Planning for Gibbs continues

Gibbs Middle School Main Lobby

Published in WickedLocal Arlington on June 19, 2017

By Bram Berkowitz,

More details are surfacing as school leaders and residents continue to plan for the opening of a new sixth grade school in the soon-to-be renovated Gibbs building at 41 Foster St.

The Arlington Vision 2020 Education Task Group, Arlington Public Schools and the Gibbs Parent Advisory Committee on Monday, June 13 held a public meeting for parents to discuss the enormous process of opening a new school.

The building is expected to begin construction in early July and be open for students for the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. Here is what else was discussed:



The first floor includes the cafeteria space, world language classrooms, a technology lab, the auditorium, a music space, and offices for administration and guidance. The first floor also includes classrooms for occupational therapy, speech and language, English-language learners and special education. The second floor includes two of the four clusters. Each cluster consists of four classrooms. One of these second floor clusters is located adjacently to another special education classroom. The gymnasium, library and media room and an art space are also on the second floor. The third floor contains the last two clusters and another special education room.

Students and staff

APS Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said the building is designed for 500 students, but can hold more if needed. Enrollment projections for the next 10 years show the sixth grade may grow to 510 or 520 students at some point, but that would be manageable, she said.

Although most of the staff for the new school will be carried over from Ottoson Middle School, which currently houses the sixth grade, Bodie said there will need to be some additional hires. She said there are only 3.5 clusters for sixth grade at Ottoson, but there will be four clusters in the Gibbs building. Bodie also said the School Department would need to hire a school nurse and a few more custodians.


Drop-off transportation planning is expected to be one of the major challenges in the planning process. Bodie said traffic on both of the streets that will be used for drop-off, Tufts and Foster Streets, run in opposite directions of what is desirable for drop-offs. She also said the town is getting a bus for Gibbs, and plans to survey fifth grade parents to see what expected usage is. The survey would also ask if parents were interested in a fee-based bus similar to one at the Bishop Elementary School.

Extracurricular activities and accelerated programs

Another logistical challenge is how to deal with extracurricular activities and programs that all grades can participate in, but are held at Ottoson. Some of these activities include band and performing arts programs. There are also education programs such as accelerated math, where sixth grade students can skip sixth grade math and take seventh grade math.

“I don’t want to say no, but I am not sure how that would work,” said Kristin DeFrancisco, current principal at Hardy Elementary School, who will be the Gibbs principal when the school opens.

DeFrancisco did say she hopes Gibbs would have some of its own extracurricular activities.

Gibbs Classroom - breakout space-crop

Responsive classroom

Every teacher at Gibbs will be trained in Responsive Classroom; the social and emotional curriculum model that will help teachers set expectations for students in the classroom. The expectations will help students understand what language is acceptable, think about logical consequences when it comes to behavior and will provide ideas for “brain breaks” and “energizers” throughout the day.

“It’s one of the best comprehensive trainings I’ve ever been to in the 21 years of doing this,” said DeFrancisco. “It is an amazing environment to learn in and work in.”

Recess and outside

Met with applause by parents at the meeting, DeFrancisco announced there would be a lunch-recess. At a previous meeting on the Gibbs School, Regan Shields Ives, principal at Finegold Alexander Architects, said there is the possibility of an outdoor classroom and garden space. Below the parking lot closer to Foster Street, there would be a playground space with a half basketball court as well, she said. Bodie, on June 13, also mentioned a 30 feet wide and 200 feet long lawn area on the side of the cafeteria that could be used as recess space, although she said it is unclear yet whether it would be.


DeFrancisco said Gibbs students would be using touch-screen Chromebooks and a one-to-one model.