How James Blair’s new leadership works toward continuing accreditation

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As James Blair Middle School changes leadership hands, the new school also faces another large hurdle in its first year: continuing accreditation.

On Wednesday, the school’s former principal Ty Harris stepped down to the position of associate principal to focus on instructional matters for the school.

“That’s what’s so good about having Mr. Harris on board,” said Corey Murphy, the new acting principal. “He has created the academic focus in the building and now he can specialize on that.”

Harris was not immediately available for comment.

While Murphy addressed the issue of bullying at the school in regards to the new leadership, he said the change in principal positions was not just for that reason. Rather, Murphy said Harris would help the school most in a position where he could benefit education at the instructional level.

That means working with teachers in the classroom to reach the standards of accreditation for the next year.

Charles Pyle, spokesman for Virginia Department of Education, said schools that have just opened are categorized as conditionally accredited.

“There’s no data from the school to do an evaluation to see how it performed on the school quality scale,” he said. “That can only be done when there’s data to evaluate.”

As a school in its first year, James Blair has a number of challenges to get off the ground. Not only do administration have to work to create a viable educational atmosphere, but they have to bring the school to accreditation.

“Mr. Harris is someone with historical knowledge of the building,” Murphy said. “He knows exactly what the academic program needs and we can help bring it all to fruition. We’ve seen gains and have a ways to go, but with a prescribed program we will be successful.”

In Virginia, accreditation is measured on a number of levels from student engagement, achievement gaps and achievement of all students, according to the Virginia Department of Education’s website. Those standards are set in order to hold schools accountable for the quality of education provided to students.

There are three levels on which schools are graded. To earn accreditation a school must fall under level one, which means the school meets or exceeds standard or sufficient improvement, or level two, which means the school is near standard or making sufficient improvement.

But for James Blair, there is no past to measure improvement.

“This is our baseline year,” Murphy said. “We have no history to compare it to. But this also is not an assembly line. Each year the classes have their own strengths and weaknesses, every year will present itself with a very new set of challenges.”

As the school comes to a close for its first year, the accreditation will be based on the new standards issued by VDOE from 2018-2019.

“Accreditation until this year had been driven by (Standards of Learning) pass rates with certain adjustments,” Pyle said. “While SOL achievement is still important, we also look at other things.”

Pyle said under the new system, the only way a school is denied accreditation is if the school do not make an effort toward an improvement plan. This way success is measured not just by passing grades but by student improvement.

The new team formed by Harris and Murphy will set out to create student progress through plans created before the school even opened, Murphy said. With the new direction, Murphy said students will get the best of both worlds working toward academic improvement and building a welcoming educational culture.

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