By Patrick Donachie
Students at Townsend Harris High School engaged in a sit-in protest at the school Wednesday afternoon as a committee held its first meetings with potential applicants to fill the position of permanent principal.
Many in the school community have criticized Interim Principal Rosemarie Jahoda and are questioning if she will seek the position. Freshman/Sophomore President Maximilian Kurant derided the secrecy of the so-called C-30 process to select a principal.
“This makes us very angry, because we’ve made our voice very, very clear,” he said. “This is not the person we want to be our principal.”
Several dozen students. including Kurant, staged a sit-in criticizing Jahoda and the selection process near the school’s administrative offices, where the interviews were expected to be conducted, according to a video released by The Classic, the student newspaper.
The first meeting of the Level I Committee, which includes selected parents, students, school representatives and others, met with an unknown number of applicants. The search has become controversial due to sustained criticism of Jahoda. State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) said, to the best of his office’s knowledge, Jahoda was still being considered for the permanent job, and he called Townsend Harris one of the “gem” high schools in the city.
“I’ve never had a situation where an entire school community was so unanimous against a principal,” he said.
Weprin and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Flushing) sent a letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña March 3 describing an incident that took place during the Leadership Team Meeting for School District 26, in which Townsend Harris is included. At the meeting, a representative for District 26 High School Superintendent Elaine Lindsey said some of the community’s worries were being exacerbated by “fake news” about the process.
“To insinuate that the community’s shared concerns could be equated to ‘fake news’ further demonstrates the lack of transparency and understanding that has guided the C-30 process,” the letter from the Assembly members read.
The Classic has consistently reported on the controversy, and Editor-in-chief Sumaita Hasan and Managing Editor Mehrose Ahmad responded with a public letter, saying that if they had been making up their stories, they “would be able to leave school far earlier than we do.”
“In this political climate, where the media is persecuted by the new president’s administration, it has never been more important to uphold the principle of honesty in journalism,” the letter read. “Moreover, this is part of a troubling pattern where Superintendent Lindsey sends out representatives who speak of and to students in a manner many would find disparaging.”
Borough President Melinda Katz also sent a letter to Fariña March 7, requesting more transparency in the process, including a suggestion that the names of applicants be made public. Currently, the process is confidential.
“Entirely shrouded under a veil of silence and secrecy, the current process excludes any public oversight,” the letter said. “This has proven to erode precious trust from the respective school community’s stakeholders – especially parents – and it is unacceptable.”
The Level I Committee will deliver evaluations of the applicants to Superintendent Lindsey, who will conduct the Level II review and eventually make the appointment, according to the DOE. A neutral observer had also been assigned to oversee the Level I process to ensure it is conducted in accordance with regulations.
“We value hearing from students, elected officials and school communities, and continue to listen to their feedback,” a DOE spokesman said.
Kurant said Lindsey could still decide to select Jahoda, despite whatever recommendation the Level I Committee made; he said it was one of the reasons the student community believed the process was “rigged.”
“There’s something that’s really wrong about this, and that’s why we feel like we’re being silenced,” he said, “that we’re without a voice.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona