Determined students at Townsend Harris High School in Flushing held another sit-in on March 15 as they continued their call for a transparent process in selecting the school’s new leader.
As principal selection committee members sat behind closed doors at the school in Flushing conducting interviews with five candidates for the school’s permanent principal position after 4 p.m. on Wednesday, students lined the halls in protest, calling for increased transparency during the Department of Education [DOE] mandated hiring process.
The sit-in is one in a series of protests — including another student sit-in, a rally outside of the school and a demonstration in front of City Hall — product of months of ongoing tension between interim acting principal Rosemarie Jahoda, who remains under consideration for the permanent job, and the school community.
The school’s student newspaper, The Classic, live-streamed the sit-in. Students were seen holding signs saying “We will not be ignored,” “The DOE doesn’t care” and “Fix the System.”
The principal selection committee consists of teacher, student and parent representatives. The committee can make recommendations to the DOE on which candidate to choose for the permanent position; the DOE, however, gets the final say.
“There’s a problem with this whole system,” said Max Kurant, freshman-sophomore class president and co-organizer. “Even if [the committee] ranks Ms. Jahoda fifth, which is the lowest rank, Superintendent [Elaine] Lindsay has no obligation at all to not choose her … So the reason we’re here today is to put pressure on [the DOE]. They have to listen to us; they cannot ignore our voices.”
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz visited the school just last week and made similar remarks, stating the situation at the Flushing high school is an example of why the DOE needs to revamp their required hiring process.
The Classic co-editor Sumaita Hasan said she attempted to speak to Lindsay, who is the hiring manager and was onsite to conduct interviews, but Lindsay refused. Hasan later asked one of the student organizers if she had a message for Lindsay.
“I think [Lindsay] should definitely take into account all of the things, all of the input that we’ve given,” said a student organizer, who did not provide her name. “I feel that she should really think about the students and how it’s going to affect us to have someone who knows nothing about our school culture to come and take over.”
In a poll conducted by the student journalists earlier this week, 89.03 percent of students at the school polled do not believe Jahoda should be appointed permanent principal; 9.83 percent were not sure; and less than 1 percent said she should be appointed as permanent principal. According to the article, 95 percent of the student body was polled and surveys were taken anonymously, except in cases where the student wished to provide a comment.
“I’m really indebted and glad that these students took it upon themselves to tackle such a responsibility,” said student union president Alex Chen, who organized the students’ first sit-in. “[They’re] showing that their voice matters and showing what their voices stand for. And it is for Townsend Harris.”
According to C-30 regulations, each member of the Level I committee submits rating sheets for each candidate to the hiring manager, Lindsay. The process then goes on to Level II, where Lindsay conducts her own set of interviews and selects the principal.