Deputy Superintendent Leticia Pineiro Returns for School Observation

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Deputy Superintendent Leticia Pineiro will be returning tomorrow to evaluate Principal Condon’s progress at Townsend Harris High School. This is her first time returning to observe the school since last year. Some have expressed concerns due to the circumstances surrounding her most recent visit last December 8.

When Ms. Pineiro came to Townsend Harris on December 8, the student body organized a sit-in protest to prevent Interim Acting Principal Rosemarie Jahoda from receiving the position of permanent Townsend Harris principal. A livestream video posted on Facebook by The Classic showed Ms. Pineiro discussing the situation with students in a tone which many thought was inappropriate. Looking back on the events last year, former managing editor for The Classic, Mehrose Ahmad, recalls, “the entire experience was tense; members of the community expressed outrage because they felt as if Ms. Pineiro was extremely intimidating and condescending towards students who [were] protesting for the future of their school.” Junior Yehuda Masturov explains, “she was very hostile towards [the student protestors] and it made a clear line between herself and the students, and as a professional she acted in a manner that was uncalled for.”

A year later, some students feel uncomfortable that Ms. Pineiro has the ability to walk into any classroom of her choosing. Sophomore Awestaa Zia explained, “I don’t think someone who speaks to students in such a matter should be able to walk into classrooms freely when some of the students sitting in those classes are students she spoke to in a condescending way.”

Former Freshman-Sophomore Class President Max Kurant, who was present at the sit-in, commented, “it is outrageous that she is going to be interacting with our students again this Wednesday, despite the fact that three fourths of the school vividly remembers what she did last year, with many of them present to witness it.”

Former Student Union President Alex Chen, who played a major role at the sit-in and the events following it, stated: “After our interactions, I realized that there was little friendship. Her voice was condescending and her questions attacked more than inquired. However, I think my classmates and fellow students handled the situation masterfully. As long as we remain respectful, there is no need for tension and Ms. Pineiro should enjoy witnessing Townsend Harris as the distinguished institution it is.”

As of the time of publication, Ms. Pineiro did not return a request for comment.

Some members of the student body are hopeful that Ms. Pineiro will be able to observe Townsend Harris this year in an unbiased manner. Junior Deborah Kong commented, “I don’t feel uncomfortable knowing that she will be visiting because the context is different from last year. We now have a new principal without any of the controversy that our previous principal caused. Last year, she was biased against us, but this year, she can observe Townsend Harris for what it truly is.” Student Union President Kathy Ling stated, “frankly, I am a little bit worried for her visit on Wednesday because our school is still under a lot of attention for the situation last year. However, the storm has passed, and I trust that Principal Condon will warmly and respectfully receive her. I also believe that Principal Condon will never allow someone to talk to his students the way the superintendent did last year.”

Social studies teacher Franco Scardino, who openly voiced his discontent with Ms. Jahoda being appointed permanent principal last year, expressed his understanding of why the community may feel uncomfortable about Ms. Pineiro’s return.

He stated, “all of the concerns that people are having, and I think it has been a concern for many of my colleagues, are legitimate because of what we went through last year [due to] her actions and her decisions. I can see why people are concerned; they’ve seen what she’s done in the past. If your only experience with her was that experience [on] December 8, why would you think she has the potential to behave any differently? That’s how that person behaves. It’s not an unfounded paranoia. You can replay the video tape and roll it all over again but I don’t encourage that because it’s traumatic.” Mr. Scardino then went on to state, “I’m sure that she is capable of fulfilling her professional responsibilities, but there’s always going to be an element of doubt about her objectivity. I would want the evaluation of the new principal by someone else whom no one would question if they’re biased in any way. We’re human and can try to be objective as possible, but sometimes subconsciously we do things we may not [intend].”

Other teachers, not all of whom were as deeply involved in the principal conflicts and sit-ins, still feel uneasy about Ms. Pineiro’s visit. When asked if she thinks it is appropriate for the same Deputy Superintendent to return, English teacher Judy Biener stated, “I do not. I think she definitely has a bias against us because she was broadcasted being incredibly rude to people on Facebook. I don’t think that’s fair at all. She’s not an objective observer. She definitely has an axe to grind. I consider that a hostile move on the DOE’s part.”

However, other faculty members feel it is necessary that Ms. Pineiro visits because observing schools is a component of her job. English teacher Robert Babstock explained, “she’s an educational functionary and that’s her job, so I respect that.” Assistant Principal Veronica York commented, “evaluations are scary but they’re good for us. We need someone from the outside to evaluate our school and give us a fresh perspective.”

Principal Brian Condon wants the community to know “that this is not a review of the school. This is a review of the principal, so I wouldn’t worry if I were any of you. Nobody’s going to come in acting inappropriately or in a way that would disrupt learning that’s going on that day.” Instead, he sees this as an opportunity for him to grow.

He said, “Because she’s seen teaching and learning in all different places at all different levels, she has sort of a breath of knowledge that maybe I don’t have, and possibly a depth of knowledge that I don’t have because my experiences are limited. What I’m hoping is that she can give me some feedback and some ideas to propel the school forward so that we’re giving you all the best experience and supporting our teachers in a way that’s really meaningful, and also supporting our families outside the school in a way that’s aligned with what you all expected when you came in here to Townsend Harris High School.”

Even though student concerns seem legitimate to him, Alex Chen says he continuously reflects on last year and the need for progress: “as Ms. Pineiro put it during our sit-in on December 8, ‘Let’s move past this. We’re here to problem-solve.’” Similarly, Mr. Scardino feels that Ms. Pineiro is capable of proving that she can act in an unbiased and professional manner on the November 15. “I hope she uses this as an opportunity to start a clean chapter [in] her relationship with all the stakeholders at Townsend Harris: principals, administrators, teachers, and students.”