Psychology teacher joins upper school faculty after former teacher’s arrest


Kathy Fang

The Shah patio at the upper school. Upper school psychology teacher Dr. Jonathan Sammartino was arrested Sept. 11 on three charges of sexual misconduct at a previous teaching position in San Diego.

by Nicole Chen, Kathy Fang, and Arushi Saxena

A psychology teacher joined the faculty last month and began to teach at the upper school on Oct. 1 in the wake of the arrest of a former teacher due to allegations of sexual misconduct related to a former teaching position.

Dr. Julie Turchin, who previously worked as a Talent Portfolio Manager at Stanford University, joined the history and social sciences department to teach psychology and AP psychology classes.

“I hope that I can balance covering the material with helping my students get a deeper understanding of what it means and how it matters,” Dr. Turchin said. “I have an open door; I love to not just only meet my students, but anyone who wants to swing by office hours, and anyone who wants to learn more about psychology or more about me, is welcome.”

Former psychology teacher Dr. Jonathan Sammartino was arrested in San Jose on Sept. 11 during the school day and placed on administrative leave on three felony counts of statutory rape and sexual misconduct with a minor during his previous teaching position at La Jolla Country Day School, according to a statement from San Diego district attorney Steve Walker. He has posted bail. Dr. Sammartino had been teaching at Harker since Aug. 24.

“It’s concerning that one of our new staff members allegedly has done things that violate our expectations as a community,” Head of School Brian Yager said. “I’m sorry, too, I’m sorry it’s happening because whether or not he’s convicted, obviously it’s a distraction to the business of learning and all the things we want to focus on.”

In addition to taking on Sammartino’s academic classes, Turchin has also taken on his former advisory duties.

Freshman class dean Jeffrey Draper took over Dr. Sammartino’s advisory until Turchin joined the faculty.

“It is something that we will move past,” Draper said. “We will always be vigilant, we will always protect the students and keep a safe, nurturing environment. That’s our primary job: it’s in our mission, and because someone made choices that impacted that mission, it hurt. But we protect each other, and we continue, always, to protect the students and to build a community of which we can all be proud.”

Harker administrators were not aware of the allegations of sexual misconduct prior to Dr. Sammartino’s arrest.

“We take the safety of our students very seriously, which includes hiring qualified faculty and staff who undergo state and federal fingerprinting and extensive reference checks,” Yager wrote in the email. “In this case, the charges weren’t filed until last week, which was well after Harker had done its extensive background checks, none of which indicated any cause for concern.”

Dr. Sammartino was hired in the spring to join the upper school faculty this school year after Horan transitioned into her role as upper school academic dean. He had previously taught humanities courses from 2016 to 2018 at the French American International School in San Francisco as well as psychology from 2012 to 2016 at La Jolla Country Day School in San Diego.

The San Diego Police Department is currently investigating the case. Dr. Sammartino’s arraignment has been scheduled for Tuesday of next week at the San Diego Superior Court. According to Walker, if convicted of all three charges, the maximum sentence is four years and four months of jail time.

In August, former music teacher Christopher Florio was arrested on misconduct charges for inappropriate communications with a minor. Florio was terminated by Harker in June, after which former middle school music teacher Dr. David Hart transitioned to the upper school to take on Florio’s former teaching position.

Members of the school community dealt with the aftermath of these situations in different ways.

“For every one incident that has happened—and unfortunately, there have been two incidents that have happened very close to each other—there are 180 days every year that nothing happens, where we come to school and everything is okay,” Academic Dean and former psychology teacher Kelly Horan said. “It’s a cluster right now, and therefore we react in panic; but in reality, every day we come to school and have great experiences.”

Students are encouraged to speak to trusted adults on campus, including advisers, teachers, administrators and counselors, for support and about any concerns that they may have. The upper school counselors are Hui Hui Chang, Lyndsey Nelson, Lori Kohan, Rosalyn Schreiman and Josie Porcella.

“Put that faith in your institution, even though you’re feeling like that faith is being rocked right now,” Horan said. “You have teachers who care deeply about you. Know that we have your back.”

Dr. Turchin looks forward to supporting her students in the school year ahead.

“I think everything that we teach in psychology, I try to live by as well as teach: having an open door, having an open ear, being able to hear people’s experience and empathize and sometimes provide perspective, is something that I think all of our teachers are here for,” Dr. Turchin said. “Certainly, I count myself among those who are ready to listen, reflect, and process.”

A version of this story was published on Harker Aquila on Sept. 12, 2018.

This piece was published in the pages of Winged Post on Oct. 17, 2018.