Growing movement works to advocate for Ellen Fee to replace Rosemarie Jahoda

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By Aly Tantawy, News Editor

Over the past two weeks students have engaged in two initiatives in support of Assistant Principal Ellen Fee becoming the principal of Townsend Harris High School. A change.org petition calls for Ms. Fee to be named interim acting principal in place of current Interim Acting Principal Rosemarie Jahoda while the C30 process occurs. In addition, several students have started a group called “Friends of Fee,” which also advocates for Ms. Fee’s application to be principal.

The petition, which currently has over 1,100 signatures, calls for Ms. Fee to be instated as “the acting principal while the hiring process happens,” charging that Ms. Jahoda has “turned what was once an amazing place that middle school kids dream to attend into a terrible environment for students and teachers and everyone.”

A week after the petition appeared, a group of students began putting up posters advertising  sixth band meetings of the “Friends of Fee.” The posters asks, “Who do you want to be your principal?”

Numerous current students, alumni, and former teachers have signed and commented on the petition. Former English teacher Helen Rizzuto wrote what is the top-rated comment on the petition. She wrote that Ms. Fee “has worked tirelessly and quietly to assure that each student, staff member, parent and alumnus and alumna is attended to, and that the standards of the school are upheld.” Concluding with a plea to allow Ms. Fee to serve the community as principal, Ms. Rizzuto said, “She fills the school with joy.”

Parent Teacher Association Co-President Susan Karlic and United Federation of Teachers Chapter Leader Franco Scardino, both vocal critics of Ms. Jahoda, also signed and commented on the petition.

Most comments are from students who approve of Ms. Fee’s tenure at THHS as an educator.

Others spoke of her personal character, with one commenter posting as a “friend,” citing stories of Ms.Fee taking a refugee from Afghanistan into her home, and later, offering to house a homeless person who she helped “get a job and go to college. All of this while already caring for foster and adopted children.”

The petition gained local news coverage from Queens News and Community, which published an article about it on Tuesday.

Sophomore Patricia Xu reacted positively to the petition, saying that “It’s a wonderful step being taken towards resolving the principal issue.” She felt that “this petition builds upon the previous one, which voiced the anti-Jahoda sentiment of the THHS community.” She also thought the petition was strong because it “[proposed] a rational candidate as principal of Townsend Harris.”

A week after the petition appeared, a group of students began putting up posters advertising  sixth band meetings of the “Friends of Fee.” The posters ask, “Who do you want to be your principal?”

Though none wished to speak on the record, a number of people feel that the group’s attempt to influence the C30 process is inappropriate and that students should allow candidates for the job to share their qualifications without outside influence.

During their sixth band meetings, students engage in phone-a-thons, calling local politicians to express their concern over the issue of the principal. Many members have started wearing and sharing buttons with the phrase “Fee for Principal.”

One of the co-founders of the group, an upperclassmen who wished to remain anonymous, said that they created the group “in support of Ms. Fee becoming principal” because “she has had a long history at THHS where she has touched the lives of countless students.” They also said that “her work with such a diverse body of students to this day, from her work with the Seekers Christian club to the Muslim Student Association, testifies to her sense of duty to every student that attends Townsend.” The co-founder hopes, “The politicians and others we call start to realize how much we care about the cause [and] see why we want someone like Ms. Fee so badly.”

At least one teacher was seen taking down the “Friends of Fee” signs. School rules require signs to have signatures of a faculty advisor to be posted, but these have no such signatures. The group often replaces the signs after they have been taken down, keeping one regularly posted outside the principal’s office.

On facebook.com/FriendsofFee, the group invites others to join in their phone-a-thons.

Ms. Jahoda was unavailable for comment.

Laura Marsico