Frustrated with a lack of progress and communication, students, teachers and alumni of Townsend Harris High School (THHS) in Flushing took their message to the steps of City Hall on Friday morning.
Amid months of ongoing tension between interim principal Rosemarie Jahoda and the school community at the high school — which resulted in a student protest, outcry at a Parent Teacher Association meeting and a rally outside of the school — the THHS community gathered in Lower Manhattan on Feb. 24 and called for Jahoda’s immediate removal while the Department of Education [DOT] continues its C-30 principal selection process.
The demonstration was led by Student Union President Alex Chen.
“Teachers began to speak of harassment,” Chen said, discussing Jahoda’s arrival to the school. “Students talked of neglect. Assistant principals reported foul language. And this all stemmed from Ms. Jahoda. There is no perspective which you can view Ms. Jahoda’s actions as justifiable.”
“With no response from [DOE] Chancellor Fariña and Superintendent Lindsey, and hostility from Deputy Superintendent Piñeiro, our only course of action is right here, addressing Mayor de Blasio to save our school,” Chen continued. “Here is our ultimatum: replace Ms. Jahoda with someone we can trust, Mayor de Blasio. Open a real conversation about our C-30 process, or risk losing one of the best academic powerhouses in New York City.”
The school community’s most recent attempt to oust Jahoda came in the form of an online petition calling to immediately name assistant principal Ellen Fee as interim school leader.
“You [students] are the grassroots whose voice, for too long, has gone unheard,” said Franco Scardino, teacher and UFT chapter leader at the school. “Today you stand here and say to the mayor, and to the chancellor, that you will no longer be silenced, and that your voices have the same merit … as those who occupy the seats of power in the very buildings behind us today.”
Scardino also spoke of allegations brought against Jahoda by the community that have been covered at length by the school’s newspaper, The Classic. Those charges include denying services to a visually impaired student at Bronx High School of Science, where she previously served as assistant principal. More recently, Jahoda is also alleged to have ignored Muslim student leaders when they reported discrimination at THHS following the presidential election.
“Rosemarie Jahoda has done nothing to take care of the high school,” Scardino said. “In fact, she has assaulted the school in ways that may take months, if not years, to recover from.”
Last week, four local elected officials — Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, Congresswoman Grace Meng, state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Councilman Rory Lancman — sent a letter to Fariña outlining the allegations against Jahoda brought to their attention by concerned constituents.
“It is our belief that the Interim Acting Principal Rosemarie Jahoda (‘Ms. Jahoda’) lacks leadership and the ability to take action,” the letter reads. “She should not be considered in the C-30 process and ultimately is undeserving of serving as a principal.”
Rozic, a Townsend Harris alumna, was present for Friday’s rally.
“Enough is enough,” Rozic said. “We’ve seen our school’s environment and tone change for the worse. And it’s time to turn over a new leaf; to have new representation and a new principal at the helm.”
Borough President Melinda Katz, who previously called upon the DOE chancellor to restart the C-30 hiring process, wrote again to Fariña earlier this week, calling for increased “transparency” from the DOE during the hiring process. Fariña told Katz that there were 38 applications as of Feb. 21 for the superintendent to review, and the school’s superintendent selects five to be interviewed by the selection committee.
Jahoda remains in the pool of candidates.
“A principal is supposed to be an instructional leader,” said Susan Karlic, PTA co-president. “Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Fariña: you claim — I see all over — you listen to the community; you listen to parents. The parents are speaking; the teachers are speaking; the students have spoken. Why is this a one-sided conversation?”
“We reposted the Townsend Harris principal position as of Feb. 1, and are hiring a principal in accordance with the C-30 regulation,” a DOE spokesperson said. “The C-30 process takes up to 90 days. We continue to listen to feedback from this school community, and Rosemarie Jahoda remains interim acting principal.”
The spokesperson also provided the following statement from Jahoda: “While I am frustrated by many of these inaccurate allegations, I remain 100 percent focused on serving students and families at Townsend Harris and working to move the school community forward.”