Updated June 26
Former Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School student Geoghan Coogan was at the school committee meeting Monday to thank the school for their efforts in reviewing disciplinary policies and trying to make the best choice for students.
“We know there will be a positive outcome from the efforts of the administration and the school board,” Coogan said.
Coogan said that as a lawyer, he has been involved in a lot of controversial matters on the Island, and noted that the most active voices in those matters are not often positive. “One thing that is a constant is you always hear the negative voice, and sometimes you don’t get to hear the positive,” he said.
When Coogan was at MVRHS, he said, although he was a “solid student” and an athlete, he and his peers knew what it meant when they heard their names being called to the front office.
“We knew that detentions and suspensions were part of breaking the rules,” Coogan said. “If you break the rules, here are the consequences. We tried to follow those rules, and if we didn’t, then we took a trip down the hallway.”
Today and over the years, Coogan said society has become overly litigious and inward-thinking.
He said some parents have the “my kid didn’t do anything wrong” attitude, when what is really necessary to dissuade negative behavior is to be appropriately reprimanded.
“From detentions and suspensions to mindfulness and meditation, there is a place for both,” Coogan said. “There is a wide range of different policies, and what the reactions and consequences might be from those. I am not here to debate what is wrong or right.”
Coogan’s comments come on the heels of the most recent school committee meeting, where the Advisory Committee to Reduce Out of School Suspension (ACROSS), a group of MVRHS parents against out-of-school suspension, called for changes in the administrations discipline approach.
Despite some negative voices, Coogan, whose sister, Nell Coogan, is restorative coordinator at the high school, said he is confident the school is “headed down the right path,” and has come a long way. “I think you are far ahead of where the school was years ago,” Coogan said.
Apart from one’s own household, Coogan said, the school holds the “greatest influence on our kids.”
Along with providing the best possible education for Island kids, Coogan said he relies on the school to “instill a level of civility and decency” in them.
“As you weigh the different types of policies, procedures, and reactions to those, there are a lot of us who say you are on the right path,” Coogan said.
“If my kid breaks a rule, I’m not going to go home and say, ‘Well, the school is wrong’; I am going to say, ‘You are wrong, here is the consequence.’”
He suggested that it is not solely the school’s job to discipline students, but that as a parent it is his job to solidify the understanding of right and wrong.
Coogan reiterated his point that too often on Martha’s Vineyard are the negatives highlighted, and the positives overshadowed. “I think far too often on this Island you get a lot of push, and some of it is rightful from where it’s coming. But when you don’t hear ‘You’re doing the right thing,’ you tend to feel beat up,” Coogan said. “Don’t feel beat up, it’s part of the process, it’s part of Martha’s Vineyard.”
Assistant superintendent Richie Smith said that since his past involvement in the disciplinary workings of the school, he has always spoken in support of what the administration does, because of the intensity with which policies and procedures are considered and decided upon.
He said that he doesn’t want there to be an inherent feeling of negative and positive whenever folks come to the school to engage in conversation.
He said that at the last School Advisory Council meeting (SAC), he witnessed a fruitful conversation filled with “very civil discourse,” and said that is how progress is made and things get accomplished.
“I think the further people get away from the school administration and the inner workings of the school, the further we get into what is negative and what is positive,” Smith said.
Dhakir Warren, administrator of student affairs for the school, told The Times that SAC is the central forum that provides opportunities for students, parents, faculty, and administration to have constructive dialogue related to improving the school.
“Through that forum, we work with external parties like ACROSS to have those dialogues,” Warren said. “We will continue to work with those parties in good faith, because at the end of the day, it’s about serving the best interests of students.”
Signe Benjamin told The Times in a phone call that ACROSS members went to the administration and were met by “a brick wall,” but will continue to engage in conversation and try to change policy in the school handbook. She said ACROSS was met with “great opposition” at SAC meetings. “We just want to reduce out-of-school suspensions, not eliminate them. We want to get things done and get down to brass tacks.” Benjamin said ACROSS was forced into the public sphere because of lack of action on behalf of the school.
In other business, the MVRHS Diamond Club, which serves as the booster club for both the softball and baseball teams, will donate a new scoreboard, to be installed at the varsity softball field. The cost and installation of the scoreboard will be completely paid for by the Diamond Club.
Updated to correct Richie Smith’s official title, and to include a comment from Signe Benjamin- Ed.