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Councilors question failure to hire teachers at Madison Park

Nate Homan

Madison Park Technical Vocational High School has been plagued with low MCAS scores, low graduation rates and, most recently, 62 job openings for teachers and administrators as recently as last week.

During last week’s City Council meeting, council members blasted the school department for what they said was a pattern of neglect.

“The BPS should be ashamed that they had 62 open positions at one school two weeks out from the start of school,” City Councilor Tito Jackson said. “They should be absolutely ashamed. It is wrong. It does not set the school up to succeed. It doesn’t give the school leader an opportunity to build a team. And as they came to us for $6 or $7 million to change their hiring to offer folks jobs in March, April, May, we stand here in August without the positions being filled.”

The number of vacancies has been cut in half as of August 25 according to BPS’s Chief Communications Officer Lee McGuire, who said that the school department anticipates that number to diminish further by the end of this week as they filter through some 700 candidates.

But that still means that these teachers and administrators didn’t know what they would be doing last week when school starts on September 4. McGuire said that Headmaster Diane Ross Gary has had the ability to hire teachers and staff members since last year and her power to do so had never been infringed upon.

The Friends of Madison Park, a group of past and current teachers, parents and community members, tell a different story, claiming that her hiring power had been frozen since April and was reinstated in August.

“I know they’re working on it and I hope we have folks there by the time school starts,” Bob Marshall of the Friends of Madison Park said. “The problem is when you stop a hiring process in April and start again in August, you don’t have much room for error. When you release the budget in August when everyone else got theirs in April and June, there’s not much room for error. It’s like they are setting Madison up to fail.”

With the boom in Boston’s construction and development citywide, Marshall said that it is the role of vocational schools to train students for jobs in the building trades.

“We won’t stand for anything less than the best staff providing the best opportunity for the kids for training for jobs in the 21st century,” Marshall said. “If you ride around the city, look at all the projects going on. Our kids should be trained to be a part of it. You can’t look at the skyline and not see cranes and the skeletons of buildings going up. Our kids need to be a part of that.”

Marshall said that the struggles at Madison Park are part of a bigger picture.

“The human resources department of the school department is very dysfunctional, and it’s harming our students, particularly in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan, where black and Latino students dominate the population,” he commented.

McGuire said that the headmaster at Madison is now at the helm of the hiring process.

“They obviously have a lot of work ahead of them, but the school should not feel pressured to fill a position just because the start of the school year is approaching,” McGuire said. “If they can do without an immediate fill, they should hire the best person for the job. That’s the number one priority.”

In 2013, Madison Park had 35 percent of the student body in special education programs for learning or behavioral disabilities, compared to the average of 19 percent for vocational schools in Massachusetts. There were 205 suspensions in 2013, or more than one a day during the school year. During that time, Ross Gary worked with no assistant headmaster and no disciplinary administrator.

During last week’s meeting councilors placed the blame on the school department.

“We’ve all given verbal support to the need for us to have a premiere voc-ed school,” Councilor Ayanna Pressley said. “But the school is failing because we have failed these kids. I am tired of the school being referred to as a dumping ground. The school is failing. The kids are failing. And we have failed them. If the school has been set up to fail, then the students have as well.”

McGuire said that shrinking the incoming freshman class from 375 from the last two years to 100 to 150 this year will help take the pressure off of the teachers and administrators.

“We are dedicated to making sure the students enrolled at Madison want to be there,” McGuire said. “That wasn’t happening in the past.”

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