Leadership change imposed at James M. Bennett

A new principal of James M. Bennett High School was named last week, replacing Amy Eskridge, who was implicated in mid-January when a school guidance counselor was charged with sex-related offenses.

Eskridge was placed on leave after Allen Edward Mitchell, 32, of Fruitland, was arrested on Jan. 11 and charged with second-degree rape, fourth-degree sex offenses and soliciting child pornography.

Eskridge, who had been principal about one year, was charged with neglecting to report child abuse. The charge is considered a misdemeanor.

While maintaining they can’t comment on personnel matters, Wicomico County school officials issued a news release stating Superintendent Dr. Donna Hanlin named Bennett High Assistant Principal Erin Nathan to the top position.

“We have the utmost confidence in Mrs. Nathan and with the support of her staff she will assume the role of principal with caring, compassion and most importantly the full authority to lead JMB as its principal,” Hanlin stated in the news release.

“To fill her spot as an assistant principal, we are pleased to share that Mrs. Vera Reed, an experienced assistant principal, (transitioned) from Bennett Middle School to James M. Bennett beginning on Friday, March 1.

“The Bennett Middle administrative team will be supported through the reassignment of Mr. Dorsey Cook as Acting Dean of Students,” she stated.

Keith Bailey will continue as assistant principal.

Jason Capobianco will continue as Dean of Students and Brent Lewis will continue as Acting Dean of Students.

Retired administrator Ike Humphrey will assist at Bennett High and other retired counselors have returned to support the guidance office.

A full-time social worker is available for students and school psychologists.

“Our JMB students and staff are truly resilient,” Hanlin stated.

“The Board of Education and I thank you for your ongoing support because it is only through the ongoing encouragement of parents and the JMB community that the Clipper Ship remains JMB strong.

“Legal matters related to James M. Bennett High continue to be in the hands of the State’s Attorney’s Office, law enforcement and the Department of Social Services.

“There are clear legal restrictions on communications with and from the school system and the Board of Education. Those restrictions continue with the ongoing investigation, and Wicomico County Public Schools will not interfere with the work of those outside entities,” Hanlin stated.

After Mitchell was arrested, both Eskridge and Assistant Principal Kimandi Binns were placed on administrative leave as “multiple instances of misconduct with minors, to include the criminal use of social media applications” were investigated, according to the State’s Attorney’s Office.

Mitchell was placed on administrative leave during the investigation and jailed, but he posted bail and was released.

A motions hearing is scheduled for Mitchell on May 10 with trial set to begin June 12.

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