BACK TO SCHOOL: Sixth grade joins AJHS, where ‘everyone has an advocate’

Sitting at the large windows of his corner office, new principal Andrew Gibson has a great view of the soon-to-be construction site next door.

Soon, he’ll be able to watch excavators and bulldozers tear apart the neighboring Harris Elementary School, then see steel beams start to go up for the new Powers Elementary School.

Gibson said Amherst Junior High students will probably be a bit distracted this year — at least at first — by the big trucks and earth-movers.

“Kids are funny. It starts snowing and they stare out the window like they’ve never seen snow before,” he said. “So it will be interesting when the demo starts here next month. Our teachers will keep them engaged in the classrooms, though.”

The junior high will be a bit more full during the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years.

Sixth-graders will move into the building this fall for the first time, but Gibson said he doesn’t expect any crowding issues. Seventh and eighth grade classes are a bit smaller than in previous years, so he believes there will be space for all.

“But we’re definitely going to be using all the rooms,” he laughed. “Kids are really resilient and wherever you set the bar, they’re going to adjust.”

Parents will need to adjust as well to new drop-off and pick-up procedures. Drivers need to let kids out at points all along the curb, rather than waiting to get as close to the doors as possible. Gibson said that will allow eight to 12 cars to make drop-offs at a time rather that three or four.

Traffic monitors will be outside during the first few weeks of school to help everything go smoothly and move cars along.

The procedures will be new to many parents — they’ll also be new to Gibson, who moved this year from the Columbia Schools to Amherst to take over for principal Ryan Coleman.

Hired in March, Gibson started working here Aug. 1. and said a parade of teachers has stopped in to welcome him to the building. They’ve made him feel at home.

A South Amherst native who graduated from Firelands High School, he said it’s good to be closer to home.

This year, he plans to put a big emphasis on math and language arts at AJHS. Gibson said those are foundational skills that will make learning science, history, and other subjects much easier.

He’ll also explore what else can be offered to his students in coming years, whether it’s technology, arts, or engineering tools.

Technology is especially important, he said.

“Kids are so much more advanced with computers and tech than I was 21 years ago when I graduated from high school,” Gibson said. “We need to make sure we’re evolving to meet their needs as they’re preparing to go out to college and the workforce.”

His message to parents: “We’re going to continue to push to create a safe and welcoming learning environment for your kids,” he said, “making sure they feel they’re at home, that they’re in a safe environment, that there are no emotional hurdles to overcome, and make sure they can get busy learning.”

“I know there’s going to be a lot of anxiety about the switch, and it’s important for parents to know we understand that’s going to lead to some anxiety with our kids.”

His mantra for 2017-2018 is that every AJHS student has an advocate in the building. A strong relationship with your teacher is the most important weapon for fighting bullying and depression and for achieving academic success.

“That’s what we’re going to focus on — making sure that every student who walks into this building knows there is at least one person here who cares about pushing for them, taking care of them,” the principal said.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk

Amherst Junior High School

Principal: Andrew Gibson

Start time: 7:30 a.m.

Release time: 2:30 p.m.

Number of students: 845

Grades: 6-8