In 1983, my parents bought a new house on Crocker Avenue in Tisbury, and we moved from East Chop over to West Chop. A big move, from the country to the city. I recall being excited for so many reasons. We could walk to town, be close to the boat, and more importantly, we would be entering the Tisbury School. A bunch of friends from sports went to school there, so the transition from a peer perspective was going to be an easy one. But the excitement of entering a real school was what really had me really excited. When I left the Oak Bluffs School, we were still in what is now the Oak Bluffs Town Hall. I remember Ms. Leighton (they don’t teach like that anymore), but I barely remember the school itself. Or maybe I just don’t want to remember. The Tisbury School, on the other hand, featured multiple levels, real classrooms, hallways, and several playing fields. This was a real school! Sorry, O.B., but the anticipation of being a Tiger quickly made my memories of O.B. fade.
Reminder, this was 1983. The Tisbury School was built in 1930. So, if you’re counting, when I was in third grade, the school was 53 years old. I’ll get back to that point later …
I spent six of the most influential years of my life in that building. I can still recall the administration, Principal Alan Campbell, a staff of so many amazing teachers, and a maintenance department we knew by name. That math teacher Mr. Coogan was pretty cool, too. The administration and staff were second to none, and here in 2021, the school still provides a consistency of professionalism, leadership, compassion, and educational excellence. The Tisbury School has always had a way of fostering a culture of unity, year after year after year. The athletic kids participate in the school plays. The musical kids try out for the basketball teams. The wicked smart kids excel in the arts and industrial programs. There is something magical about the Tisbury School, and most of that lies within the staff, because they produce that magic in spite of the physical plant they work in.
My oldest son entered kindergarten in 2009, his sisters followed in 2013, and my wife has been the Tisbury School nurse since 2013. In full disclosure, my visits back to the Tisbury School since my eighth grade graduation had been few and far between. Maybe a visit or two to check up on my uncle’s teaching of cribbage in math class, but aside from that, I had moved on. So when I first came back into the school in 2009, I took that nostalgic walk around the building.
Reminder: In 2009, that was 26 years after I first came to the Tisbury School, the school now being 79 years old.
The music room next to the stage in the gym looked the same as when I learned to play saxophone. The gym — God bless the Tisbury gym — was still half the size of a regular gym (#cozy). The “cafeteria” was still good for about 30 kids max. The boiler room — yes, the boiler room, which I did happen to wander into once or twice or maybe a hundred times — still looked like the sleeping quarters for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre killer. There had been some shifts in certain administration offices. But the rest was eerily similar. The doors on each classroom looked the same. The flooring was the same. Even the colors of paint seemed to be the same. There were differences, though. I was warned when entering one classroom to look down, because the floors were so buckled there was a solid 2 to 3 inches of rise in spots. The plaster on the walls was falling off. The bathrooms looked like they belonged in a 1930s prison, with the old radiators and Lord knows how many layers of lead paint. I’m sure they managed to scrub some of that lead paint off when the “Bel Air” graffiti mysteriously showed up when we were in eighth grade. For those interested in that story, “Bel Air,” a.k.a. “Blair,” will give you the best haircut on-Island right now. Ask him about that graffiti, and he’s sure to keep you laughing the whole time … but back on track and to the point, now well into its 80s, the once nostalgic and cozy Tisbury School was old and falling apart.
In 2018, my son graduated from eighth grade.
Reminder: In 2018, we are now up to 35 years of experience with the Tisbury School, and the darling relic was now 88 years old.
That graduation ceremony was special for me. It was though, eerily familiar again. Sitting in that cozy gym, barely enough room for a graduating class of eighth graders and their parents. Listening to time-held traditions, and then walking down and out those gym steps. Brought back amazing memories for me, but it came on the heels of a stinger. The town of Tisbury had just voted down, albeit by the smallest of margins, the construction of a new school. At 88 years old and failing, the town was back to the drawing board.
Today, in 2021, readers, the Tisbury School is now at age 91.
Yes, the Tisbury School is 91 years old. You read that right, not a misprint, and I am pretty good at using a calculator — my uncle Greg taught me that much in math class. We are back to a crucial vote on whether or not our town needs to build a new school. You’ve been flooded here with nostalgia, my own memories, and maybe a few good soundbites. So the details of the Tisbury School building project won’t be found in this opinion piece. The facts, reasoning, and explanations have been made and delivered. Those can be found under the Tisbury School Building Project website, tisbury-school-project.com/faq-sd, and any specific questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
But if you need to look at that site or email that email, then you haven’t been reading the papers, attending meetings, or generally been awake for the past five or six years in the town of Tisbury. There is no debate left, no questions left unanswered. The simple fact is that our school is 91 years old, and cannot service our children one day longer. Our children and our staff were forced out of their house for more than half of the school year due to health and safety concerns as a result of the deterioration to the building. Then, upon their return, a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic hit, and the children (the majority, I should say) only just re-entered the building a few weeks ago. For most of the Tisbury School population, they have spent approximately three to four months in the building since 2019. I wonder, is that a sign, a message perhaps?
It is time now to dial in our focus and realize the obvious. As a community devoted to our children, we must vote for their future and build this school as presented. There is nothing more important we can do than educate our children. When we take that vote and we move forward with this project, we need to collectively clap our hands with tears of adulation, and thank the teachers, administration, and staff of the Tisbury School, current and for the past 91 years. It is because of them that the Tisbury School remains the beacon of unity for our children’s education, and they, along with the children and this town, deserve a new Tisbury School.
Geoghan Coogan is a Tisbury attorney and a proud 1989 graduate of the Tisbury School.