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Controversial Townsend Harris principal outed by DOE

Townsend Harris High School students received news of a new principal taking the lead starting May 1.
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After months of turmoil at one of the top high schools in the city, Townsend Harris has found a permanent replacement for the interim principal whose ouster had been sought by students, parents and elected officials

Townsend Harris High School will be leaving what many are calling a negative chapter behind after it was announced Interim Principal Rosemarie Jahoda would be leaving May 1, and a new head would be taking a permanent role in the elite school’s leadership.

The announcement that the C-30 process was complete and Brian Condon, 43, from the School for Tourism and Hospitality in the Bronx, would take over was made at the April 20 School Leadership Team meeting, according to the school’s newspaper, The Classic.

Condon was formerly an English teacher at Van Buren High School in Fresh Meadows, beginning in 2002, before becoming a principal for Tourism and Hospitality in the Bronx in2013.

“I am excited to join the Townsend Harris community and meet with students, staff and families,” Condon said in a Friday release. “While it is bittersweet to be leaving Tourism and Hospitality, this is an exciting new chapter and I’m looking forward to the shared work ahead of us at Townsend Harris.”

Condon spoke with The Classic about his intentions in running the school on the basis of trust and respect. He emphasized listening to the needs of students and getting to know the students instead of the other way around. He proposed starting a podcast in order to not only increase communication and familiarity between him and the students, but the whole Townsend Harris community.

Condon praised the The Classic for the hard work the students put in to generate reliable updates on Townsend Harris in and around the school, a major break from a March statement from a District 26 official who accused the newspaper of publishing “fake news.”

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

“Brian Condon is an experienced, talented educator. I look forward to the work he’ll do at Townsend Harris and thank Rosemarie Jahoda for her leadership as interim acting principal,” said Superintendent Elaine Lindsey, who delivered the news to Townsend faculty, students and teachers in the school’s library on Thursday.

Student Union President Alex Chen explained at a February rally on the steps of City Hall how Jahoda broke from standard procedures for processing college transcripts, which resulted in prolonging the process and raising fears they might get delivered to universities too late.

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.

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 in February, “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 (Dept. of Education) is looking for in a principal — for them to handle finances, to make sure the school environment is safe — she doesn’t do this.”

The issue at Townsend Harris over the past several months has circulated through the offices of elected officials in Queens, including Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) and U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing).

“Replacing the interim acting principal at Townsend Harris High School is a welcome move and, quite frankly, it’s about time. Clearly, Rosemarie Jahoda did not serve the school well,” Meng said. “Her lack of leadership, ineffectiveness and complaints from parents and teachers caused unnecessary stress and havoc, and it distracted hard working students from their important studies.

“It is my hope that the situation at Townsend Harris will soon improve, and I welcome and look forward to working with the school’s new principal Brian Condon,” Meng said. “The education and future of our students must always be the top priority of our schools.”

The high school has a 100 percent graduation rate, according to the city Dept. of Education, and supports a student body of about 1,100 students.

Townsend Harris is one of the top schools in the nation, ranked No. 7 in the state by a recent U.S. News & World Report and No. 366 by Newsweek for student participation and performance in the College Board’s Advanced Placement program.

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

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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