It’s a Monday night and the Williamsburg Community Church is packed. The Williamsburg-James City County middle school curriculum fair is in full swing and booths for course options are crowded.
Smiling and shaking hands with parents and students Ty Harris, the new principal of James Blair Middle School, is beaming. He talks passionately about his plans for the middle school, which opens in the fall, and he encourages students to tell him what clubs they’d like to see.
While Harris said he has greeted students out in the community informally, the fair was Harris’s first formal meeting with future students and parents. Jeffery Carroll, assistant superintendent for school leadership at W-JCC, said Harris plans to visit current middle school students at their schools after spring break.
“One of the reasons we hired Mr. Harris is that we want students to feel welcome and feel excited about coming to Blair every day,” Carroll said. “We know when we redistricted that it is always a challenge for families — especially a seventh grader and an eighth grader who have established roots at one of our other three schools — to come to this new building. So that is the most important thing, especially for that first year, that it is a welcoming environment.”
Formerly principal at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church for two years, Harris is excited about his new job at W-JCC.
“It’s a little slower paced down here, but I’ve noticed the community members are eager to get involved, which is always awesome,” Harris said. “I’m ecstatic to have this opportunity to establish a new school with a culture that we all can be proud of.”
Carroll said staffing for James Blair began in September, but he would not fully know how many faculty members they would need to hire until after course requests were filled out. He said they do not yet know how many teachers would be shared among middle schools or how many would be dedicated to one school. Harris said 10 percent of staffing positions are currently filled at Blair.
Harris said the school’s construction schedule is on time. Carpeting and other aspects that can be worked on after substantial construction are expected to be done in early to mid-July.
One Gazette reader shared their concerns about the school’s planned movable plexiglass walls, considering the number of school shootings in the past 20 years. Carroll said the administration is working on appropriate safety plans for the school’s layout.
“I would say for all of our schools, safety is one of our number one priorities, if not the top priority,” Carroll said. “We don’t publicly share our safety plans because that could actually be used against us. We will be working with the architect, police, all our usual colleagues to prepare an appropriate safety plan for that building.”
Construction at Blair will be completed by August, ready for the school year. Carroll said not being able to interact with students and families yet is the hardest part of waiting on the school’s construction. He said that interaction is why he and Harris got into education.
“I’m excited to get some kids in the building,” Harris said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
Amelia Heymann can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on twitter @HeymannAmelia.