Also see the Arlington Advocate’s article “Planning for Gibbs transition to begin soon“.
It’s not the walls themselves, but what happens within them that truly defines a school. The most complex planning for the new 6th grade Gibbs School is not design plans or construction schedules – it’s the development of a unique educational model that capitalizes on the important transitional year between primary and secondary school.
The Arlington Education Foundation recently awarded a $30,000 School Improvement grant to the Arlington Public Schools to develop a cohesive and strategic plan for the educational environment of the Gibbs School. The grant will fund outside professional development for social-emotional support and project-based learning, as well as teacher stipends for the essential planning time needed to ensure successful implementation of the new school model.
District leaders are focusing on three primary areas for the new educational environment: school community-building, including programs and structures for an inclusive school environment that promotes success for all students; curriculum, instruction and assessment, including structures for improving teaching and learning; and building operations, including schedule development.
Curriculum leaders have already been meeting and drafting goals for the new school. Once the Gibbs School faculty and staff is set this spring, the goals will be finalized and the team will begin working collaboratively and intensively over the next school year. Planning work among both general and special education teachers will continue until the school is open in September 2018.
One potential social-emotional learning approach for the Gibbs School is Responsive Classroom, a relatively new method of teaching that sets the tone for a school’s culture. Responsive Classroom has been implemented fully at the Stratton and Hardy elementary schools and partially at the Thompson and Dallin elementary schools. Focusing on the strong link between academic success and social-emotional learning, Responsive Classroom emphasizes dignity and respect, building meaningful relationships, and creating a trusting environment where students – and teachers – are willing to take risks in learning.
In addition to addressing the unique social-emotional needs of 6th graders, a school with a single grade provides more schedule flexibility than currently available at the Ottoson Middle School. During the planning process, the Gibbs staff will evaluate scheduling that could accommodate longer blocks of time for project-based learning, peer support through advisory meetings, and community building. The district views the new Gibbs School as a place to pilot new educational approaches that could eventually be expanded to the Ottoson Middle School.