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Friends of Madison Park High School ask Mayor Menino to intervene at school

Howard Manly

In an unusual public exchange, outgoing Boston Public School (BPS) Superintendent Carol R. Johnson defended her record on improving the beleaguered Madison Park High School.

In a letter published in the Boston Globe last Saturday, Johnson detailed numerous expenditures made at the vocational school over the last three years, including 1,000 ipads, laptops and computers.

Johnson also said BPS spent $370,000 to transform the building into “the most technologically advanced school in the city” and $1.1 million “to expand learning time and strengthen the industry partnerships that will connect classrooms to careers.”

It’s just not about the money, Johnson went on, and pointed out that graduation rates at the school have jumped by 5 percent. Students scoring proficient or advanced on MCAS went up by 16 percent in English language Arts and by six points in mathematics.

“We are so proud of Madison Park students,” Johnson wrote.

But a group of parents, former students and community activists remain underwhelmed by Johnson’s commitment to Madison Park. They have now written a letter to her boss Mayor Thomas Menino to plead their case.

“We have now reached the point where the problems of morale and learning have deteriorated [so much] that the situation is toxic, unhealthy for students and teachers alike,” stated the letter written by the Friends of Madison Park Technical and Vocational High school. “…We cannot continue to ignore the failures in leadership and accountability which have led us to the point where our children are graduating with less hope than promise as to their future because of the lack of a quality education.”

The group puts a significant part of the blame on the current leadership at the school.

Earlier this year, Johnson placed acting headmaster Queon Jackson on administrative leave after disclosures that he was the subject of a federal investigation into a multi-state credit fraud ring. The move triggered an outpouring of support for Jackson among students.

“Since Jackson’s departure,” a letter signed by several parents stated, “there has been a total disregard of parental and student input into the direction and vision for the school … This is totally unacceptable.”

As it is now, the school’s day-to-day operations are being managed in part by Emily Lebo, the director of career and technical education and a member of the state Vocational Technical Education Advisory Council.

Without mentioning Lebo’s name, several parents and members of the Friends of Madison Park, a community group, directed their criticisms at the school’s current “leadership.” In a meeting last month with Johnson, a statement was handed out that detailed “the very serious problems” at the school.

According to the statement, “Individuals who have been self-appointed to run Madison Park do not identify with our children and have not made decisions in their best interests.”

In addition, the statement said, “Their philosophy of education does not reflect the children that they are serving.”

But in subsequent letters, the group named Lebo and listed several charges of unprofessionalism. “Her managerial approach has created a hostile work environment due to her heavy-handed tactics and her lack of professionalism and management skills as well as her unapproachable demeanor,” a letter started. “Her biased and reckless decisions have caused undue damage.”

Also part of current leadership at Madison Park is Roger Bourgeois, the newly hired head of vocational education for Boston Public Schools. According to students, faculty and administrators, Bourgeois has little interaction with anyone at the school where he has an office. After attending a recent meeting with community members about improving Madison, he supposedly told a co-worker that the meeting was “just a bunch of people whining, moaning and complaining about the conditions of the building.”

It was the conditions of the building that prompted Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham to focus on what she described as a “huge hole” in English teacher Dana Murray’s classroom. “When it rains,” Abraham wrote, “Water pours into the room, students move their desks and place trash barrels to collect the torrent.”

And it was that column that prompted Superintendent Johnson to write a response to the Globe.

“This week the Globe told the story of those who are asking us to do even more to transform Madison Park into a place of excellence — and we would certainly agree with these voices,” Johnson wrote.

But the Friends of Madison Park have said after repeated meetings with Johnson, the situation — at least when it comes to the present leadership — remains the same. A new headmaster is expected to be hired by the end of this month, but some worry that the new hire will be unable to move the school forward unless current leadership is removed.

“Yes, we have spoken to and met with the superintendent, to no avail,” wrote the Friends of Madison Park in their letter to Menino. “This is why we are requesting to meet with you without further delay. We cannot and will not allow our children to continue to languish and suffer for lack of opportunity and education.”