Townsend students rally at City Hall to oust interim principal

Townsend students rally at City Hall to oust interim principal
Photo by Mark Hallum
By Mark Hallum

The ongoing battle over who should lead Townsend Harris High School escalated last Friday with another rally at City Hall and yet another elected official joining the call for the controversial interim principal’s ouster.

State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D–Fresh Meadows) joined Townsend faculty and students on the steps of City Hall to demand a new principal more aligned with the school’s values as well as transparency in the hiring process.

“Enough is enough,” Rozic said. “We’ve seen our school’s environment and tone change for the worse and it’s time to turn over a new leaf and to have new representation and a new principal at the helm.”

Interim Principal Rosemarie Jahoda, appointed in September, has been accused of refusing to protect Muslim students from harassment and jeopardizing seniors’ college prospects through mismanagement of transcripts.

Student Union President Alex Chen explained at the rally how Jahoda broke from standard procedures for processing college transcripts, resulting in a lengthy process raising fears that they might get delivered to universities too late.

Chen said that students have tried to work with Jahoda to help her, but she rejected the offers.

“With inexperience, she comes with incompetence,” Chen said. “Rather than trying to learn, not just with our school … she refuses to follow through a path that would make her a better leader. And we were very willing, from the beginning, to share what our thoughts were, and how we should proceed with her as our principal, but she rejected that narrative. So this is our response.”

Two members of the school’s Muslim Student Association, Tahiya Choudhury and Sangida Akter, both 17, complained about Jahoda’s response when they went to her after a student was heard yelling “F— Muslims” while they were hosting a bake sale shortly after the election of Donald Trump. They said Jahoda seemed reluctant to take action.

“She kept saying, ‘How can I help?’ But she wasn’t listening to us,” Akter said, explaining how Jahoda rejected all of their requests to address the harassment.

Akter and Choudhury said they did not expect the interim principal to be able to identify the student, but they were hoping for at least an announcement of some kind discouraging hate speech, which they said Jahoda refused to do.

But according to Akter and Choudhury, Jahoda is not shy about taking a political stance. When students planned a walk-out before the Nov. 8 election to protest Trump, Jahoda sent out an email discouraging students from taking part.

Max Kurant, sophomore class president, described Jahoda as disorganized and uncooperative with student organizations that approve clubs and plan events, as well as philosophically out of step with the school’s culture.

“Even though she can be a very nice person on the outside, it’s very hard to get things done,” Kurant said, “because it’s either her way or the highway. She’s very authoritarian about how things work. She’s very conservative, and that’s just not the Townsend Harris culture. I really don’t know why they want her as principal so much. This doesn’t go with our culture. Even if you consider what the DOE is looking for in a principal — for them to handle finances, to make sure the school environment is safe — she doesn’t do this.”

Last month, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz wrote to Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina asking for more information on the hiring process for a new principal at Townsend, which is a highly structured procedure known as “C-30.” The C-30 process can take up to 90 days to cull candidates down to five, before deciding on one applicant.

The Department of Education has confirmed that Jahoda is being considered for the permanent position.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.