After months of tumult, allegations and protests, a change in leadership is coming to Townsend Harris High School.
Sighs of relief and cheers erupted from the dozens of community members who piled into the school’s library on April 20 as School Leadership Team co-chair and Parent Teacher Association co-president Susan Karlic announced that the Department of Education (DOE) had officially named Brian Condon permanent principal of the school. He will officially assume the position on May 1.
“To new beginnings,” Karlic said.
Since her arrival at the school in September, interim acting principal Rosemarie Jahoda has faced opposition from all sides. Students staged a sit-in in December to bring attention to alleged faculty harassment and changes to programs and course offerings without community input. Later that month, teachers, students, alumni and lawmakers rallied outside of the school to call for Jahoda’s removal.
In February, the community took their fight to City Hall, frustrated with the lack of communication from the DOE’s mandated C-30 principal hiring process and calling attention to Jahoda’s alleged refusal to address discrimination faced by a group of students during school hours.
Condon, who most recently served as principal at the School for Tourism and Hospitality in the Bronx, was selected by Superintendent Elaine Lindsey for the job in Level II of the C-30 process. In Level I, select community members could interview, score and rank each candidate and hand that information over to the superintendent for her consideration.
“I think, as an entire school community, I can say that we’re completely relieved,” said Vanessa Lau, a senior student. “We’re ecstatic that we’re getting new leadership and the students who were able to research [Condon] and learn about him approve of him.”
Alex Chen, the student union president who took a leading role in the series of protests and rallies, also spoke of relief.
“[Condon] is a very capable leader, and I’m very ready to see him and help him integrate himself into the school community,” he said.
Franco Scardino, a teacher at the school for 17 years, said he hopes students take away a number of lessons from the months-long experience.
“That their voices matter,” the educator said. “The importance of organizing and civic engagement … They are the future voters; they are the future civic activists.”
“While the search for the next leader of Townsend Harris was certainly full of bumps and many frustrations, the end result is clear: We feel that in Mr. Condon, we have the right person to take our school to the next level of excellence,” said Townsend Harris Alumni Association co-presidents Craig Slutzkin and Selina Lee in a joint statement. “We applaud the Department of Education for its wisdom in making this selection.”
Assemblymember Nily Rozic, who is a Townsend Harris alumna and stood with the community at their rally at City Hall, also praised the city’s decision, but continued the call for a revised mandated hiring process.
“With the end of the C30 process and a new principal placement at Townsend Harris High School today, I would like to thank Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Education for heeding the call of our community and choosing a candidate that will move this school forward,” Rozic said. “Over the last couple of months, the community came together to have their voices heard and showed that through continued activism, positive change can happen. I look forward to working with the new principal in order to ensure that Townsend Harris is the best it can be for our students and to continuing to work with the administration to create a more transparent C30 process.”
“Replacing the interim acting principal at Townsend Harris High School is a welcome move and quite frankly, it’s about time,” Congresswoman Grace Meng said. “Clearly, Rosemarie Jahoda did not serve the school well. Her lack of leadership, ineffectiveness and complaints from parents and teachers caused unnecessary stress and havoc, and it distracted hard-working students from their important studies. It is my hope that the situation at Townsend Harris will soon improve, and I welcome and look forward to working with the school’s new principal Brian Condon. I am also thankful to all the parents and students who spoke out and raised concerns. The education and future of our students must always be the top priority of our schools.”