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By Mehrose Ahmad and Sumaita Hasan, Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief
Over the past few months, Interim Acting Principal Rosemarie Jahoda has drawn criticism from faculty members who claim that she has denied their requests to attend several Professional Development (PD) training sessions. The Classic has investigated recent requests for PDs and discovered that while many teachers have been denied, last fall, Ms. Jahoda recruited a number of teachers to attend a conference sponsored by a group that she is deeply involved with, going so far as to register a teacher who did not request to go. Ultimately, the Townsend Harris Alumni Association (THAA) paid for this teacher, unaware that he had told Ms. Jahoda he would not be able to attend.
The PD session was part of the National Consortium of Specialized STEM Schools (NCSSS), of which Ms. Jahoda is the “immediate past president” and serves on the Board of Directors, according to their website.
Several members of the faculty were asked to attend the PD at the request of Ms. Jahoda. Of those asked, science teachers David Stern, Jessica Ramdhany, and Sarah Oberlander went, as did guidance counselors Colette Magnan and Justine Meyer. The THAA, which has paid for numerous faculty trainings over the years, paid for the registration, expenses, and hotel rooms for the NCSSS conference in November. The THAA also paid for Ms. Jahoda to attend the conference, though The Classic can confirm that Ms. Jahoda was not present with the school staff until the night after the event began. Prices for registration can be found here.
Ms. Jahoda also requested payments for science teacher Joel Heitman to attend without him agreeing to attend. Ultimately, he did not go and was not replaced.
When asked to attend, Mr. Heitman told Ms. Jahoda that he would have to check his schedule, as he had to take care of his children. However, he was informed Ms. Jahoda had already paid for him without him agreeing to attend the conference.
Mr. Heitman said that he later clarified the issue with Ms. Jahoda: “I was very clear that I had to check my schedule. [I] reached out to Ms. Jahoda [after being informed that a ticket was bought for me]. I [thought], ‘How is that possible?’ because I never confirmed.” He said that there was no communication and that Ms. Jahoda “did what she wanted to do.”
Co-president of the THAA Craig Slutzkin was surprised to learn that Mr. Heitman did not attend the event. Though reimbursements for payment have not yet been fully processed, he has been provided receipts for seven people’s registrations. He said, “Ms. Jahoda requested that seven registrations be sponsored…The registrations were for Ms. Jahoda, Mr. Heitman, Ms. Meyer, Ms. Magnan, Mr. Stern, Ms. Ramdhany, and Ms. Oberlander. She did not inform us that Mr. Heitman did not attend.”
On this issue, Mr. Slutzkin said, “We will conduct an inquiry to see why we were asked to pay for seven if only six went.”
Mr. Slutzkin was also unaware of Ms. Jahoda’s affiliation with the conference when she discussed the event with him and believes the affiliation raises questions about why Ms. Jahoda would request to have expenses paid for an event she was professionally connected to. He said it is “unclear if she was required to pay for a registration as outgoing president, although from the paperwork, it is clear that a registration was processed for her.”
UFT Chapter leader Franco Scardino has been denied multiple requests to attend PD training sessions. On this matter, he said, “If Ms. Jahoda asked for THAA support for teachers to attend a conference she [was professionally connected with], it seems to me to be an abuse of her power and a breach of trust.”
Regarding what occurred with Mr. Heitman, Mr. Scardino said, “If all the teachers did not attend, and the THAA paid for them anyway, it borders on fraud. But stealing from your own family is more than fraud. It is immoral and in violation of the values we stand for at Townsend Harris.”
Mr. Scardino was also critical of Ms. Jahoda’s choice to have members of the school attend an event that she has a professional connection to while denying other faculty members chances to train on matters they found essential. Nonetheless, not all PDs have been denied, and the NCSSS conference is not the only PD that was approved with help from the Alumni Association this year.
A number of mathematics teachers, however, at THHS recently requested to attend the Long Island Mathematics Conference (LIMACON), as teachers attended it in previous years. Ms. Jahoda denied this request, as there will be a PD going on in school the same day, March 17. Those hoping to attend believe the PD to have been valuable in the past and are unsure that what is planned for March 17 will be more useful to them. In particular, LIMACON has workshops on Common Core Algebra II topics that are pertinent to the school’s 2017 CEP goals, which call for improvement in Algebra II.
Most recently, Mr. Scardino was told he could not register for a required PD session related to AP Capstone, a new program that will be implemented in the Social Science Research (SSR) classes. The required sessions are being held in multiple states over the summer (outside of New York), and Mr. Scardino has requested approval from Ms. Jahoda to register for the session and buy travel fair before prices go up.
Regarding the matter, Mr. Scardino said that Ms. Jahoda said she would only approve him for the training after all students have signed up for their electives. “The reason why Ms. Jahoda is resistant is because it involves my attending…[the situation has] left me very concerned about whether the program will run or more alarmingly, whether she intends to drop me from the program,” he said.
In January, The Classic released audio recordings of Ms. Jahoda discussing her reluctance to approve Mr. Scardino’s requests for PD. When an administrator warned her that if she denied Mr. Scardino AP training for Capstone it would become an issue, she asked if he’d requested the PD yet and speculated that he might not be “clever” enough to ask for it.
Special Education teacher Georgia Brandeis has also been denied the opportunity to go to a PD session related to Special Education, which she believed to be essential to the school. She recently drafted a statement to Ms. Jahoda in which she mentioned the issue. Regarding the session itself, Ms. Brandeis said, “The actual PD is mandatory [and] someone has to go to it because it’s on a topic that a lot of schools aren’t familiar with and…we need the most updated information.” Ms. Brandeis explained that she wished to attend this professional development session along with Assistant Principal Veronica York.
However, Ms. Brandeis did not receive permission to attend the PD and instead, Ms. York went to the session by herself. Ms. York will now pass on the information to Ms. Brandeis. Ms. Brandeis said she was informed that Ms. Jahoda said she should not go to the PD session because she was about to leave the school. In response, she said, “Though I have accepted another job, I’m still here, and I’m going to be here until June. I’m going to need to know things this year even if I don’t do them next year for the school because I’ll have to pass on that information when I leave. So it does feel very strange not being able to go to that and I did feel like I missed out on something that I genuinely needed to know about and that the school needs me to know about.”
Both Ms. Brandeis and Mr. Scardino have had negative interactions with Ms. Jahoda during this school year.
Ms. Jahoda has not responded to an email with questions regarding this matter. In recent days, Ms. Jahoda has told mainstream media: “While I am frustrated by these inaccurate allegations, I remain 100% focused on helping students and parents at THHS, and on moving the community forward.”