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School news

125 attend as public process to launch AHS update underway

Manager estimates $250 million cost would be tops for town

Tiago Gomes, left, and Quinn Connell, members of the AHS Sustainability Club, talk with Matthew Janger, school principal.Tiago Gomes, left, and Quinn Connell, members of the AHS Sustainability Club, talk at the kickoff with Matthew Janger, school principal. / Marjorie Howard photo

UPDATED, Jan. 21: An audience of community members, parents, educators and students talked about their dreams for a new high school at the first in a series of forums on Jan. 10. Among their wishes? A building that supports interdisciplinary learning, is environmentally sustainable, serves as a center for community functions and perhaps even has a roof garden.

Whatever the details, said Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, a new high school is expected to be the most expensive building the town has ever constructed. Chapdelaine told the audience of more than 125 people at Town Hall that new high schools have become costly because of construction costs and the complexities of the projects. A new Somerville High School is expected to cost $250 million.

Visioning outreach underway

Globe, Jan. 19: Renovate or rebuild?

The forum began community involvement in a feasibility study, which will determine whether to renovate, repair or replace Arlington High School. School Committee Chairman Jeff Thielman told the audience, “Arlington High School serves 1,360 students and is one of the top-ranked high schools in the state and one of the best in the country. Our goal is to build a building worthy of our students and staff.”

He spoke in front of an aerial view of the high school projected on a screen behind him that showed the dates of additions to the high school over the years. The original structure was built in 1914, with additions made in piecemeal fashion in 1938, 1961, 1964 and the last in 1980. The school has received a warning accreditation status from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, citing inadequate classrooms, science labs and technology infrastructure.

Read more ...

State supports School Committee members' Facebook discussions

'Open Meeting Law does not restrict an individual's right to make comments
to the general public.'

The School Committee has prevailed after a complainant from Arlington said the public board violated the state's Open Meeting Law while using two Facebook groups.

School Committee logofacebook

In a Dec. 19 letter to Town Counsel Doug Heim, Kerry Anne Kilcoyne, assistant attorney general, state Division of Open Government, dismissed the complaint brought by Stephen Harrington earlier this year. He wrote that committee members Jennifer Susse, Kirsi Allison-Ampe and Paul Schlichtman posted comments pertaining to school-enrollment issues and renovation of Arlington schools on two Facebook groups -- Arlington School Enrollment Parent Group and Arlington Resist

The state found "no evidence that any member of the Committee posted comments about topics related to Committee business to the Arlington Resist."

Read more ...

Could new AHS be built elsewhere in town? 4 sites suggested

Kickoff to wider public involvement starts Jan. 4; visioning Jan. 18 through Feb. 13

Mirak property, Burns/Summer Street field. / Google Earth viewMirak property, Burns/Summer Street field. / Google Earth

UPDATED, Dec. 21: The effort to revamp Arlington High School will move forward in the new year with a series of forums aimed at involving the public in forming an educational vision about how to reshape the 1914 landmark.

At the same time, those involved must consider whether the school will remain where it is.

Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine told the high school building committee Tuesday, Dec. 19, that members must satisfy the state agency who is approving the project that the 21 acres at 869 Mass. Ave. is the best site.

In doing so, members must consider whether four other town sites could be a home for the school. The sites are:

-- The Summer Street recreation area, which includes the Burns rink;

-- The Mirak property, off 1125 Mass. Ave.;

Read more ...

Arlington High teacher leads, then loses on 'Jeopardy!'

jbourassa 80 122017

UPDATED: With a slim lead right up to the final round, Arlington High English teacher Justin Bourassa lost in the end at  "Jeopardy!"" on Wednesday, Dec. 20.

The question about which country's last three queens abdicated in favor of their children -- the Netherlands -- stumped all but the winner, Kate O'Connor of Florence, N.J. She sells insurance and was the the returning champ who had won $40,000 befiore Dec. 20. The other contestant was Remy Timbrook of Oakland, Calif., a children's librarian.

Bourassa said his wife, Caitie Peterson, told him nearly two years ago that the show's online test was available. Its 50 questions, from varied categories, gives you 15 seconds to answer each.

