Of all the frustratingly self-defeating practices of the Boston public school system, its inability to fill teaching positions until just a few weeks before the start of school has been about the worst. How many great teachers are going to wait until a few days before classes start to get a job? How is a principal going to set high standards in such a short window of time? What about coordinating lesson plans and materials?
To his credit, interim superintendent John McDonough appeared to solve that problem this year, finding room in the restrictive union contract to post 1,000 jobs last spring, so that Boston could compete with suburban departments for the best teaching candidates. But then came the disappointing news last week that Madison Park High School — Boston’s underperforming vocational school — was looking to fill 58 vacancies, including 44 teaching slots, in less than three weeks until the start of school. McDonough insists he has confidence in the process. But that’s hard to figure. More likely, the late hirings will only add to the sense of disarray at Boston’s most high-profile struggling school.
Indeed, Madison Park has been in the midst of a top-to-bottom review, complicated by McDonough’s refusal to go along with an intervention team’s recommendation that headmaster Diane Ross Gary lose her post. In a letter to Madison Park teachers and staff last week, McDonough described where the restructuring stands: A shrinking class of fewer than 150 freshmen will enroll this year, when only two years ago the school welcomed close to 400. And of the dozens of teaching and administrative openings, several are new positions, such as a director of student services and a family coordinator.
In an interview, McDonough explained that Madison Park will be following a rigorous process in making the new hires. Gary is chairing a hiring committee, which McDonough established following the recommendation of the intervention team. And he says the committee can finish its job by the start of school. “The more telling statistic is that there are 725 active applicants and qualified teachers for those 58 vacancies,” McDonough said.
But McDonough himself has noted how difficult it can be to hire new teachers in such a rush. Choosing 58 professionals from a pool of 725 candidates is a daunting task anytime — let alone doing it in three weeks. Madison Park is an important resource for students who may lack the academic standing or inclination to go to college, and who need job skills right away. It’s at the front lines of Boston’s effort to create employment opportunities for underprivileged kids. Right now, the effort to upgrade Madison Park looks like it’s stumbling, and the kids and the city deserve better.