BY JAMES FARRELL
Hundreds of students, parents and faculty from Townsend Harris High School spilled out onto 149th Street, outside the school, to once again rally for the removal of interim acting principal Rosemarie Jahoda.
The school has been involved in a highly public battle for the past few weeks to remove Jahoda and ensure she is not considered for a permanent position. The situation entered the public eye after students staged a sit-in in the Townsend Harris hallways during the school day on Dec. 8. Jahoda’s opponents allege that she has acted in a hostile manner toward faculty members—often cursing —and is not transparent to the school community.
“The faculty is in unrest now,” said Townsend Harris PTA co-president Susan Karlic in a prepared statement. “Her door is closed to her staff; she doesn’t foster any community amongst the teachers; there has been no instructional support. After four months, she can’t even get all their names right. Instead of nurturing and encouraging, she relies on intimidation. More than half the faculty had said that they will leave if she is appointed as permanent principal.”
Karlic cited growing support in the school community, including an online petition that has garnered over 3,500 signatures; the student sit-in; and a unanimous decision at a Thursday, Dec. 15, PTA meeting to pass a resolution calling for the removal of Jahoda and a restart to the principal-selection process.
“We call upon [Department of Education] Chancellor Fariña to remove Miss Jahoda as interim principal, and do it now,” Karlic added. “Don’t wait. End this stress and chaos.”
In the weeks since the protests began, a number of elected officials have weighed in on the situation. Last week, for instance, Borough President Melinda Katz called for a restart to the Department of Education’s C-30 principal-selection process at Townsend Harris, calling for more transparency. This week, Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and council member Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) all attended or sent representatives to Thursday’s rally.
Weprin said that while Townsend Harris was not in his district, many of his constituents are attached to the school, and he worked with the school as a city council member.
“I must say that I am just as concerned about the issues being brought to light,” said Weprin. “I’m here today to support the Townsend Harris community by requesting a new and transparent C-30 process as the Department of Education selects Townsend Harris’ next permanent principal.”
Franco Scardino, a United Federation of Teachers representative at the school and a longtime social studies teacher, said that a representative had made “a very strong case” at a grievance hearing the day before.
“In the 16 years that I have been a teacher and an active union leader and SLT member, I have never witnessed such a hostile and toxic environment at the high school,” he said. ““I am very confident and hopeful that the hearing will rule favorably. But we made a very clear message that if the ruling was not in our favor, that that was not going to stop us from continuing this fight to eradicate what we believe is not the best qualified person in the position.”
A representative from the Townsend Harris Alumni Association also spoke at the rally, as did Student Union President Alex Chen, 17, a student who gained attention after a video of the sit-in showed him having a tense confrontation with Deputy Superintendent Leticia Pineiro. He received a loud ovation from the crowd.
“I and my many comrades here today are not here to attack, not to belittle, not to deface, but rather to defend and protect the values and traditions of this fine institution that we regard as a second home,” said Chen.
In a statement, the Department of Education said, “We are listening to the feedback of the community and will move towards hiring a permanent principal at Townsend Harris in accordance with the chancellor’s regulations.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.