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Some see opportunity in Madison Park-only complex

Residents hopeful that change will bring new innovations

Tanisha Bhat
Some see opportunity in Madison Park-only complex
Madison Park Technical Vocational High School. PHOTO: TIM PIERCE, WIKIMEDIA

The city’s proposal to restore and expand Madison Park Technical Vocational High School and relocate the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science has been garnering a lot of attention in recent days.

Much of the public comment — and pushback — have centered around the possibility of moving the O’Bryant school from Roxbury to far-away West Roxbury. But now there is a new focus on Madison Park, the city’s only vocational technical high school.

Residents who have witnessed Madison Park’s struggles through the decades said an education complex focused solely on Madison Park would be a boost for the school. They said they would love to see a Madison-Park-only complex filled with lots of students, cutting-edge programming and innovative partnerships that open doors of opportunity for students from the neighborhoods. So far, JetBlue pledged to support a new aviation technology pathway at the school.

“It’ll just be Madison there — on its own terms,’’ one former administrator told the Banner last week.

The possibility of separating Madison Park from its exam school neighbor O’Bryant surfaced last month when Mayor Michelle Wu and Boston Public Schools Superintendent Mary Skipper announced a plan to invest in the city’s high schools.

The plan includes a major reboot for Madison Park, which would take over the complex it has long shared with O’Bryant on Malcolm X Boulevard in Roxbury. The plan would double Madison’s enrollment to 2,200, add seventh and eighth graders and create space for new proposed vocational programs.

The mayor’s office said the school department is considering changes to five new programs, depending on advice from labor analysts. Those programs are biotechnology, aviation technology, early education and care, environmental science and technology and robotics and automation technology.

Adults will also be able to take night classes at the school.

Wu and Skipper said their plan would transform Madison Park into “a nation-leading and fully modernized vocational technical” campus. They also proposed constructing a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) campus for the O’Bryant at the West Roxbury Education Complex site.

The reimagining of a Madison-only campus is expected to cost $45 million. City officials have not yet specified the total cost for a possible expansion of the complex.

“Boston has everything we need to offer our high school students an education that prepares them to achieve their dreams,” Wu said in announcing the plan.

Lou Mandarini, the mayor’s senior advisor for labor, emphasized in a recent interview that the thrust of the city’s proposal “is to build a career vocational technical school that becomes a magnet for all students who want to pursue that form of education.”

But the proposal was met with swift rebuke at a School Committee meeting late last month, when parents, students and educators raised a litany of concerns about moving O’Bryant from Roxbury. The speakers said they feared long commute times, a lack of diversity and distance from nearby colleges that support city high school students. “Removing OB from Roxbury will remove the diversity and connection in the Boston community,” said one parent at the meeting.

No one from the public spoke about the impact the move would have on Madison Park.

Besieged by years of administrative turnover and fluctuating enrollment, Madison Park  has been trying to find its footing. It offers 20 vocational-technical programs, including automotive technology, culinary arts and dental assisting. But the school has had lingering performance issues, and enrollment has varied over the years, from under 900 students in 2019 to around 1,100 this year, according to state data.

Madison Park supporters said the school needs to rebuild from the ground up. Its facilities need revamping to ensure features like full Internet access throughout the complex. The school also needs more classrooms, green space and natural light to improve the learning experience, the observers added.

Some students urged more extracurricular activities to keep them and their peers fully engaged in their education.

“They need to advertise the programs way more so that the students in the building know what … the school offers,’’ said Qadra Abdullahi, a 2023 graduate of Madison Park. “And when they do advertise, they need to make it interesting so that the students are willing to participate.”

Louis Elisa, a member of Friends of Madison Park and one of the three co-chairs of a newly formed Madison Park advisory committee, said he is hopeful about the city’s plans for the vocational technical school, but he said he’s heard previous government officials make promises for the school — and not deliver.

“They’re going to have to put the resources and actually develop it,” said Elisa, who is also president of the Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association. “To have a comprehensive high school, you’re going to have to create a different type of environment in terms of the physical design.”

The Rev. Willie Bodrick II, senior pastor at Twelfth Baptist Church, said he does not want to see the O’Bryant move out of Roxbury, but he added that he is optimistic about the future prospects for Madison Park under the city plan.

“[Madison Park] is a gem right in the heart of Roxbury,” said Bodrick.  “It needs the investments; it needs the love and the care. We all know the potential that it has to be an amazing vocational tech school, which it already is, but to be better and to be better supported.”