In September 2016, he learned he had passed the test and was asked to audition, which he did in New York in October. Following that, he entered a contestant pool. Any time over the next 18 months, he could be called in to be on the show.

Read more ...

AHS Building Committee prepares to focus on its visions

what if 400An imagined cut-away drawing by HMFH Architects of Cambridge showing how an interior of a new Arlington High might look.

UPDATED: The reimagining of Arlington High School is underway, with many questions and likely many revisions before plans take shape.

A kickoff community forum was set for Thursday, Jan. 4, from 7 to 9 p.m., at Town Hall. It was postponed to Jan. 11. For added details, see

The high school building committee decided Tuesday, Dec. 5, to meet again in two weeks to flesh out a schedule of meetings involving the public.

Ready to flex your imagination? Be ready to brace how you envision to a revamped high school against the realities of what the state will allow.

Chuck Adam, the project manager who works for Skanska, the multinational construction company, welcomed both sides of the coin after committee member Sandy Pooler put in perspective about an hour's worth of discussion.

"We need to understand what implications of milestones are," he said, referring to what the state School Building Authority will permit at each step of the process. The state agency holds the purse strings controlling how much money the town can spend on a project that could cost $200 million.

Read more ...

GIBBS UPDATE: Crowd of parents turns out with many questions

Administration offers answers, as lively principal circulates freely

Rendering by architect Feingold Alexander of entry foyer near Foster Street.7Rendering by architect Feingold Alexander of entry foyer near Foster Street.

UPDATED, Dec. 10: An estimated 190 people crowded into the Stratton cafeteria received a blitz of information about the sixth-grade only school undergoing renovation in East Arlington, including the expectation that substantial work will be done ahead of schedule, late next July.

Superintendent Kathy Bodie, recovering from a cold, and Principal Kristin DeFrancisco, playing her best "come-on-down"pitch to mix with the audience, on Wednesday, Dec. 6, presented the first of three parent forums about the reemerging Gibbs School.

"A fantastic turnout," Bodie said.

DeFrancisco used the same adjective to describe her response to the news that 95 percent of staff that will come over to Gibbs has been identified. Teachers felt the same, she said.

Full school presentation

Points that Bodie and DeFrancisco raised were:

Read more ...

Background information to Gibbs parents forum

Former Gibbs School, August 2015,Finegold Alexander Architects' sketch from January 2017 envisioning the entry to the renovated Gibbs School.

UPDATED, Dec. 7: A standing-room-only crowd turned out to attend a parent forum about the renovated Gibbs School, which will include a new townwide sixth grade starting in September.

Superintendent Kathleen Bodie and Principal Kristin DeFrancisco presented current plans for the building and the educational program on Wednesday, Dec. 6, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Stratton Elementary School cafeteria.

Full school presentation

The gathering providesd an opportunity to suggest comments, ideas and feedback about the plans. When parents met to discuss the former Gibbs School last June, the number of questions outpaced answers as an estimated 90 people jammed into the School Committee Room.

Bodie said at the time: "This building [on Foster Street] is being renovated, but it is not changed."

That is, its structural envelope is to largely remain as it was when it became the Gibbs School in the 1920s. Changes will be taking place inside -- in the physical plant and in classroom attitude -- as well as in the neighborhood.

The audience that night was bright and eager to learn, based on the questions asked. The "teachers" that night were Kristin DeFrancisco, principal at Hardy who will take over at a renovated Gibbs next September, and Bodie.

Renovations got underway on schedule, June 30. 

Read more ...

Cost, timeline, design for a changed Arlington High emerges

UPDATED, Dec. 19: The winning team to design a new Arlington High School brought a model and slides, offering ideas about what shape the 103-year-old edifice along Mass. Ave. might take. Imaginations, bearing the weight of many numbers and issues, tried to take flight.

Full Nov. 7 presentation by HMFH

Discussion at the high school building committee meeting Tuesday, Nov. 7, yielded a broad cost estimate ($150 million to $200 million), a possible updated timeline for the project, concerns about contamination at the site as well whether enrollment projections need to be revisited.

