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By Mehrose Ahmad and Sumaita Hasan, Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief
In the midst of opposition against Interim Acting Principal Rosemarie Jahoda being appointed the permanent principal of Townsend Harris High School, social studies teacher and UFT Chapter Leader Franco Scardino has been one of the few teachers to openly share his stance on the issue. In particular, Mr. Scardino has accused Ms. Jahoda of behaving unprofessionally with him and demonstrating “hostility” towards him. The Classic has obtained audio recordings of Ms. Jahoda speaking about Mr. Scardino during a meeting with her Core Cabinet of Assistant Principals at the end of November. In the recordings, she deemed Mr. Scardino “completely useless” and said, “I have cut off access to him. I no longer will meet with him weekly.”
On December 21, Mr. Scardino attended a Level 2 formal grievance hearing against Ms. Jahoda “for acts of union animus.” The term refers to anti-union sentiment “that may affect various management actions and result in union organizers, members or representatives being harassed.” According to Mr. Scardino, Ms. Jahoda “participated via telephone” and Mr. Scardino expressed that he was “very pleased with the case the UFT made” and was awaiting the results.
One of the main sources of discord between the principal and Mr. Scardino has been the monthly Executive Board meetings, at which a group of teachers meet to discuss issues with the principal for their respective departments. Mr. Scardino said, “She has not respected [this] teacher committee.”
The teacher committee that he referred to walked out in protest because the assistant principals were brought along with Ms. Jahoda, despite requests for the meetings to be just between the teachers and the principal. In the audio recordings we obtained (which were taken prior to the walk out), Ms. Jahoda discussed the issue Mr. Scardino raised about these meetings and stated to the APs, “First of all, I can bring whoever the hell I want.”
She went on to state, “Times are changing. He really…he’s rendering himself useless to me. And that’s what I told the district rep. I said ‘he’s completely useless. I don’t trust him anymore.’ I won’t meet with him privately anymore. So the district rep wants to meet with me, and him, and my mentor. And that’s fine, but it’s not happening until after December 8.”
In regards to the incident with the Executive Board, English teacher Judy Biener, who is represented on the board by English teacher Robert Babstock, confirmed, “They [the Executive Board members] walked out because it’s against the rules [to bring APs] with the way the union is supposed to deal with the principal.” She stated that this has, to her knowledge, never happened before.
Another issue is that Mr. Scardino believes he is being personally targeted by the principal. In particular, he alleged that Ms. Jahoda has denied all requests for him to attend professional development (PD) opportunities up to this date, including ones “sponsored by the New York City Department of Education social studies department.”
In the recording, Ms. Jahoda discussed one particular PD that he asked to attend. The session was offered by “The Academy for Teachers” and presented through the Institute of Culinary Education. It was called, “How to Talk About Food with Mark Bittman.” Attendance for the session depended upon a nomination, which Mr. Scardino received from a colleague. In the audio recording, Ms. Jahoda said, “The other thing that has come up with Scardino is I said no to a PD that he was requesting that had to do with food. It had nothing to do with—in no way did it relate to what he teaches. Since then he has bombarding Rafal and me with PD requests.”
Regarding the PD, Mr. Scardino remarked, “[It] was hosted by the institute of culinary education to look at the history of food production and consumption and how it affects society.” He believed, “[The class was] particularly relevant because in the spring term, we do the cultural diffusion food collateral that Mr. Hackney developed several years ago.”
Regarding his inability to attend the session, Mr. Scardino said, “When I was informed that Ms. Jahoda was not approving it, it was surprising because it speaks volumes to her not really fully understanding what’s going on in our school. Anyone who knew about this would have seen the connection to the ninth grade curriculum.”
In the overall conversation about PDs in the recording, one AP suggested that Mr. Scardino may want to attend a PD pertaining to an AP research course that relates to the Social Science Research class. The assistant principal added that it might become an issue if he is not approved to attend by Ms. Jahoda. Regarding this, Ms. Jahoda suggested that she would not approve of Mr. Scardino taking the course and questioned if Mr. Scardino asked for that specific PD yet, adding, “he may not be that clever.”
Commenting on the words the principal used to describe him in this meeting, Mr. Scardino remarked, “Hostility towards me as the chapter leader is reflective of her philosophical position, which is anti-union. Again, this corroborates the fact finder’s report [from the article on Bronx Science High School]. This is an aspiring school leader who lacks the collaborative and cooperative skills to work with the chapter leaders, to respect us as teachers, to respect our input.”
He further described, “She will not meet with me on a weekly basis. Principal Jahoda has not met with me once since the end of October. The only two times that I have been in the office of Rosemarie Jahoda since that time is when she called to reprimand me twice, in front of APs.”
During the past few weeks, Mr. Scardino has also spoken publicly about Ms. Jahoda’s treatment of him in regard to other matters, such as the School Leadership Team (SLT).
Mr. Scardino said, “[Ms. Jahoda] took actions to prevent me from returning to the SLT in November.” He stated that “only the intervention of Ms. Danielle DiMango from Superintendent Lindsey’s office—clarifying that she clearly misunderstood how SLT constituencies deal with matters of their own members—halted her [Ms. Jahoda’s] opposition.”
Mr. Scardino discussed his reasoning for not being on the SLT earlier that November at the PTA meeting held on December 15, bringing up specific interactions that he believed disqualified Ms. Jahoda from being a proper fit for principal. One such instance of perceived “hostility” was also referenced in a Queens Chronicle article, which stated, “Scardino…said he has had several confrontations with Jahoda, including one occasion when she told him missing a school leadership team meeting to care for his sick mother was ‘your decision.’”
Mr. Scardino also mentioned this incident involving his mother at the grievance hearing on December 21. He stated, “It came up at the last SLT meeting. I said I wasn’t there because my mom has been in the ICU and in the hospital, and she said, ‘That was your choice.’ For me, the choice of caring for my mother is not a choice, that’s my responsibility as her son. Obviously, this revealed a side of her character that was alarming, disturbing and frightening.”
Referring to the situation, Ms. Biener added, “[Mr. Scardino’s] got an impeccable character. I trust him completely. [He] feels that he’s being treated unfairly, [and] I’ve never heard him say that [with] other principals. I know he had a formal grievance..it sounded very deserved.”
Mr. Scardino explained that Ms. Jahoda testified at the hearing that she never knew his mother was sick. He continued, “That’s a lie because I told her and she signed forms where I had to take personal business days. The reason is stated that my mom is in the hospital and that she needs surgery. Yet, yesterday she said on the record otherwise.”
Ms. Jahoda was unavailable for comment on this article.