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Effort to rename Burke High School for Al Holland forges ahead

Mandile Mpofu
Effort to rename Burke High School for Al Holland forges ahead
Dr. Albert D. Holland PHOTO: CITY OF BOSTON

When Edith Bazile attended the Jeremiah E. Burke High School in the 1960s, the all-girls school had descended into academic trouble, she said.

During the 1970s, amid the violence and turbulence that marked school desegregation, the coed Burke had spiraled into poor achievements and gang activity that spilled into the halls and classrooms.

By the next decade, the Grove Hall school was reborn and hailed as a symbol of success, thanks to the efforts and leadership of former headmaster Albert D. Holland.

“The school was chronically underperforming when Dr. Holland took over,” Bazile said. “And he was a very hands-on administrator…. He turned the school around.”

Bazile and dozens of alumni and friends filled the Burke auditorium on Jan. 20, where members of the School Site Council held a hearing on renaming the school for Holland.

One by one, they shared stories of Holland’s personal and academic influence on their lives.

“Dr. Holland created so many opportunities to dream,” said Brandy K. Cruthird, a former Burke star athlete who currently works as an administrator at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School. “It’s time we connect our city to people who live in the city, and who’ve really impacted the city.”

The school is named for Jeremiah E. Burke, a former Boston Public Schools superintendent.

Cruthird helped to initiate the push to rename the school in 2022 after an endeavor to rename two rooms in honor of former staff members at Madison Park was successful.

She said the process to rename the Burke, which started as an effort to rename the school’s gym for Holland, will be lengthy.

The Burke’s School Site Council, a group of parents, faculty and staff, approved the proposed change last June to Dr. Albert D. Holland Technology High School. The council and the school head Dr. Lindsa McIntyre will hand over documents to Superintendent Mary Skipper, who will submit the request to the Boston School Committee for final approval, according to Boston Public Schools naming policy and procedures.

The school department declined to comment for this story, and it is unclear when the School Committee will decide on the matter.

Holland, a Roxbury native and Jamaica Plain High School graduate, said in an interview he is grateful that the students “allowed me to be able to come into their lives” and proud to see that “education has been a vehicle for many of the youngsters who lived in that community and now live in the city,” and who have become “productive, young men and women making a difference.”

“I am overcome with emotion and very honored that my former students and community have moved along with this process,” said Holland.

The renaming effort continues to receive widespread support. A petition endorsing the name change has nearly 900 signatures and an informal vote at the hearing received no objections.

Charlie Titus, a childhood friend of Holland’s who supports the renaming effort, said Holland always exhibited leadership skills. As a young boy, Holland organized and captained sports teams and “held everybody else in line.” So it was no surprise to Titus that his friend had such a significant impact on the community.

“The greatest testament” to Holland’s impact is the support the effort has received from alumni who were at the Burke during Holland’s tenure, Titus said.

At the hearing, alum after alum stood at the front of the auditorium to share testimonials about Holland. One likened Holland to “an athlete who deserves to be in the hall of fame” but is yet to be inducted. Others called him “a treasure trove of wisdom” who “epitomizes the work that has happened and continues to happen in the Black community.”

If the name change is finally approved, it would not be the first time that Boston has honored one of its storied leaders.

Last year, the school department renamed the South End’s McKinley School after civil rights leader Mel King, a former state representative and local leader, a month after his passing.

However, many alumni of the Burke said they want the name change to occur while Holland is still around to witness it.

Greg Hill, a 1995 Burke graduate, said the alumni are “not taking no for an answer” because “we want to give him his flowers while he can smell them.”

Holland’s legacy began at the Burke, but his impact transcends Grove Hall. Hamid Gharooni, director of operations at Madison Park, said the vocational school “was in total crisis” until Holland was brought in. He worked with the faculty and administrators to make changes.

“We are who we are because of Al Holland,” he said. “Madison Park, the Burke, most of Boston Public Schools, high schools…they are who they are because of Al Holland.”

Bazile was at the Burke before Holland began working there in the 1980s. From a distance, Bazile said she witnessed the Burke’s transformation under Holland’s leadership.

He “addressed the social [and] emotional needs of students” and implemented systems that boosted “the morale of the staff,” she added.

Holland is an exemplary Black educator and honoring his work by renaming the Burke will inspire students to return as school leaders, Bazile said.

“Students need to learn about that legacy of success and what he did,” she said. “Renaming the school after him lifts up the work of transformational leaders like Dr. Holland.”