"To say that we're excited is an understatement," said George Metzger, a project manager for HMFH Architects of Cambridge, chosen last month to design the school. "We want to make sure we are building Arlington's future."

First, numbers and a schedule, and then some flights of architectural fancy.

The estimate of what the project might cost came from Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine, who said his team had been working on the matter for 16 months.

When work might occur arose during discussion of a tax-override vote, which committee Chair Jeff Thielman said was expected in spring 2019. With a year needed to prepare, if the vote is successful, construction would begin in summer 2020.

Based on HMFH's experience with revamping Cambridge Rindge & Latin -- a project that has some similarities with the one at AHS -- work on the town's high school would take 30 months, with completion seen in 2022.

HMFH override track record

When the time for an override arrives here, Lori Cowles, a principal with HMFH, told the committee that projects in which her firm has been involved have always passed such a vote.

Whatever happens that far down the road, the HMFH team was out in force to serve up visual tastes of what is to take up the 400,000 square feet of high school, between Mystic Wine and the CVS.

Piece by piece, the 1914 school -- with additions in 1938, 1960 and 1980 -- is expected to come apart and be replaced. Whether the work is renovation or rebuild remains to be determined.

Under a contract totaling $1.15 million, HMFH will soon begin conducting a feasibility study, and those involved expect the MSBA to vote to move the AHS plan to the schematic-design phase at its August meeting.

With "tech people wandering around building" soon, Cowles said they will be investigating from the top reaches to the bowels of the high school so that the architect can learn the current specifics before its team can draw what shape it might become.


A review of existing conditions will include probes into contamination known to lurk below the ground across the 24-acre site. After all, Peirce Field was rebuilt on a contaminated site that had to be capped, a remediated field paid for in this century by industrial partners of industries that existed on Grove Street long ago.

Brian Rehrig, a member of building committee, noted the concern about contamination and wondered at what point the state School Building Authority won't cover the cost involved in removing it.

"Almost immediately," said Chuck Adams of Skanska, the owner's project manager.

All involved have so much to consider besides this issue. In a Nov. 6 letter to the town from Cowles, HMFH will develop educational space after completing "an inclusive visioning process, and ascertain whether to renovate, add onto and renovate, or to build new the high school facility.

"The Schematic Design phase will continue our work on the preferred solution culminating in a Project Scope and Budget Agreement between the Town and MSBA," the state agency that is helping to pay for the work.

Sports fields make up about half of the 24 acres, described as "in excellent condition and heavily used," and they are not expected to change.

A question that remains open is whether the district's administrative offices will remain at the high school. Asked whether this remains the case, Superintendent Kathleen Bodie said, "Yes."

Further, the architect will develop programs for Menotomy Preschool, LABBB Collaborative and town offices. For example, Chapdelaine said the town comptroller's, in the basement next to the IT department, is expected to move.

Design for 1,755 students

One aspect appears to be firm. Cowles says in her Nov. 6 letter: "The project's design enrollment is 1,755 students in grades 9-12."

But what if enrollment rises beyond that? Daniel Ruiz, a community member on the board, asked whether the administration would be open to having enrollment consultant Jerome McKibben revisit his numbers?

Bodie said she could consider it.

Chin Lin of HMFH discussed energy efficiency and could point to the success on that point of the Thompson School, opened in 2013, and designed by the Cambridge firm.

Following the feasibility and design periods, Arlington is looking at what Cowles calls "occupied construction." In a series of slides, she illustrated the process of emptying one space, relocating a section of the school elsewhere to a temporary modular structure and building a new piece of the puzzle.

In one slide, a temporary building is shown situated on the practice soccer field behind Stop & Shop. Ironically, that is where ground contamination was found is 1995. That discovery caused the grocery chain not to expand its store and eventually led to legal action, resulting in a restored Peirce Field.

The slide presentation portrayed what the architect's representative called an "agile" classroom, which permits a variety of uses for the same space; maker spaces and STEM facilities; technology that includes interactive applications of virtual reality.

Public involvement expected

To help HMFH learn what Arlington High's identity is, the educational visioning process will involve the public.

