Saturday, September 30, 2023

James Blair demotes principal to address issues in the new school

The new James Blair Middle School features a large, rounded section on one corner, which faces the intersection of Ironbound and Richmond roads. The second floor of the rounded section is where the school's media center is located. WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
The new James Blair Middle School features a large, rounded section on one corner, which faces the intersection of Ironbound and Richmond roads. The second floor of the rounded section is where the school’s media center is located. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

Students at James Blair Middle School will see a new face of leadership starting Wednesday after a number of concerns regarding bullying in the building were raised.

In a letter to parents, WJCC superintendent Olwen E. Herron addressed the issue, saying parents have spoken up about issues with the learning environment at the school. Specifically, she said concerns were expressed regarding a lack of overall safety in the building.

The decision comes after a School Board meeting on Jan. 22, where multiple parents expressed concerns regarding bullying at the middle school.

During the meeting, Genevieve Bennett, parent of a seventh grader, said her son regularly told her about numerous threats and fights, including remarks about shootings and bombings. In addition, she said topics such as rape and sexual harassment were regularly discussed among students.

“The fact that these events have occurred demonstrates a total disregard for student safety and of overall lack of control on the part of the faculty and staff to…curtail these types of behaviors,” she said. “The kind of behavior that has been tolerated and condoned at James Blair has not been acceptable.”

This is the first year of the middle school’s operation. In the five months of operation, the school has had eight of bullying complaints filed, said acting principal Corey Murphy.

To address the issue, the district has replaced the school’s principal, Ty Harris, with Murphy who is also the WJCC Schools chief of staff. Harris will remain at the middle school as the associate principal, which will allow him to focus on instruction, Herron said.

Murphy will act as principal for the remainder of the school year while maintaining his duties as a division-level leader. He said while the two positions will take a lot of time management, he is determined to perform both at the highest level.

Murphy didn’t want to classify the move as a “demotion,” calling it a change based on Harris’s “specialization.”

As a former military officer and with 14 years of experience in public education administration, the district hopes Murphy will bring a new perspective to the school.

On his first day on the job Murphy was positive about bringing James Blair to its full potential despite any of the recent struggles.

“Creating a safe learning environment is the most important thing,” he said.

To help provide a safer environment, greater security at the school will be added. The division is in the process of hiring a full-time security assistant to monitor common areas and assist teachers.

“The hallway presence is a deterrent,” he said. “I’m not looking to detect bad behavior, I’m looking to deter them from happening in the first place. It’s vitally important to have a highly visible presence.”

When incidents of bullying happen, Murphy said they are considered at an individual level because each is different. He said there are steps taken to involve the parents, protect the alleged victim and then, specifically, look at why the child might be exhibiting bullying behavior in the first place.

Murphy said part of the reason for the issue may have been because the school is in the process of creating an entirely new culture. He said since students were brought from two other schools in the county to create Blair, there can be an adjustment period.

“There are isolated pockets of individuals making poor decisions, but in my 14 years it is not anywhere near where what I would consider a troubled school,” Murphy said.

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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