tOWNSEND HARRIS, AND ITS PRINCIPAL CONTROVERSY
BY BEATRIZ GOMEZ DE CASTRO, '17
On the day of December 22nd, the well known local high school located in Queens New York, Townsend Harris, dealt with their first wave of activism in attempt to remove the current school principal, Rosemarie Jahoda after problems surfaced within the school. Ms. Jahoda first took over position as a provisional head of the school soon after the previous principal, Anthony Barbetta, moved on to other educational endeavors. Soon after her arrival, the complaints of faculty and staff quickly began as Ms. Jahoda’s behavior in the workplace produced a tense atmosphere for the surrounding faculty. The allegations included intolerable behavior and condescending orders that generated fear in her employees, to the extent that even to ask her for advice in the workplace becomes inauspicious. Many staff members recall their interactions with Jahoda as one of the most unpleasant experiences they must encounter in their day to day workload; they are currently searching for ways to remove the ineffective and intimidating principal from her post.
It is important to understand the issues that the faculty is facing under the supervision of Jahoda. From their online petition to remove the principal, the school's interaction with Jahoda can be seen from the following quote as they explain why they do not think she is the right fit for permanent school principal. “This semester, there have been rumors of numerous instances of faculty harassment, significant changes to programs and course offerings without input from the faculty and SLT, and as time has passed, less parent engagement. She [Jahoda] has simply not been as approachable as previous principals. Meetings have become more like [didactic] speeches from her. Our children have not been insulated from this. Several have complained about her being aloof or even combative.” However, according to Assistant Principal, Mr. Olechowski, tensions were not initiated by staff members. “Prior to the allegations, the school welcomed Interim Acting Principal Jahoda with open arms. We even organized a welcome party where staff could meet and greet the new IA Principal. The cabinet members (APs) were super welcoming and helpful. We collaborated with IA Principal regarding everything from school events, DOE-related responsibilities, to meeting important people in the PTA, Alumni Association, and Queens College.”
Once tensions began, however, the school tried to remain neutral on the issue to avoid any further problems. Even Townsend's student run newspaper, The Classic, first viewed Ms. Jahoda with receptive views, going as far to defend her against the allegations. Brian Sweeney, The Classics advisor, says the decision to speak on the matter came later on once issues were still not resolved. “ I can say that the newspaper has always viewed Ms. Jahoda with an open mind. The Classic defended her against criticism in November (in an editorial), and students chose to avoid spending time talking about Ms. Jahoda's controversial past when she arrived. As the community has grown increasingly concerned about her job performance, the newspaper has had to step up to match the needs of its readers.”
With news of the unpleasant events being addressed above, many noted the fact that this was not Ms. Jahoda's first encounter with conflict in the workplace. Previously, exercising her authority over the Bronx High School of Science as Principal, Jahoda also dealt with the backlash of her negative behavior there as well, she left that post at Bronx High School of Science due to a number of issues which, because of to legal issues, cannot be discussed openly. Townsend Harris faculty and students believe Ms. Jahoda is the not proper Principal to lead their prestigious school, they hope their school will get the leadership it deserves.
What is it they deserve exactly? Well, according to Mr. Olechowski, compassion may be well at the top of the list. “Well...I think that being a charismatic listener and thinker always help. Understanding that it's all about students is essential.” He goes on to describe attributes he hopes the DOE will keep in mind when choosing a permanent principle for the school. “Being well educated also never hurt anyone. The ability to accept the fact that no matter how smart we might be, there will always be someone who is smarter or better in doing something specific. Having a thorough pragmatic DOE knowledge of how to accomplish things is super important as well. Respecting other people. A solid background in the humanities is important. Having a daring vision of how to bring education (humanities education) into the third decade of the 21st.”
Interestingly enough, another Queens High School, Forest Hills High School, is also searching for a full-time principal. The school hired Anthony Cromer to stand as temporary principle after Saul Gootnick retired late last year. However, contrary to that of Townsend, their burden is not so much the current principle, but the problems in finding a permanent one. With the Department of Education deciding who will lead the school, teachers feel out of place with the secretive manner in which the position is being handled. They feel they deserve to be informed on the individual they will soon be required to constantly interact with, especially to avoid Townsend's current controversy with their temporary Principle.
According to the Queens Chronicle, who recently interviewed two teachers from the school, the staff is less than content, comparing the DOE’s behavior to that of a gang. “ The mob should take lessons from the DOE, that's how shady they are.” In the end, it can be noted that in order for a school to excel, it would be best if everyone included be in accord with one another, at least to work collaboratively in a school environment. For this to take place, Forest Hills High School staff must be familiar with the candidates for their next head teacher. Do Queens students not deserve at least that?