Thielman pressed to know when a more engaging public process can begin, and it is expected that will be discussed at the building committee next meeting, 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5, in the School Committee Room, sixth floor, AHS.

The committee voted unanimously to approve the contract with HMFH. The $1,158,722 breaks down this way -- $427,042 for the feasibility study and $731,680 for schematic design. 

Change-order payments

The committee also voted unanimously to approve a protocol defining how payments on change orders are made.

A memo handed out Nov. 7 says: "In order to process the payment of invoices and approval of change orders in an expeditious manner, the AHS Building Committee has created a Finance Sub-Committee. The current members of the sub-committee are John Cole, Brian Rehrig, John Danizio, and Adam Chapdelaine.

"Proposed below are the thresholds by which we are recommending invoices and change orders be approved. All approvals, regardless of size, will be reported on a monthly basis to the full committee.

"Up to $25,000 - OPM (Skanska) Approval required with notification to the Finance Sub­ Committee

"$25,001-$75,000 - Finance Sub-Committee approval required

"$75,001 and up - Full AHS Building Committee Meeting approval required

Should separate change orders arise that cumulatively exceed the $75,000 threshold, the Finance Sub-Committee may exercise its discretion to approve such change orders if waiting for a meeting of the full committee would either impact the project's schedule or materially increase the cost of the change order.

"In addition to the thresholds proposed above, the Finance Sub-Committee recommends that pro­ rata payments (generally speaking the OPM and Designer Fees) be able to be approved by the Town Manager." 

Official information about the high school building project
Oct. 24, 2017: Designer chosen for revamped Arlington High project
Oct. 4, 2017: 3 finalists chosen to design revamped Arlington High
May 25, 2016: State says Arlington High School rebuild can advance
Feb. 15, 2017: Arlington High School rebuild OK'd for next stage: Is it feasible? 
State Building Authority process >> 

This news summary was published Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, and updated Dec. 19, to clarify timeline about schematic design.

A look inside renovated Stratton School

16 sign 300UPDATED, Nov. 22: A public open house for the renovated Stratton School -- the last of seven elementary schools to be rebuilt or renovated in a building effort that began in 1998 -- was held at the school for Sunday, Nov. 19, from 2 to 4 p.m. 

All members of the community were welcome to tour the school, and many did.

Have a look at what those who joined the tour saw >>

Read more ...

15 AHS musicians earn district honors

Principal Matt JangerJanger

Fifteen Arlington High School students have been accepted for participation into the Massachusetts Music Educators Association Northeastern District Music Festival, Principal Mattjew Janger has announced.

The students auditioned Saturday, Nov. 18, at North Andover High School, along with about 1,000 students from public and private high schools in 56 communities throughout northeastern Massachusetts.

The students auditioned for placement in the MMEA Northeastern District Honors Band, Chorus, Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble. A total of about 400 students were accepted for participation. Accepted from AHS are:

Read more ...

FIRST-AID: $200,000 in behavioral health for public schools

The Arlington Education Foundation (AEF) has committed to awarding $200,000 over the next three years to support the Arlington Public Schools' Safe and Supportive Schools initiative to create a comprehensive behavioral health program for the district.

AEF logo

In the first year of the partnership, AEF has awarded the schools a district investment grant of $100,485 to pay for youth mental-health first-aid training for 300 staff to learn how to spot the early warning signs and the steps they can take for early intervention. The grant will also fund ongoing work on action plans for each school.

Behavioral health is intricately connected to academic, social and emotional success at school, and is one of the district’s top goals for fiscal 2018.

According to, half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14 years old (e.g., anxiety and eating disorders), and three-quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24 (e.g., substance abuse).

Mental health has long been viewed as an illness, or something that needs to be cured; yet it is just as important as physical health, a Nov. 15 news release from AEF says. Mental health is how we live, love and laugh. It helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices.

Recent Youth Risk Behavior Surveys at Arlington High School and the Ottoson Middle School show that mental health issues stress, low self-esteem, self-harm, sexual abuse and suicide contemplation/attempts are on the rise in our youth community.

