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Gibbons is ‘super excited’ to be new EPHS principal

Pittsfield, Mass. native felt immediate connection to school, community

By Mike Rego
Posted 9/21/20

EAST PROVIDENCE — For new East Providence High School principal Toby Gibbons, the lure of the position, the seemingly kismet connections to the city, to the job were pretty much self evident …

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Gibbons is ‘super excited’ to be new EPHS principal

Pittsfield, Mass. native felt immediate connection to school, community


EAST PROVIDENCE — For new East Providence High School principal Toby Gibbons, the lure of the position, the seemingly kismet connections to the city, to the job were pretty much self evident upon his learning the post was available roughly a month ago.

The 50-year-old father of four and Wakefield resident comes to EPHS after spending the last seven years as assistant principal at Narragansett High, but he said it’s almost like the entirety of his life experiences, including his near-three decades in academia, made him meant for the role.

Mr. Gibbons grew up in Pittsfield, Mass., which he described “in the late 80s, early 90s it was the “GE” (General Electric) town. It was a hard-working town out in the West part of Massachusetts on the New York border. And there was a sense of community, of home. Being in the Berkshires, far enough from Lennox and Tanglewood where the rich and famous lived, it was a hard-working town, three shifts at GE Plastics.”

East Providence, he added, “felt like that.”

A former three-sport athlete as a younger man, Mr. Gibbons went to public high school then spent a year at a private boarding school preparing for college. He said his lack of financial means and his prowess in sports afforded him that opportunity, which eventually led him on his career path.

“That’s why I went into education,” he explained. “I love teaching Math, but I also loved coaching kids. I like molding the whole student, the whole part of it. It’s been a part of who I am. I just believe in the full person, and I love the tie-in of athletics to school. I think the more the community and the students are tied together in things outside of school, the better the students will perform when they’re in school.”

Upon receiving his bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Springfield (Mass.) College, Mr. Gibbons spent a bit more than a decade at private schools where he was a dorm head, athletic director, three-season coach and a Math and Science teacher. He later received his Master's Degree in School Administration from Providence College.

Mr. Gibbons entered the public school ranks in 2004, spending a year each at Durfee High in Fall River and at Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence before taking a position as a Math teacher at South Kingstown High School, again also coaching sports in each of the three seasons. In his career, he has coached boys’ and girls’ soccer and hockey, golf, softball and baseball. He is a past present of the Southern Rhode Island Youth Hockey organization and still coaches the Providence Hockey Club Elite 12-year-old team.

“My approach in just about everything I do is to get better every day. Maybe it’s from my background as a coach,” Mr. Gibbons said. “If you have a growth mindset, and that means I’m not stuck in any specific part in my development as a person, as a thinker, as a learner, as an athlete, as a musician, as an artist, if I feel I can get better every day and work hard enough, I can. There’s no set height at where I can go, so I approach every day the same way: What can I do to get better today? And how can I support the staff, support the students to reach their goals. And their goals should be something that’s part of their journey, not an end goal. I’ve accomplished that, now what’s my next goal? Let’s keep improving everyday.”

He shares that philosophy with his wife, Meredith Drennan Gibbons, the daughter of the late noted University of Rhode Island administrator and legendary golf coach for the Rams, Tom Drennan. Mr. Drennan, who passed away in January of this year, also had ties to EPHS, serving as a student teacher there while an undergrad at Providence College.

“I heard nothing but amazing stuff about the staff and the talent support here, the love of the town, the love of the high school, which is being shown in the financial commitment from the town itself for the new building,” Mr. Gibbons said. “And for my career itself, I’m ready. I don’t jump from job-to-job. I feel when I’m prepared for one, I start looking for one. And I don’t think things happen by accident. I think they happen for a reason, and I think this is the perfect fit for me.”

The “fit” comes with what he called “an unbelievable perk” in the new high school being erected behind the existing one, though it wasn’t at the top of the list of reasons why he wanted the job and it shouldn’t distract from the present.

“We’re not there yet,” Mr. Gibbons said of the new building on target to open this time next year.

“This is our school,” he continued, referring to the old structure. “This current building is where we are now, and we’re going to live in the now. We’re going to get better here.”

To improve upon what have been consistent, though not immediately impressive, results coming from the high school in recent years, Mr. Gibbons said he must pay attention to what his superiors and peers have to say on the topic.

“I think the first thing I have to do understand where the metrics are going,” he said. “I have to dive in, I have to talk to the leadership team, I have to listen to the department chairs, listen to the teachers, see what’s happened to move things in a positive direction. Then I have to figure out what I can do to support them or tweak it to continue the change in a positive way. There’s no magic wand. There’s data we can use. There’s professional development we can give to the teachers so that they can then bring back more expertise to our students.”

The style and life experience Mr. Gibbons brought to the interview process could have been a couple of things that set him apart from the field. He felt an immediate connection to the school and to the community, comparing it to his own.

“I don’t know the other candidates, but if they made it through then they accomplished something good and strong. I try to be me. And one of the things I spoke to Superintendent (Kathryn) Crowley about, looking at my resume you might think I’m a different person than I actually am, thinking I’m private school educated and all about private schools. No, I’m an inner-city kid who had to quit baseball in high school so there was oil in the house.

“I am who I am. I think all of the other candidates probably did an amazing job, but what might have set me apart was that the people on the committee realized I’m a straight-shooter who is passionate about the school I’m working at and I feel like I’m the perfect fit.”

Mr. Gibbons, who’s children range from a 21-year-old senior at the University of Rhode Island to a freshman at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to a senior in high school to a freshman in high school, said the commitment by himself and his family to his new endeavor is both firm and long lasting.

“I’ve been in education for 27 years. I have never in my life taken a job looking for the next one,” Mr. Gibbons said. “It’s not going to happen. My first year as assistant principal at Narragansett High School the South Kingstown High School principal job opened up, and I refused to apply to it. I wasn’t ready, nor did I want to. I wanted to do the job I had really well. What I want to do now is make the City of East Providence proud. I want to make the students and staff so happy that they’re a part of E.P., to be Townies. Like I said, I’m all in.”

He added, “I am just so excited to be here. I haven’t slept for the last two weeks. The first week was hoping I would be in this spot. And then the past week, it’s now that I’m here. And I’m here. I’m all in. My family is all in. I got some E.P. hats and shirts, and I my kids stole them all. They’re all in. We’re super excited to start this next chapter in my life and one that’s going to be better than anything else.”

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