stressed that she was devoted to the safety and security of the school’s students, those assembled weren’t convinced, and the PTA itself voted that the Department of Education (DOE) relieve her of her duties.
Attention was brought to the tension between Jahoda and the THHS community last week after an online petition emerged urging the Department of Education (DOE) not to consider Jahoda for the permanent principal position, which cited “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 concerns, as well as a live-streamed sit-in protest which was conducted by students at the school on Dec. 8.
“We are gathered here today to hear from the important speakers … and we’re here as a community to discuss these matters at hand,” said PTA co-president Susan Karlic, who led the Dec. 15 meeting.
When she took the microphone, Jahoda told parents that she cares “very much about your children: the students of Townsend Harris,” adding that she’s there “to build upon the many strengths of this wonderful school.”
“I believe in the humanities traditions of the school and plan to uphold them,” she said.
Karlic asked Jahoda a number of questions gathered from parents prior to the meeting, including concerns about her relationship with students and teachers. Some have suggested Jahoda isn’t “approachable.”
“I can’t put myself in other people’s heads and hearts,” Jahoda said. “I will say that I didn’t have the sense that people were uncomfortable approaching me up until very recently. And it is possible that they felt that way and I wasn’t aware of it.”
Jahoda left after the Q&A session with Karlic, and then the THHS Alumni Association made its case for why the interim principal needs to go.
“We stand with the PTA and their efforts to find a world-class principal,” said Craig Slutzkin, Alumni Association co-president. “We want to bring the school back to the wonderful community it was.”
A group of teachers also spoke, citing personal experiences with Jahoda which caused them to question her ability to serve as principal.
“Very quickly, a leadership style emerged that is not consistent with the culture of transparency, collaboration and collegiality that are the values that we try to impart on our students: your children,” said Franco Scardino, a social studies teacher at the school for 16 years. “As a new principal just starting out, and as an interim acting, Rosemarie Jahoda has not taken the time to learn about our school community.”
“The next step is for the parents to make phone calls, every day, to the [DOE] chancellor, to the superintendent,” added Judy Biener, English teacher at the school for 28 years. “The parents are the constituents to whom to DOE will respond.”
“The community of Townsend Harris does not just end within these walls,” student union president Alex Chen said. “It goes beyond.” Chen also explained that the Dec. 8 sit-in took place during the students’ lunch period and was organized by the students.
“We were not put out into the front lines by anybody,” Chen continued. “We will not be inactive toward anything that threatens our school environment.”
At the end of the meeting, Karlic motioned for a vote on Jahoda’s future. The PTA resolution requested that Jahoda be immediately removed as interim principal and ineligible for consideration as Townsend Harris’ permanent principal.
The resolution further called on the DOE to appoint an independent moderator to manage a re-started principal selection process and remove the school from the stewardship of District High School Superintendent Elaine Lindsey and Deputy Superintendent Leticia Pineiro. They also demanded that Pineiro issue a formal apology to THHS students for the way she treated them during their sit-in.
“The C-30 process of hiring a principal for Townsend Harris HS has not yet occurred,” a DOE spokesperson said. “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 – and we will follow those regulations as we hire a Townsend Harris principal. We are listening closely to the feedback and concerns of this school community, and will continue to engage them as the C-30 process moves forward.”
“Rosemarie Jahoda remains the interim acting principal pending the C-30 process,” the spokesperson also said.