Townsend Harris PTA: Interim principal must go

Townsend Harris PTA: Interim principal must go
Photo by Patrick Donachie
By Patrick Donachie

The interim principal of Townsend Harris High School has got to go, according to frustrated parents.

The school’s Parent-Teacher Association passed a resolution calling for the immediate removal of interim Principal Rosemarie Jahoda during a meeting held at the school Dec. 15, and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) also called on the city Department of Education to restart the process of finding a permanent principal, pursuant to the parents’ wishes.

“In more than 20 years in elected office I have not been inundated with so much material around the process of picking a principal,” Katz wrote in a letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. She asked the DOE to respond to concerns about Jahoda. “I am requesting the Department of Education to send a high-ranking official to address the teachers, parents and students and answer any questions regarding the current choice of principal.”

The resolution follows a sit-in protest by some students Dec. 8, which was filmed and posted online by The Classic, the school’s newspaper. Parents and students alike said they were dismayed by the video and disheartened by the conversations between students and District 25 Deputy Superintendent Leticia Pineiro, who was visiting the school that day. Parents and students said she was dismissive and rude.

“We very much feel we have a role to stand up for what we think is right,” a student who spoke at the meeting said. “We are protecting our school and our values.”

Jahoda attended the first half of the meeting to offer brief remarks and answer questions from concerned parents. Jahoda said there had not been any significant policy changes, and she did not know students and teachers were uncomfortable approaching her.

She also said a previous accusation of intimidation and harassment she received when an assistant principal at Bronx High School of Science was unfounded. In 2010, a fact-finding arbiter noted that 20 out of 22 math teachers under Jahoda’s supervision at Bronx Science accused her of creating an intimidating atmosphere, though the DOE chose not to take any action against Jahoda.

“It sounds convincing, 20 out of 22,” Jahoda said during the PTA meeting. “But unions unionize, and the fact that two teachers had the courage not to sign speaks volumes.”

Jahoda was installed as interim principal of Townsend Harris in August, after Principal Anthony Barbetta left. The PTA also passed a resolution urging the DOE not to consider Jahoda for the permanent position. A spokesman for the DOE said in a statement that the search was ongoing through the “C-30” process.

“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,” he said. “We listen closely to the feedback and concerns of all school communities and engage them as part of the C-30 process.”

PTA members were concerned that District 25 Superintendent Elaine Lindsey will press to install Jahoda permanently, based on the belief by some parents that Lindsey helped Jahoda land the interim position after her controversial tenure in the Bronx.

The resolution called for independent oversight of the C-30 process and said Townsend Harris should “no longer be a part of the school district” led by Lindsey and Pineiro.

Several teachers spoke during the meeting, including Franco Scardino, a social studies teacher and chapter leader for the United Federation of Teachers. He said Jahoda’s style was intimidating and that she had attended less than a dozen classes since the beginning of the school year.

“Rosemarie Jahoda has not taken the time to get to know the school,” Scardino said. “She does not take ownership for mistakes and actions that occurred.”

Townsend Harris High School is renowned for its high academic standards and college enrollment. Inside Schools reported that 100 percent of students graduated in four years and enrolled in college, with an average 640 SAT reading score and a 680 math score. The school is located on the Queens College campus.

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.