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CSW Mourns the Loss of Head of School George Cohan

It is with a heavy heart that CSW shares the news of the passing of former Head of School George Cohan.

George served as head of school at CSW for 10 years, beginning in 1989 and ending in 1999. In 2001, he generously returned to take on a one-year post as interim head, while the school searched for its next leader. The George Cohan building, affectionately known as “The George,” is named in his honor. 

Prior to his time at CSW, George taught in a variety of educational settings: public, private, national, and international, with roles at Wesleyan University, the American School of Paris, and the New Lincoln School. When the headship opened up at CSW, he was excited to utilize his more than 30 years of experience and implement a progressive educational philosophy. 

The closeness of the CSW community was evident to George from the very beginning. He once commented how the students exhibited an uncommon sense of personal responsibility, navigating the world with purpose, passion, and an innovative spirit. He loved to be in the classroom, and always made time to teach at least one course per year, and sometimes two or three. Though his fields were history and mathematics, he was highly supportive of the concept of integrated studies, understanding the importance of finding connections across disciplines. CSW’s very first integrated studies course, “Dimensions of Time,” was launched under his watch. Others will fondly remember his participation in school plays, most famously as Louis the Gangster in the school’s production of Guys and Dolls. He has also been credited with establishing the role of student assembly coordinator. 

Over the course of his tenure, George made enrollment and financial sustainability top priorities, ensuring that the school would continue to exist for future generations. In addition to bringing the enrollment from 175 in 1989 to 300 in 1999, he consistently balanced the budget each year, built the school’s endowment up from nothing, and eliminated several millions of dollars worth of debt. He was also behind a number of improvements to the school’s buildings and grounds, many of which had fallen into disrepair. Determined to make the campus a place where students and faculty alike could flourish, he oversaw the renovation of key learning spaces, in addition to the construction of the Mugar Center for the Performing Arts, with its state-of the art stage and sound system, recital hall, and multiple musical instrument practice rooms.

George was known for balancing structure with freedom. He understood the importance of strong leadership and organization, but no task — making copies, helping out on dish duty, etc. — was ever beneath him. He was a highly intelligent debater who demanded clarity and purpose from all those who brought ideas to him. But he also possessed a warmth and a playfulness, and he loved a good party. 

In words attributed to the late Alorie Parkhill P’85 ’87, GP’17 who, between 1963 and 2007, served as teacher, assistant head, academic dean, dean of faculty, and head of college counseling at CSW: “Most of the faculty trusted [George] instinctively; he was honest with them. One long-term teacher wrote in her evaluation of George that she was glad we finally had a “grown up” running the school. Remarkably, it was never about his ego, but about doing the right and necessary things.”

One thing is for certain: The CSW of today simply would not exist were it not for George. We are so deeply grateful for his vision, perseverance, and endlessly generous spirit. His passion for education and his love for The Cambridge School of Weston will be with us always. 

Our hearts go out to George’s family, his wife, Julia, and his surviving children, Danny, Drew ’90, and our colleague John, who since 1990 has been a warm, welcoming campus presence, first working in facilities, then the dining hall and for the past 17 years in athletics.  

We will share more information about honoring George’s life as we are able.  

The Cambridge School of Weston is a progressive high school for day and boarding students in grades 9–12 and PG. CSW's mission is to provide a progressive education that emphasizes deep learning, meaningful relationships, and a dynamic program that inspires students to discover who they are and what their contribution is to their school, their community and the world.