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Alumni push to rename Jeremiah E. Burke High School

Xiaoya Shao
Alumni push to rename Jeremiah E. Burke High School
Jeremiah E. Burke High School. BANNER FILE PHOTO

Alumni of the Jeremiah E. Burke High School are stepping up their push to rename the Burke for former headmaster Albert D. Holland, who led the school from 1982 to 1993.

During Holland’s tenure, the Burke was transformed from a school entangled with gang activities to one with a higher graduation rate and a decreasing dropout rate. Holland is still recognized by residents as a coach, mentor and leader, and his former students said his leadership and commitment to the school district should be honored.

“Dr. Holland was a pioneer in education,” said Brandy Cruthird, one of the alumni leading the renaming process. “He created a platform for kids to dream, for educators to grow and for communities to come together.”

The Burke was “neglected” during the desegregation of Boston Public Schools, also known as busing, when students were shuttled to schools out of their neighborhoods, Holland said in an interview.

“At the time when I became the headmaster, the superintendent told me that I had only one place to go and that was up,” Holland said, “because the Burke was already at the bottom.”

The Burke had three student gangs in the building, said Charlie Titus, a childhood friend of Holland.

Holland was able to quiet them down and give the students new directions, added Alfreda Harris, a close friend of Holland.

The idea to rename the school for Holland started last year with a few of his former students, who initially wanted to rename the gym for him, said Greg Hill, a Burke administrator who is leading the renaming effort.

Holland has “close personal ties to the buildings” whereas Jeremiah Burke has little connection to the school, Hill added.

“It is very important for our students to start to take some pride in the stock [from] which they come,” Hill said. “This is … a person that actually led the school at one point in time.”

On April 4, the Burke’s School Site Council, comprised of parent representatives, faculty and staff, voted to “recognize the dedication and work achieved” under Holland’s leadership by renaming the gym the Dr. Albert Holland Athletic Complex, according to an ad published in the Banner in April.

“Dr. Holland holds his 10-year service at the Jeremiah E. Burke High School as his crowning achievement as headmaster. During his time at ‘The Burke,’ Dr. Holland came to understand the meaning of the African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’” the ad said.

After he retired in 2008, Holland continued to work within the Boston Public Schools as a mentor and coach to many school principals, the ad said.

Hill said members of the community made it clear that renaming the gym was “not enough,” and the entire school should be named for Holland.

Another public hearing on the renaming will be held in January to get public input. The Boston School Committee ultimately will make the final approval.

Cruthird said renaming the Burke after Holland would be inspiring to any “young kid being able to see a name and able to identify with that person.”

“We have all these schools where they’re named after people, but they’re not named after impact, people who really made change,” Cruthird said. “[Holland] really changed the Burke at a time when the Burke was really needing transformation.”

Holland said he is honored that his former students and others are seeking to rename the Burke after him.

“Burke played a major role in determining who I am,” he said, adding that it continues to play a role in the lives of students.

“Children attended Burke High School, many of them I see as adults [now], I’m very proud of them. Not everybody made it. But the ones that did, they’re doing well,” Holland said. “And I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have an impact on the lives of young people.”

Holland has had a long, storied history in the Boston Public Schools, and is seen as sort of a fixer of troubled schools. Nine years ago, he was asked to lead Madison Park Vocational Technical High School after its headmaster resigned amid controversy. Two years later, he stepped out of retirement to help lead Boston Latin School in improving its racial climate.

Hill called Holland “a true leader of the people.”

Cuthrid said Holland pushed her in high school and created a “palace of solace” for young people.

“He encouraged me to excel in school. I was the top basketball player coming out of the state of Massachusetts because of him. If [students] came with no dreams, he helps you foster those dreams,” Cuthrid said.