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Roxbury C.C. + Madison H.S.? Intriguing, but hold the toasts

The plan to align Boston’s Madison Park Technical Vocational High School and Roxbury Community College looks great on paper. But the low-achieving high school and the stumbling community college will need to get their own institutions into good working order before they embark on a successful joint venture.

The institutions are close in mission and proximity. It should follow, therefore, that high school students studying for careers in medical labs, business technology, hospitality, and other trades would jump at the chance to enhance their skills and earn higher certificates and associate’s degrees at Roxbury Community College. The alignment could also benefit RCC students who are interested in combining their academic pursuits with vocational training in automotive technology, culinary arts, and other programs at Madison Park.

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State education secretary Matthew Malone calls the partnership “a big, bold, grand idea.’’ Governor Patrick sees it as a creative way to align public secondary and higher education with the needs of local industry. Mayor Menino, meanwhile, is eager to see Madison Park in good standing before he leaves office in January. But none of this excitement will transfer from the page without dramatic changes at both institutions.

Subpar achievement and low graduation rates plague Madison Park. Students are routinely assigned to the school after failing to receive their top assignment choices. And many arrive with no interest or aptitude in vocational education. Roger Bourgeois, the newly hired head of vocational education for the Boston Public Schools, promises to have a new admissions policy in place by September 2014. His first order of business, however, is to hire a competent headmaster to replace Madison’s most recent school leader, who was placed on leave in February while federal investigators probed whether he was involved in a multistate credit card fraud ring.

Roxbury Community College is also awaiting a new leader to redeem a fallen institution. When she takes up the post in July, new president Valerie Roberson must deal immediately with pressing academic and campus culture issues. In March, the authors of an independent report cited the college for financial mismanagement, violating federal campus safety laws, and failure to investigate sexual assault allegations. Not exactly the ideal partner for a high school.

Bourgeois readily admits that “the alignment doesn't solve the problems’’ of the institutions. But that is not the only concern. Alignment could actually exacerbate the problems at both institutions by distracting new leaders from core duties. This is one match that will require constant monitoring.

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