Townsend parents want interim principal removed

Townsend parents want interim principal removed
Photo by Patrick Donachie
By Patrick Donachie

Townsend Harris High School Interim Principal Rosemarie Jahoda is facing increased pressure from school faculty, parents and students, with many calling for the Department of Education to remove her from the post.

Students gathered outside the school Dec. 22 for a rally to demand her ouster with members of the Parent Teachers Association, elected officials and faculty present in support. They also called for a more transparent process when hiring a permanent principal.

“Chancellor Fariña, we need action and we need action now!” PTA Co-President Susan Karlic said during the rally.

Karlic was joined by state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), who said many of his constituents had children enrolled at Townsend Harris. The school’s PTA, alumni association, Weprin, Councilman Rory Lancman, Councilwoman Toby Stavisky and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz have all supported the calls for a transparent ‘C-30’ process to choose a permanent principal.

Last week, the Queens High School Presidents’ Council also called for the DOE to find a different permanent principal in a letter to District Superintendent Elaine Lindsey. The council represents all high school PTAs in the borough.

“We do not believe that Ms. Jahoda can regain the trust, support and confidence of her school community. Confirming her appointment would simply leave the school in turmoil,” the letter stated. “We are confident that the DOE can find other candidates that can successfully lead Townsend Harris High School.”

Jahoda took the role of interim principal at Townsend Harris in September. Students and teachers have accused her of being inattentive to their concerns, with student Alex Chin saying her tenure was marked by “aggression and intimidation.”

At the rally, Karlic ran through a litany of alleged issues, including canceling and delays in school trips and not supporting students in the Muslim Students Association who faced discriminatory insults in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election.

“Instead of supporting these students and sending a message that bullying is not tolerated at this school, one student left her office in tears,” she said.

Additionally, students and parents were frustrated by the actions of Jahoda and District Deputy Superintendent Leticia Pineiro in a video taken by The Classic, Townsend Harris’ student newspaper, during a sit-in by the students held Dec. 8. Students and parents said Pineiro was dismissive towards students’ concerns, and thought it was inappropriate that Jahoda accompanied her.

“These are high school kids, from 14 to 17 years of age, not college students, not adults, and she just left them feeling bullied by the official,” Karlic said. “Her reasoning? It was not her place to interfere.”

Calls to Principal Jahoda’s office for comment were not answered.

The PTA passed a resolution Dec. 15 calling for the immediate removal of Principal Jahoda and requested an “independent person from within the Department of Education” be appointed to manage the C-30 principal selection process. Members of the PTA said they did not trust Pineiro or Lindsey to be involved in the decision.

Jahoda was previously an assistant principal at the Bronx High School of Science, where she was accused by 20 of the 22 mathematics teachers under her direction of creating an “intimidating” atmosphere. An independent fact finding arbiter determined she should be removed, though the DOE decided against acting on this assessment.

A parent of a junior at the school said he was shocked when Jahoda was appointed at Townsend Harris, saying that many parents decided against sending their children to Bronx High School of Science because of the news coverage of Jahoda’s tenure at the school.

“It’s like taking a driver with a suspended license and giving them a Ferrari,” the parent said.

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