How Ottoson Middle School Has Changed to Become the School We Know Now

How Ottoson Middle School Has Changed to Become the School We Know Now

Maya V.


In 1921, a school called Junior High West was built in Arlington Heights, the second public junior high school in Arlington. The first principal was J. Stearns Cushing. The building was built at a time when more students than ever before were being enrolled in public schools, and therefore many school buildings had to be built. Arlington was no exception to this reality. Today, Junior High West is known as Ottoson Middle School.

When it was started, Junior High West was a school for grades seven, eight and nine; elementary schools went through sixth grade, and high schools housed  grades ten through twelve. The entire building occupied only the current seventh grade wing. It was much smaller! The eighth grade wing was added later on, in 1930.

Junior High West became Ottoson Junior High in 1972, and then Ottoson Middle School in 1989. It was named after Aarron Henry Ottoson, a principal who had worked there from 1939 – 1972, and who died just a few months before retiring. Mr. Ottoson was beloved among the Junior High West students and Arlington in general, and upon his death the student council voted to change the school’s name to Ottoson.

In the 1960s, some schools in Arlington such as Junior High East started changing their teaching styles to a more “cutting-edge” style, while Junior High West remained traditional. In the 1980s and 90s when Gibbs closed down, all middle school students began attending Ottoson. At this time, Ottoson incorporated a new-age learning style, making many changes such as the switch to wall-less classrooms. Eventually, the school reverted back to the traditional style, and it was in the 90s when Ottoson became a “middle school” instead of a “junior high”. It would be a very different learning experience if we went to the latter instead of the former. In an interview with Ms. Duke, the ACE teacher at Ottoson, she said, “Junior highs are organized like high schools are. […] Middle schools are supposed to be a bridge between elementary schools, which are very child-centered, and high school, where [… learning] is more about the subject”. Because of this transition from a junior high model to a middle school model, there have been a lot more choices and options for students, which, as Ms. Maguire, the academic support teacher for the Water LC said, “can be good and bad”.

Gibbs, Arlington’s all-sixth-grade school (originally Junior High East), was founded in 1928 and was renamed “Gibbs” (in honor of a superintendent) in 1983.  It closed down in 1989. It reopened in 2018 for sixth grade, when Ottoson became a seventh and eighth grade school, only. Part of the reason for this was the growing student population. Ms. Rubino, the seventh grade assistant principal at Ottoson, speculated that the reason for Arlington’s population increase is because it’s “a very desirable location to live, it’s really close to Boston, [and] it’s close to a lot of schools.”

Ottoson and the rest of the Arlington schools have changed quite a bit since they were first founded, and are continuing to change now.