Rhoda Weinstein, one of the original teachers of the reopened THHS, passes at 89

Rhoda Weinstein, one of the original teachers of the reopened THHS, passes at 89
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Rhoda Weinstein is among the original staff members who taught at Townsend Harris High School when it reopened in 1984. On August 30, Ms. Weinstein, who was known for her passionate school spirit and dedication, passed away at age 89. 

Ms. Weinstein taught at THHS for nine years, offering her contributions as a Global History teacher, debate coach, senior advisor, and coordinator of the College Preparatory Programs. 

Her love of the school and her dedication to teaching was evident not only in her day-to-day work but also years later. In a video interview on the Townsend Harris Alumni Association website, Ms. Weinstein discussed her time at THHS and shared her favorite part of teaching there. “One could teach without worrying about ‘prep,’” she recalled. “If I said to the students, ‘you have to read 50 pages by tomorrow,’ they did.” 

In the video, Ms. Weinstein fondly recalled her memories of the school spirit that brought members of the community together. From Founder’s Day to school plays, turnout was consistently high at all of the school events, she said. “Everyone in the building came to almost every function [school event] that we had,” she said. “It was possible for every student to know every other student in this entire whole first class.” This was a defining feature of the school community that THHS wanted to keep, and thus the title Harrisites was coined. This kind of school spirit and close interaction is what fueled Ms. Weinstein’s passion for teaching at THHS.

One former student, Dan Lew ‘88, remembers Ms. Weinstein’s creativity in a lesson on Order and Chaos. She asked him to help her pile all the desks in the center of the classroom until the last desk was “on top of a pile of desk stacks in all directions some six to seven deep.”

Another former student, Lisa DeLange ‘88, said that Ms. Weinstein “always wanted us to be precise in our language and meticulous in our research,” and that “it would drive her crazy to hear us say ‘like’, as was [typically had done] during that time.” To stop us from doing that, she set up “a jar we had to pay a quarter into every time we said it.” 

In addition to students, the teachers and school community were also important to Ms. Weinstein. In the video, she recalled that during the summer before her first year of teaching at THHS, the teaching staff got together to discuss how they would prepare their classes for the school year. Some teachers of the same subject even prepared the same lessons and classwork, staying in late to help one another as THHS was transitioning from a small building on Parsons Boulevard to its current location on Queens College’s campus. 

Former Assistant Principal for Languages and Guidance Joan Walsh said, “The school building was very small, and we worked in very close quarters with each other and shared one common teacher’s lounge.” Because they spent lots of time together in close quarters, Ms. Walsh said, in an email interview with The Classic, that one of Ms. Weinstein’s “teaching characteristics was to continually challenge the students to THINK. She was a master at leading critical thinking discussions.” 

Myron Moskowitz, a colleague in the Social Studies department who is now retired, called Ms. Weinstein “a role model for women.” He said, “She fought against the stereotypes she encountered in the expectations of her generation [and] demanded that all people be treated equally, across the generations.”

She also left behind a legacy as a debate coach. When Dr. Malcolm G. Largmann, the first principal of THHS, asked Ms. Weinstein to lead the debate team, she was quick to accept the offer despite having no prior experience in debate. Ms. Weinstein later recalled that Principal Largmann was a “no-fool-around guy,”’ which was why she decided to take on the role. 

After becoming a debate coach, Ms. Weinstein studied as much of Lincoln Douglas’s debate techniques as possible to prepare for upcoming competitions. Under her leadership, THHS’s debate team won the first level competition against August Martin High School on March 17, 1987.

Mr. Lew also remembers the pivotal role Ms. Weinstein played in the creation of the Queens College Bridge Program with THHS. “Rhoda was the trailblazer who joined forces with Queens College Professors Robert Haan and Leo Walsh to develop the ‘Bridge Year’ at Queens College and Humanities Seminar in Honor in the Western Tradition 101 and 102 for all seniors.”

Ms. Weinstein said, “I would like to see the school in the future go on forever.”

Photo courtesy of Townsend Harris Alumni Association