“We need to overcome the stigma of mental health and the ‘that’s not my kid’ mentality”, Amy Speare, AEF's president, said in the release. “Youth mental-health first-aid demystifies and destigmatizes youth mental health challenges and will give Arlington a framework with consistent language and a basic understanding of what adolescent mental health looks like.”

The first-aid program is designed to teach anyone interfacing with youth how to help an adolescent who is experiencing a mental health or addiction challenge or who is in crisis. Topics covered include anxiety, depression, substance abuse, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD) and eating disorders.

Sara Burd, Arlington’s new director of guidance and social emotional learning, is excited to bring the first-aid program to Arlington. “Once our adults have a common vision, language and understanding of how to promote the mental health and well-being of our young people, the follow-up work to address locally determined needs at each school will be better informed, more focused and effective.”

Burd is a certified youth mental-health first-aid instructor and put the program into effect in the Reading Public Schools.

Just as CPR can be used universally, the first-aid program can be used by anyone in the community who interacts with youth. Covering from early intervention to hand-off to treatment, the program aims to give Arlington’s teachers the tools they need to support all students, reduce referrals and keep more students in the classroom.

AEF’s support of social and emotional health programs is not new. Over the last six years, AEF has seen a dramatic rise in grant requests to support student social and emotional growth and has awarded over $180,000 in related grants since 2013.

In 2016, AEF awarded $10,000 to help fund the Safe and Supportive Schools self-assessment and the creation of action plans for each school. Previous grants include AHS Unity and Ottoson Inside OUT public art diversity projects; LGBTQ+ clubs; mindfulness programs; flexible classroom furniture that promotes movement; Innovative Care Coordinator training; and an AHS suicide prevention and awareness program.

For more than 25 years, AEF has been supporting public education in Arlington and has awarded over $680,000 to the Arlington Public Schools over the past 5 years. AEF funds systemwide initiatives and creative new projects that enhance public education throughout the district. For more information visit  

This news release was published Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017.

Designer chosen for revamped Arlington High project

In 2013, a group tours Old Hall at AHS.A look back to look ahead: In 2013, imagining a new school, a group tours Old Hall at AHS.

HMFH Architects of Cambridge, the designer of the revamped Thompson and its addition, has been chosen to guide how a future Arlington High School will look. 

At its meeting Tuesday, Oct. 24, the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s (MSBA) Designer Selection Panel selected HMFH Architects as the design firm for future improvements at Arlington High School. Pending successful contract negotiations, HMFH will provide crucial and broad services for the project.

The Designer Selection Panel was formed by the MSBA and included 13 appointed members and three representatives of Arlington, including the superintendent of schools, the School Committee and AHS Building Committee chair and a designee of the town manager. The AHS Building Designer Subcommittee had previously reviewed all applications.

The 13 MSBA appointed members of the Designer Selection Panel were recruited from recommended candidates of the Boston Society of Architects, the American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts and the Associated General Contractors of Massachusetts, as well as MSBA staff, and independent design and construction professionals. 

Read more ...

Arlington's 2017 MCAS results called above state average

MCAS logo

Arlington's 2017 MCAS sores are "above the state average," Superintendent Kathleen Bodie wrote in an email Wednesday, Oct. 18, to parents and guardians.

She wrote that it "has been true in the past .... This test is one of many measures we use to understand how to help our students achieve academically."

She did not provide specifics. See links at this story >>

Read more ...

UNITY: Foundation recognizes project

Unity Project goes up at Arlington High on Sept. 11, 2017. / Marjorie Howard photo

The Arlington Education Foundation has recognized the Unity public-art project as our Dawn Moses Memorial Grant for the 2016-2017 year.

Matthew Janger, Arlington High School principal, reported Wednesday, Oct. 18, that each year the foundation's board gives special recognition to the Innovations in Education grant that most embodies creativity, rigor and commitment to the students and teachers of Arlington.

By recognizing annually an outstanding innovations grant, the foundation honors Moses, a former foundation board member who died in 2012.

UPDATED, Oct. 18: The Unity Project went up in September as a local art force countering the memories of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The photo  by Marjorie Howardshows it going up on Sept. 11, 2017.  See before and after shots of the project >>

William McCarthy, assistant AHS principal, on Thursday, Sept. 14, called the project "an outstanding success, using over 30 miles of yarn to demonstrate our connections with one another on so many levels .... It was a great exercise in community building ...."

