Alumnus turned away from THHS as new procedure continues to be implemented

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Yesterday, The Classic reported on a new procedure for alumni visiting Townsend Harris High School. Now, when an alumnus arrives a teacher will receive a call and is told to accept “responsibility” of the visitor until the teacher has given the responsibility to another staff member. Many teachers expressed confusion regarding this procedure as there has not been an official memo on the administration’s behalf, despite it going into effect this week. Today, United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Chapter Leader Franco Scardino sent out an email to faculty members. He urged them to “resist conforming” to the new visitor policy until Interim Acting Principal Rosemarie Jahoda clarifies it. The email went to teachers in the early afternoon; soon after, Class of 2016 alumnus Joshua Cordero informed The Classic that he arrived to THHS to visit faculty members but was unable to go beyond the third floor and left the school.

In his email, Mr. Scardino mentioned that “Part of the new policy is [that] staff members take ‘responsibility’ for the visitor but she has given no explanation of what the responsibilities are or entail.” Until the principal provides the faculty with a written policy that clarifies this new responsibility, Mr. Scardino recommends teachers do not take on this responsibility.

Ms. Jahoda was unavailable for comment, despite repeated requests throughout the day.

Co-president of the Townsend Harris Alumni Association Craig Slutzkin was understanding of the position. He said ‘If I were a member of the faculty, I would want to know what ‘responsibility’ really means. There could be a number of legal ramifications here, and given all of the controversies in the school since Principal Jahoda came in, I would think the faculty would be highly sensitive to words like that. I suspect Mr. Scardino is simply trying to protect his teachers which is exactly what he is supposed to do.”

He added that the underlying issue was the lack of a formal, written procedure.

Alumnus Joshua Cordero returned to meet teachers today. Since Yvette Reyes, the school aide who usually implements the procedure was not present, Assistant Principal of Organization Ellen Fee worked to contact the teachers Joshua hoped to meet. Ms. Fee reached four teachers but all four said they were not available; two teachers were teaching. With no teacher available to meet him, Joshua left the building. He commented, “as an alumnus I should be able to come back and visit the school.”

Multiple teachers informed us of their opinions regarding Mr. Scardino’s email and the changes overall. Social studies teacher Adam Stonehill stated, “I didn’t even know there was a change via administration. I was only told second hand by teachers.” He explained that his understanding of the procedure was that “it sounds like when someone comes into the building, a staff member chaperones them.” Mr. Stonehill felt “the policy [was] counterintuitive to the culture of the Townsend Harris High School family.”

Social studies teacher John O’Malley similarly stated that he was not informed of the new changes by the administration and expressed, “I don’t know why visitors are now a problem when they’ve never been before.” Latin instructor Andrew Hagerty said that he was also not told of the changes by the administration.

Social studies teacher Alex Wood stated that “until I hear from the principal that I should be doing something differently, I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing, which is to welcome students to my classroom.”

Mr. Slutzkin contacted Ms. Jahoda to clarify the new procedures. He described the correspondence he had with Ms. Jahoda via email.

“We went through exactly what she wants to happen when Jane Alumni enters the building: she would check in at the security desk, then go to the attendance office, [and the] attendance coordinator will track down the teacher that Jane Alumni wants to visit. If Jane wants to visit another teacher, it is that first teacher’s responsibility to alert the second teacher of this and ensure the second teacher is available.  She [Ms. Jahoda] told me that there would be no need for any escorts. I was not provided with any formal policy nor was my question of who this policy applies to answered.”

After being informed of Joshua’s experience and getting the email from Mr. Scardino, Mr. Slutzkin said, “I emailed her to relay the alum’s experience and reiterate the need for a written policy to be communicated to the staff.” He also asked for a copy of the new procedure.  “I strongly suggested that she get input on any such policy from both the security team as well as some of the senior teachers who have experienced alumni visits in the past.”

Mr. Slutzkin has not received a response yet but he related that “in fairness to her, she has made a number of efforts with the Alumni Association. But many of her day-to-day actions have given great concern among the 7,500 members of the Alumni Association.”

Mr. Slutzkin said he would be concerned if the procedure only applied to alumni and not all visitors. “While I am sure that Ms. Jahoda is not trying to show disrespect to the alumni, the perception is there based on some of her actions and the words of Deputy Superintendent Pineiro, and perception can easily become reality. …No one has ever heard her repudiate Deputy Superintendent Pineiro’s comments about our role in the school.  And changing the way alumni come back and visit hasn’t exactly helped.”