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Admissions to Madison Park High being revised

Avery Bleichfeld
Admissions to Madison Park High being revised
Madison Park High School PHOTO: COURTESY BOSTON SCHOOLS FUND

The Boston School Committee is considering a new admissions policy for Madison Park Technical Vocational High School.

The policy would require a statement describing why the student is interested in a vocational education program and wants to attend Madison Park, and is designed to help the school admit students who actually are interested in vocational education as well as bring the district in line with state regulations requiring an admissions policy for vocational schools.

The new proposal, presented at the Committee’s Aug. 30 meeting, marked an update from one made in May. The earlier proposal was to change the Madison Park admissions process to include an application, a video or essay showing interest in a vocational education and two letters of support, one of which would have had to come from the student’s school.

At the time, members of the Committee expressed concerns that the many pieces of the application — none of which would have been assessed for quality — added unnecessary red tape that might keep students from attending Madison Park, even if they wanted to.

At a June meeting, the School Committee Chair Jeri Robinson announced that the Committee had asked the admissions team at Madison Park to revisit and simplify the policy.

Jason Samaha, an English teacher at Madison Park and a member of the committee that developed the policy, said, “When we originally began the creation of this policy, we were looking to create the most inclusive, equitable policy that we could, and I think having that conversation and feedback really helped us narrow in on how do we still meet our goals of [state] regulations and informed decision-making, but also remove as many barriers as possible?”

At the Aug. 30 meeting, School Committee members acknowledged the updates from the earlier policy to make entry into the school less restrictive.

“I appreciate you for recognizing the unintended consequences of the former proposal,” said Brandon Cardet-Hernandez. “This one seems to really solve some of those problems, while also making sure that students who want to be there are there and feel like they’re part of something really special.”

Some community members, however, worry that the new admissions policy doesn’t address the core of the challenges facing the school when it comes to building its student body.

Judith Baker, a former Madison Park teacher for more than 25 years and a member of the Friends of Madison Park organization, said she thinks any new admissions policy should be developed following a clearer plan on attracting students and keeping them engaged.

“What you really need is recruitment and retention,” Baker said. “Admissions is very, very secondary, except to use it as a way of screening out people who don’t want to be there.”

Similar concerns were shared by School Committee members.

“I think the issue really is on us and our education of our middle school kids right now, making sure that more students have actual opportunities of going to Madison and seeing what it’s like so we have a much better-informed group of families seeing this as another opportunity,” Robinson said.

School Committee member Michael O’Neill said it points to a districtwide need to help students understand what opportunities are offered at Madison Park as well as other high schools.

“This points out the need for having great communications to students about what their opportunities are and understanding the differences between our schools,” O’Neill said. “We have so many pockets of excellence all around the district that we just have to get better communicating it at an earlier basis to our students so they understand what their possibilities are.”

BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper said those communications will have to be worked out once the admissions policy is approved.

Skipper said she sees the revised policy proposal as a way to get more comprehensive data about who wants to attend Madison Park, a first step to changing how the school admits students.

“There’s a lot of this that has to be figured out around the enrollment. And we’ll start looking at those numbers, looking at who’s choosing, who isn’t. It’s exciting to think we might have an actual admissions policy to be able to actually get that data back from,” she said.

Questions remain about whether, in light of the revised proposal, students will continue to be administratively placed at Madison Park if they fail to select a choice of school.

Cardet-Hernandez said he sees continuation of administrative assignment at the school as counter to the new policy.

“There either is an application or there isn’t,” he said at the meeting. “If so, it seems counterintuitive to then administratively place students there.”

Skipper said she thinks changes regarding administrative placement at Madison Park will have to be coordinated with the implementation of the admissions policy.

“It has to be done in a coordinated fashion,” she said.

Skipper also said that districtwide, school officials are looking at potential alternatives to administrative placement, including other methods of outreach to students and families who aren’t selecting a school or don’t know how to.

At the meeting, Robinson said the School Committee will consider the policy and vote at the next meeting Sept. 13, prior to the state’s annual Oct. 1 deadline for receiving vocational school admissions policies. If approved, the district would aim to put it into effect for the 2024-25 school year.