"Unfortunately, the 30 miles of yarn also absorbed an incredible amount of rain, which ultimately exceeded the weight limits of the stakes and posts, causing it to collapse this evening. This was not an act of vandalism, just physics." 

On Monday, Sept. 18, in a post titled "Unity Project is Gone, but not forgotten," Principal Matt Janger wrote:

"Thanks to everyone who helped with the AHS Unity Project last week. Over 30 miles of yarn were woven together to produce a beautiful web representing our diversity and our interconnectedness.

"Today, student volunteers wound up the yarn to use weaving items for donation.

"Thank you to Michael Byrne and Joanna Begin for bringing this opportunity to AHS."

Information provided earlier: 

The public will see 32 PVC pipes, each with an identifier, are set up in a circle. As you approach the instillation, participants will get a ball of yarn and will be invited to wrap a strand around each pole with which they identify. 

As participation increases, the interconnected yarn forms a canopy, demonstrating how everyone is unique, and yet also connected with others.

A brochure about the project suggests some ways that people may identify themselves:

I speak more than one language.

I or someone I love struggles with depression.

As LGBTQIA or as straight.

I live with a disability or chronic illness.

My family's country of origin is important to me.

Background about the effort

Based on the application for AEF funding, Byrne reported, every AHS student and teacher have been invited to participate.

As to the effort's innovation, the AEF application says: "Few project are able to involve the entire student body working together toward a positive outcome. This project would do that and would create an interactive public art piece that would be an expression of community and diversity."

As to how the project supplements existing educational programs, the application says: "Arlington High School has a district goal concerning climate and culture which includes creating safe and supportive school environments for all students.

"The recently established Voices United Project has trained students to help address healthy interactions and climate at the school. Several student groups already in existence will be included.

"GBSOCAN Club [Greater Boston Students of Color Achievement Network] engages students form a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds in conversation on issues of racism, intolerance, discrimination and allied behavior. The GSA, Student Government and any other student groups will be invited to participate."

What will happen to the Unity Project after Sept. 18?

"This is a project that could be duplicated with most of the materials reused for future installations," the application says. To do that, "new yarn would likely be needed. We envision this being something that could easily work for all levels of school children."


For more information, watch the video by student Laura Kirchner >> 

Read the brochure >> 

Janger told parents about this project Monday, Sept. 4: "As we welcome our students and staff to school this fall, AHS is committed to 'learning, connecting, and caring' as a 'safe, supporting, nurturing' community. We are planning to kick off the year with an installation on the AHS lawn called the Unity Project. This project creates a physical demonstration of how our diversity can weave together into an inclusive and beautiful community."

The installation has been made possible through a grant of $1,100, awarded last spring by the Arlington Education Foundation

The Unity Project was created in 2016 by Nancy Belmont, the CEO and chief inspiration officer at Vessence Corp. The brochure about the project says, "She felt compelled, as a response to the divisiveness we're seeing around the world, to create a community project that promotes human connection, an appreciation of diversity and a realization that we all have something in common." 

This news announcement was published Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. Updated Sept. 9, to add background; Sept. 11, to add photo; and Sept. 15, to add effects of rain, as well as Oct. 18, to add honor.

Pool effort can't use community-preservation funds

UPDATED, Oct. 11: The pitch to add an indoor pool at a revamped Arlington High rolled out in earnest at Town Day, but the efforts by A-Pool have run into rules keeping the group from making a splash. 

Community-preservation funds are no longer an option.

Kate Radville, a member of A-Pool, has told YourArlington that the Community Preservation Committee cannot contribute the money it controls, because indoor facilities are not eligible.

Eric Helmuth, chair of the CPA Committee, confirmed that Oct. 10. After some research, he wrote, the CPA Committee determined that it cannot fund the feasibility study, because building indoor recreational structures are not eligible CPA projects under state law.

The state Department of Revenue, which oversees CPA in Massachusetts, says that any CPA-funded feasibility study must be directly related to an allowable purpose, he added.

Read more ...

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