Queens Borough President Melinda Katz came to Townsend Harris High School’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meeting on March 9 to again call on the Department of Education (DOE) to make the selection of the Flushing school’s new principal much more transparent.
Amid months of ongoing tension between interim acting principal Rosemarie Jahoda and the school community at the high school, which has already resulted in a student protest, a rally outside of the school and a demonstration in front of City Hall, Katz first offered words of encouragement to the dozens of parents in attendance.
“You are fighting for your children’s education,” Katz said. “You’re making sure that your voices are heard.”
The borough president has long been critical of the DOE’s C-30 principal hiring process, which she said was “entirely shrouded under a veil of silence and secrecy” in her most recent letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. Katz asked Fariña to implement an amendment to the regulation to ensure “transparency, accountability and confidence” in the process.
“That’s my biggest rub with the C-30 process,” Katz said. “I don’t think they have to respond to community input … I don’t believe you truly have really effective input.”
Katz encouraged the community to conduct a letter-writing campaign to Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Minutes later, student union president Alex Chen took to the microphone to announce he would be passing out stacks of blank postcards he had prepared that were addressed to the mayor.
Chen encouraged parents, students and faculty to fill in the cards with their concerns about both the C-30 process and the interim acting principal and give them back to him at the end of the meeting to mail.
After the borough president’s remarks, a representative from the DOE, Lawrence Pendergast, took some heated questions from parents and teachers.
“The bottom line is, the superintendent chooses [the principal],” parent Jo-Ellen Kosack said. “That’s our problem here … You hear the tension here. If there’s someone who’s going to be a candidate that we don’t want, how could that possibly happen? And if it does, what can we, as the community, do about it?”
“It’s a very legitimate question,” Pendergast replied. “That is a question that your representatives on the Level I committee can raise for you on your behalf at the C-30 process.”
Another parent spoke out against DOE Superintendent Leticia Pineiro’s treatment of the students during their Dec. 9 sit-in protest and stated that Pinero still owed the students an apology.
PTA president Susan Karlic said she asked Pinero to attend the PTA meeting and she “regretfully declined.”
“Can you understand why this community has little to no faith in the DOE?” said Joe Canzoneri, an English teacher at the school. “These kids are far more impressive than anything that’s come into this building from your office.”
Sumaita Hasan, co-editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper The Classic, read aloud a statement from the chancellor’s C-30 regulations, which require that “interim-acting principals must be in the Principal Candidate Pool, except in exigent circumstances, when the Senior Deputy Chancellor or his/her designee may authorize assignment of an interim acting principal prior to completion of an evaluation.”
Hasan asked Pendergast to clarify what “exigent” meant in this context and whether it barred Jahoda from being considered for the permanent position — referring to reports that Jahoda was being investigated for allegedly denying services to a visually impaired student.
Pendergast said he would have to follow up with Hasan the following day with a comment.
Jahoda was in attendance for the entire meeting. Prior to Katz and Pendergast’s remarks, the interim acting principal gave a principal’s report to the school community regarding curricular and school policy matters.
Karlic said that the Level 1 Committee will meet on Wednesday, March 15, for first round interviews with candidates.