This story has been updated with additional comments.
After months of complaints from parents and continued reports of bullying at James Blair Middle School, the Williamsburg-James City County School Board announced immediate changes to leadership and safety policy at the school.
In a statement emailed to parents Tuesday afternoon, Superintendent Olwen Herron said that complaints from parents and students had not been ignored and agreed changes are necessary.
“In recent weeks, I have heard from many of you about the learning environment at the school. Some of you have shared concerns about student behavior and safety or an overall lack of order in the building, while others have shared that your children are having a great year at JBMS and you are disheartened by ongoing negative comments about the school,” Herron wrote.
“Above all else, I have heard that parents want their children to have the opportunity to learn and be successful academically in a place where they are happy and healthy. I wholeheartedly agree – your children deserve nothing less than our very best.”
Herron announced that effective immediately, Corey Murphy, W-JCC Schools Chief of Staff, will serve as acting principal of James Blair, in addition to his current duties. Herron cited his 14 years of experience as a high school principal and assistant principal in South Carolina, coupled with his background as an officer in the US Army Reserves as the necessary background to oversee the desired changes to school safety and student discipline.
“Decisions to make a mid-year administrative change are never easy; however, they are sometimes necessary,” she wrote. “I strongly believe that realigning administrative responsibilities at JBMS will put students on a path for success.”
Ty Harris, the former principal, has been demoted to serving as the school’s associate principal. His new duties will consist of monitoring academic progress and overseeing SOL testing throughout the second semester, as James Blair seeks to earn accreditation from the state.
In addition to changes in school leadership, Herron announced that W-JCC would take steps to strengthen security at the school as well. These measures include hiring a full-time security assistant to patrol problem areas in the school and to support teachers when discipline matters arise.
According to Lisa Ownby the school board had been informed of the administrative changes at James Blair on Tuesday morning, and she wished to express optimism at the choice of Murphy as acting principal.
“We appreciate all the family feedback, and ever since early on in the semester, when we realized James Blair needed the extra support, Dr. Murphy has been involved,” said Ownby. “He is aware of some of the challenges and opportunities that exist at James Blair, and I am most confident that with Murphy there, things will stabilize.”
Herron said after the Tuesday night school board meeting that she hoped that the changes would provide James Blair Middle School students the sort of learning environment that they deserve.
“We took a lot of factors into account, both positive and negative, we’d been looking for just what extra support and leadership we could offer James Blair,” said Herron. “Murphy has been in the division for two years, he’s extremely experienced, an experienced and successful principal, he knows how to balance school climate and academic excellence, and he brings all of that to James Blair at this time.”
To the parents of students at James Blair, she wanted to say that the concerns they have made over the past few months have not been ignored and that things will improve moving forward.
“I really believe with these changes, that with the new leadership presence and security policies, there will be changes of greater visibility in the building and improvements to both safety and learning,” said Herron. “We have listened to your concerns, we are addressing these concerns as they come, and we want to do everything to make this school and its students succeed.”
According to school officials, Murphy will schedule a meet-and-greet with parents at an upcoming school event, though a date is currently being chosen, and a statement will likely be made later in the week.
Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.