Townsend Harris students push for new principal

Townsend Harris students push for new principal
Photo by Michael Shain
By Patrick Donachie

Members of the Townsend Harris High School community continued to criticize the interim principal installed at the school, with an online petition calling for her immediate removal. The news comes as the Queens borough president sent a letter to the head of the Department of Education bemoaning what she said was a lack of information on the process of selecting a permanent principal.

Rosemarie Jahoda was installed as interim principal in September, and parents, teachers and students soon became critical of her approach, accusing her of turning Townsend Harris into a “terrible environment” for those who attended, according to a Change.org petition calling for her immediate ouster.

Members of the school’s Parent Teacher Association and students said she was being uncaring toward members of the Muslim Student Association, who were harassed after the presidential election, and irritated by suggestions that she should greet students in the hallway. Parents also accused her of hewing too closely to DOE policy when it negatively impacted students.

The DOE announced it was commencing a “C-30” process to find a permanent principal, with interviews set to begin in early March, according to a DOE spokesman. Jahoda is still the interim principal, but the Change.org petition suggested Jahoda be immediately replaced with Assistant Principal Ellen Fee. The petition currently has over 1,000 signatures.

“We need someone who knows and cares for Townsend Harris, and we need this person now. How much more damage can Jahoda do while we wait for a new principal?” the petition read. “We don’t want her even in the building with us. Ms. Fee should take over now while the DOER finds a new principal, and they should consider Ms. Fee’s qualifications for the permanent job while she is acting principal.”

Townsend Harris Student Union President Alex Chen sent a letter to The Classic, the school’s student newspaper, addressed to the entire school community about a rally on the steps of City Hall scheduled for Friday. In the letter, the senior detailed a number of grievances he and other members of the student community had about Principal Jahoda.

“Seniors, all of whom can now vote this November, make your voices heard as Bill de Blasio prepares to run for re-election. As mayor of NYC, he has authority over the Department of Education, which has not been hearing our voices even though they keep saying they are,” Chen wrote. “Let’s go straight to the mayor.”

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz wrote to Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina Feb. 21, requesting more information on the C-30 process. She said the deadline for permanent principal applications had passed Feb. 15, and her staff had reached out to Elaine Lindsay, the superintendent of the district containing Townsend Harris, without response. She said she was troubled by the silence and the continuing controversy unfolding at the school.

“Accusations and troubling accounts are occurring on a daily basis and the students of our system deserve to know that the DOE is providing the tools, atmosphere and attention needed to fulfill our responsibilities to them,” Katz wrote.

A DOE spokesman said the department was listening to feedback from the school community. He also said Jahoda currently remained interim acting principal, and that the entire process could take up to 90 days from when it started Feb. 1.

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