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Wilnelia Rivera will head Roxbury program

The advisory board overseeing the fledgling program at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School that allows students to enroll in Roxbury Community College announced Monday that it has hired a project manager, a key step in ensuring that the joint venture between the city and the state is sustainable.

Wilnelia Rivera will leave her post as Governor Deval Patrick’s director of external affairs to run the Roxbury Massachusetts Academic Polytech Pathway, RoxMAPP for short.

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Rivera’s role is to maintain and strengthen the program as it exists, while developing what it will look like in the future.

The program will ultimately allow students to earn a high school diploma, associate’s degree, and technical certification. It will be governed by a nonprofit organization that aims to raise about $1 million a year.

“We’re all excited to have her,” said Gerald Chertavian, chief executive of Year Up, a Roxbury Community College trustee, and a member of RoxMAPP’s advisory board. “This is a critical position to the success of RoxMAPP. She has a huge amount of knowledge and credibility in the community.”

Rivera was selected from more than 60 applicants. Her resume includes work as deputy campaign manager for John F. Barros’s run for mayor and political director for Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, a nonprofit that promotes economic justice.

She will answer to the program’s Joint Industry Advisory Board, which includes health care, construction, and transportation specialists, elected officials, Boston School Committee members, and Roxbury Community College trustees. The board runs independently of the Boston School Department and the state Department of Education.

“I’m excited, as you can imagine,” she said. “It’s why I started in political work in the first place, the belief that what people need is an education.”

The program began in the fall with 18 students, all juniors studying nursing. The plan is for RoxMAPP to grow over the next five years to include all 1,100 students at Madison Park and expand to two dozen technical pathways, including hotel, tourism, transportation, and traditional trades.

The goal is for every Madison Park student, upon graduation, to be ready for a full-time job or to continue studying at a four-year institution.

The five-year RoxMAPP plan calls for opening Madison Park to adults on nights and weekends for vocational and technical training.

Rivera was part of the team that helped create RoxMAPP, which was announced in June as a joint effort between the city and the state to help strengthen two institutions that have struggled.

Madison Park, the city’s only vocational school, has been plagued for years with low standardized test scores and low graduation rates.

Roxbury Community College has had single-digit graduation rates, administrative woes with financial aid and student advising, and allegations of sexual assault by faculty and staff.

Being named program manager gives Rivera the opportunity to help an idea mature, something she said has not happened much over the course of her career. She said she has been involved with big-picture planning but not necessarily ground-level implementation.

“For me, Roxbury is exactly like how I grew up in Lawrence, a lot of unfilled mission and promises,” she said. “But it really takes the leadership at the top and the bottom to make these things happen.”

Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com.
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