BY JAMES FARRELL
At Townsend Harris High School’s PTA meeting last week, school community members repeated their calls for more transparency in the Department of Education’s principal-selection process.
The community also garnered support from an ally—Borough President Melinda Katz.
The March 9 meeting was the latest battle in the school’s ongoing effort to remove its interim-acting principal, Rosemarie Jahoda, from consideration for a permanent position. Jahoda was in attendance, along with DOE officials, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) and a crowded cafeteria of parents, teachers and students. Katz spoke as a special guest and echoed calls for transparency as others in attendance grilled Jahoda and DOE representative Lawrence Pendergast with questions.
Katz previously called for reforms to the DOE’s C-30 principal-selection process in December after hearing reports of Townsend Harris’ protests.
“I have, for 24 years, maintained that the C-30 process at every level should be transparent, and we should lift that veil of secrecy on that process,” she said.
In the current C-30 process, a hiring manager, typically the superintendent, picks candidates from a pool of applicants. A committee of parents, teachers and students—known as a level-one committee—interviews those selected candidates without being able to see the larger applicant pool. It issues recommendations on the selected candidates and the superintendent takes those recommendations into account when making a final decision.
“The level-one committee should be able to look at all the résumés in the application,” Katz said. “The recommendations that the committee gives to the superintendent should also be public, and all of that transparent to have real, effective community input.”
She added that she has called on DOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña to make this change, but conceded that it might have to be brought before the state legislature. Rozic, a Townsend Harris alumna, is currently working on legislation to address the issue of transparency in selecting principals.
After Katz spoke, Pendergast confirmed that the level-one committee interviews were scheduled for March 15.
He also fielded fiery questions from members of the school community, including queries regarding candidates for level-one interviews and concerns that the DOE was not taking community input seriously. Pendergast could not answer some of those questions fully, given the confidentiality of the C-30 process, but he suggested that those concerns be brought to members of the level-one committee during the C-30 process.
Joe Canzeroni, an English teacher at the school, argued that the DOE had a bad track record of dealing with the community. He referenced an incident during which Deputy Superintendent Leticia Pineiro had a filmed exchange—deemed by some as disrespectful—with student union president Alex Chen in the midst of a student protest. Canzeroni also referenced a reported incident during which a representative from the superintendent’s office, Frances DeSanctis, referred to controversy regarding Jahoda as “fake news.”
Some saw it as a slight against The Classic, the school’s newspaper, which has broken several stories about the principal.
“Can you understand why this community has little to no faith in the Department of Ed?” asked Canzeroni. “These kids need to be apologized to.”
Jahoda, in her address to the PTA at the beginning of the meeting, responded to the “fake news” allegations.
“I wasn’t present at the meeting and I’m not going to comment on another person’s statement,” she said. “I don’t agree with the comment that our newspaper is ‘fake news.’ That was never something that I said. I have discussed inaccuracies, but that is not pertaining to our school newspaper. I’m not assuming that it’s about our students.”
Meanwhile, students working for The Classic were in attendance. Editor-in-chief Sumaita Hasan asked Pendergast to clarify an element of the C-30 regulations that states that interim-acting principals are automatically considered for permanent positions, except in “exigent circumstances.” She asked if an ongoing investigation into whether Jahoda denied a visually impaired student required resources at a previous school—as reported by The Classic—would qualify as an “exigent circumstance.”
“I may have to get back to you tomorrow morning,” Pendergast said.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.