ACPS chooses not to proceed with principal appointment for West End Elementary School after alleged misconduct comes to light

ACPS chooses not to proceed with principal appointment for West End Elementary School after alleged misconduct comes to light
(Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

By Alexa Epitropoulos and Missy Schrott

Just a week after John B. Murphy was appointed principal of the West End Elementary School at 1701 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria City Public Schools announced it won’t proceed with the appointment due to new information. Multiple news stories reveal Murphy has been accused of misconduct toward students, teachers and faculty at multiple schools in different states. 

John B. Murphy was named principal of the new school last week (Photo courtesy Alexandria City Public Schools)

Although ACPS did not reveal details of Murphy’s behavior in a statement issued Wednesday morning, articles from multiple New York news outlets, including the New York Post, the New York Daily News and Black Star News, reveal Murphy was accused of a long list of wrongdoings. He was alleged to have abused students and teachers at a New York City public school, New Preparatory Middle School 8 in South Jamaica Queens, a position he held from 2005 until resigning in 2009.

Before his position at MS 8, he was forced to resign as principal of Danbury High School in Connecticut after less than six months in 2004, the News-Times of Danbury, Connecticut reported. The News-Times also reported 158 teachers signed a letter of concern about his leadership at the time.

An employee of MS 8 in Queens told Black Star News that Murphy abused the school PA system, staff and students. The employee said he fired qualified black employees from the school’s general office. The article also said Murphy agitated a teacher, which multiple news outlets named as Nyasia Johnson, to the point of her going to the hospital and being evaluated for headaches, shock symptoms and elevated blood pressure, according to the New York Daily News.

“Teachers at JHS 8 described the incident as the latest eruption from a principal who runs the school with an iron fist,” an article from the New York Daily News reads. The New York Daily News quoted MS 8 music teacher David Butler as saying “‘Dr. Murphy has acted like ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.’ [Murphy’s] efforts at intimidation and harassment [have] caused a number of teachers to cry, bang on walls and even want to quit.'”

The Black Star News reported Murphy’s actions prompted major media attention and a rally attended by parents, teachers and students who carried signs reading “‘Teachers against tyranny,’ ‘teachers deserve respect,’ ‘Murphy get out of our school right now,’ ‘End Murphy’s reign of terror,’ ‘Murphy, where will you be working next year?,’ and ‘Murphy Must Go.'” A staff member of the school reported Murphy tripped an alarm at 5 a.m. in order to avoid the rally.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin appointed Murphy on Oct. 23. At the time, he was described as a longtime educator who spent the majority of his career in New York.

A press release issued on Wednesday morning didn’t provide specifics on the decision to revoke Murphy’s appointment, however.

“Unfortunately, information has come to light that has led to the decision by ACPS not to proceed with the appointment of the West End Elementary School principal made last week. This information concerned disagreements that took place a number of years ago. These were reported at the time but were not brought to the attention of ACPS until this week,” Alexandria City Public Schools said in a Wednesday news release. “In light of that information, ACPS concluded that it was best to move in a different direction. We want to assure you that this was a difficult decision that was made in the best interest of the school division.”

It’s not clear how Murphy’s appointment was able to get through ACPS’ vetting process. The school district said the vetting process was thorough and included a full internet search of any candidate.

“ACPS completes a full background check on any potential future employee. When this check was originally completed, the issues concerning reports of past disagreements were not immediately discovered. This may have been due to the fact that they took place several years ago,” ACPS said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. “When this information was brought to our attention, we acted on it immediately. ACPS is looking at our internal process to see if there is anything we need to review.”

An Alexandria City Public Schools news release stated Murphy founded and opened new schools throughout his career, including an elementary school, a middle school and two high schools in New York, as well as a residential school that served students with special needs in the Bronx, New York and an academy in Brooklyn, New York that served students in poverty. The news release stated he also founded an international secondary school and an online school in China.

Poor vetting appears to have been an issue at Murphy’s prior stops as well.

“It is unclear how or who vetted Murphy because he has been fired from several schools because of his behavior and management style,” the article from Black Star News read. “He threatened 15 teachers with U-rating if they did not pass students who were in fact failing and told the attendance person to tamper with official records – this is criminal – where is the Department of Investigation (DOI) investigation?” 

Despite multiple complaints about Murphy in March of 2009, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators continued to defend him in a statement given to New York Daily News at the time. The New York Post reported he made the decision to resign on April 30, 2009. Even after his resignation, then Chancellor of New York City Schools continued to defend Murphy in a memo announcing the resignation, according to the New York Post, saying ‘I thank him for his service and congratulate him and the entire school community, including teachers, students and parents for the accomplishments of recent years.’

Teachers said the Department of Education didn’t take action on Murphy because, on the surface, the statistics looked good. But the New York Post and Black Star News reported that school staff said Murphy pressured teachers to pass failing students and directed employees to tamper with attendance records.

After resigning from the New York City public school, it appears Murphy moved to upstate New York, where his most recent post was Schuyler Achievement Academy, a public school in Albany, New York. Statistics cited by ACPS in its news release announcing Murphy’s appointment claimed he oversaw significant gains in English language arts and math, an increase in attendance and said he exceeded state academic goals.

“I have had an expansive administrative career that has allowed me to lead elementary and secondary schools, launch new schools and transform failing schools into places where all students were treated as individual learners and where success defined our effort,” Murphy said in the ACPS release last week. “Over the course of my career I have gained a pre-kindergarten through grade 12 perspective on education, a unique appreciation for what all learners need in order to be successful and the practical experience necessary to lead, support and empower staff and students as principal of the new West End Elementary School.”

When Murphy’s appointment was announced, Berlin, who has been leading the school district since former Superintendent Alvin Crawley departed in July, called Murphy a seasoned leader.

“We are delighted to welcome such a highly regarded and experienced principal to be the first principal of our new West End Elementary School. Mr. Murphy brings a wealth of knowledge in curriculum development and instruction to ACPS. He has a proven ability to plan and execute the successful opening of a new school – something that we know to be a challenge,” Berlin said in the release. “We look forward to working closely with him to make the new West End Elementary School an integral part of the West End community and an academic success.”

Murphy was set to start on Nov. 1. The ACPS announcement said the search for a new West End principal has already resumed and a new principal will be named as soon as a decision has been made.