Boston’s only vocational high school finally finished schedules Tuesday for all students, hours after students rallied outside for classes to start immediately and amid growing criticism from local officials and parents.
The schedules came together at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury as the fourth day of school was wrapping up. The delays in getting students, as well as teachers, assigned to classes are expected to provoke a wide-ranging discussion at Wednesday night’s School Committee meeting, the first of the school year.
Chairman Michael O’Neill said he is going to demand a full explanation on what went wrong.
“It’s absolutely inexcusable,” O’Neill said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “We need to get students into classes now.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh called the scheduling problems “completely unacceptable.”
“BPS leadership has assured me that the students’ schedules will be finalized and classes will begin with the starting bell [Wednesday] morning,” Walsh said in a statement. “I am encouraged by the students, and their parents, who are passionate about getting into the classroom. I am encouraged by the teachers, who are demonstrating that they want to teach.”
John McDonough, interim superintendent, said a confluence of issues conspired to create the scheduling problems, from changing the number of class periods in the day to ensuring that students with disabilities or limited fluency in English were being assigned to the right classes.
“We are moving it forward and getting it done,” said McDonough, who spent nearly 12 hours at Madison Park on Tuesday overseeing the effort to fix the schedules.
Madison Park has been in a downward spiral for years, plagued with low state standardized testing scores and graduation rates. For the past three school years, the School Department has repeatedly attempted a turnaround at the school to avoid state intervention, but the effort has been marked by missteps and setbacks.
Just this summer, the school raced to hire nearly 60 teachers and administrators three weeks before the school year started, and an “intervention” team recommended shutting down the school if it fails to make improvement in three years.
“It’s very sad what’s happening at Madison Park,” said Kim Janey, senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, a Boston nonprofit. “The students are suffering and are missing out on their education. We have to do better by them, but I’m glad to see students are standing up for themselves and demanding an education.”
When school opened Tuesday, only freshmen had their schedules, prompting about 100 students to partake in a rally, chanting, “We need our schedules, no waste of time.” They also held signs with such messages as “No School, No Future.”
Most refused to enter the building until they received assurances that the schedules were ready. When school officials told sophomores that their classes had been assigned, some went inside the building, only to reemerge minutes later dissatisfied.
“This schedule says I have two math classes, two science classes . . . and only some of my classes have rooms listed,” said Alyssa Estelle, a sophomore, after receiving her schedule Tuesday morning. “Are they serious?”
Other students gave up hope and went home. The rally went on for about two hours.
“If I was in school I would be doing nothing, so now I am just going home to doing nothing instead,” said Kellsi Pemberton, a junior who helped organize the rally. “Obviously, I would rather be in school — but only if I had a normal schedule.”
Plenty of finger-pointing ensued as the school community debated whether the school’s administration or the School Department’s central offices were to blame. The Friends of Madison Park circulated a letter among students defending the headmaster, Diane Ross Gary, saying consultants at the School Department created the scheduling problems.
But McDonough said schedule problems had been going on for years, and that was a fundamental reason why Madison Park was failing.
Of particular concern, he said, was that the school would assign regular education students to classes and later assign students with disabilities or English-language learners — a process that often denied those students spots in the classes they wanted because all the seats were taken up.
McDonough said the school was directed in the spring to provide all students with equal access to all programs, but that his staff discovered those changes were never made when they reviewed the schedules shortly before school began.
He then assembled a team to redo the schedules, a task that took more than a week to complete.
“This school has extraordinary potential and the students deserve nothing but the best from the school and the district,” McDonough said. “We are committed to do that. If there are bumps in the road than so be it.”