Seeking answers about the future of the school, parents and city and elected officials discussed charges of “fake news,” the ongoing process to select a new permanent principal, and the frustration the school community has felt over the last several months.
The fake news comments came from a Department of Education (DOE) official representing the district superintendent at a recent leadership meeting.
According to a March 3rd letter sent by assembly members Nily Rozic and David Weprin to Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, DOE representative Fran DeSanctis referenced the circulation of “fake news” about the coverage of the community’s fight to remove interim acting principal Rosemarie Jahoda at a recent leadership meeting.
At the meeting, DeSanctis also “expressed little concern for the issues raised” about Jahoda, the letter read.
“These comments neglect the outpour of concern expressed by students, parents and faculty,” Rozic and Weprin wrote. “We are disappointed by the lack of community input during the selection process and the lack of engagement by your office.”
Two days later, student journalists from the school newspaper, The Classic, responded with their own letter. The students concluded that the “fake news” comment was about their own reporting, which they took issue with.
“If we were fabricating our material, we would be able to leave school far earlier than we do,” wrote Sumaita Hasan and Mehrose Ahmad, the paper’s editors. “However, our editors and staff remain in school for countless hours in order to confirm every detail of what we write, the kind of work the word ‘dedication’ falls short to describe.
“To label our reporting as ‘fake’ is to disparage all our hard work,” they added. “If you believe that we are trying to misinform the public with our ‘fake news,’ then we find it surprising that our news has led to change within the community.”
PTA co-president Susan Karlic said she was furious with DeSanctis’s comments.
“It was so disheartening because I know those students work extremely hard. I get emails from them late at night asking questions,” she said. “That’s coming from an adult and someone from the DOE, which shouldn’t happen.”
Other parents took issue with the remarks, and demanded an apology from DOE. DeSanctis and Superintendent Elaine Lindsey did not attend the meeting.
Lawrence Pendergast, who leads the DOE’s Queens North Field Support Center, said those comments do “not represent my views and do not represent the views of the Department of Education.”
Jahoda told parents she wasn’t present at that district leadership meeting, so she didn’t want to characterize DeSanctis’s statement. She also didn’t believe those comments were directed at The Classic.
“I don’t agree with the comment that our newspaper is fake news, that was never something that I said,” Jahoda said. “I have discussed inaccuracies, but that was not pertaining to our school newspaper.”
Parents also expressed frustration about the C-30 process to select the school’s next permanent principal, which is led by Superintendent Lindsey. Thirty-eight applicants have submitted resumes, and from that pool up to five candidates will emerge.
According to the DOE, the top candidates are then interviewed by the Level I Committee, which is made up of parents, teachers and school staff union representatives and student leaders.
In this case, the alumni association will also participate in the Level I Committee. The DOE also assigned a “neutral observer” to the committee.
After the committee interviews the candidates, they submit recommendations to the superintendent, who reviews and considers the suggestions before making a choice, a DOE spokesman said.
Parents and teachers slammed the C-30 process for lacking transparency. English teacher Joe Kanzoneri said the community has “little to no faith” in the Department of Education.
“Please tell us why we can trust that you’ll pick the best five,” Kanzoneri said. “And that you’ll even listen to us tell you which one we want when you’re not obligated to do that as well.”
Borough President Melinda Katz also criticized the principal-hiring process at the meeting. She said she’s been fighting the DOE over it for two decades.
“It has always been an issue, it just sort of culminated at Townsend Harris,” Katz said. “I have for 24 years maintained that the C-30 process at every level should be transparent and we should lift that veil of secrecy.”
Specifically, Katz said she takes issue with the process not responding to community input. Though the Level I Committee makes recommendations, the superintendent has the final say.
Katz said she wants the committee to be allowed to see every resume and application for the job.
“When it comes to the permanent principal of this school, to keep the information private to the parents who on a daily basis are out there fighting this fight, I think is simply unacceptable,” she said.
The borough president also railed against the DOE for not engaging the community enough during the leadership turmoil.
“I asked the Department of Education in December to come in and just figure it out,” Katz said. “It’s as if they don’t want to deal with it at the moment.
“I don’t understand why there’s not even an attempt to seem like they’re coming in and trying to organize and make sure everything runs smoothly until the C-30 process is finished,” she added. “There has to be some leadership shown by the DOE.”
Pendergast confirmed that the Level I Committee interview is taking place on March 15. He reassured the parents that “the next stage is on the way,” and that the process will take recommendations by the Level I Committee “very seriously.”
“We do care,” he said. “We are here listening, we’re here taking notes.”
He was barraged with questions about the hiring process, including if Jahoda has an interview for the position. He declined to confirm if she did.
“At the end of the day, this is a personnel hiring process,” Pendergast said. “Necessarily, parts of that process are confidential. I don’t know who has been invited for interviews and who hasn’t.”
Karlic said while she appreciated Pendergast and other DOE representatives attending the meeting, they did not answer many of the questions parents posed.
“For months, there was no response from the DOE. Him coming here is supposedly the response,” she said. “They’re not really answering our questions.”
A DOE spokesman said the confidentiality would ensure the integrity of the C-30 process, which is intended to create a clear and fair selection process based on an applicant’s merit and fitness for the position.
“Feedback from students and school communities is essential for strong schools,” the spokesman said. “We value hearing from students, elected officials and school communities, and continue to listen to their feedback.”