It’s officially budget season for the City of Boston, and while there is an incredibly long list of priorities, 35 percent of the total city budget goes to Boston Public Schools. And what we do with that 35 percent is critical to the future of our kids and our city.
Boston leads in many areas, but not in vocational technical education — something that could vastly improve student outcomes in every single one of our neighborhoods. In most communities across the Commonwealth, students have access to a first class vocational technical education. There, they join programs to hone their skills and trades, while their school district provides a wealth of hands-on technical experience not provided by traditional curriculums, and feeds a successful pipeline from classroom to internship to job market.
That this opportunity does not exist for Boston’s students is a shame.
The City of Boston has only one vocational technical high school: Madison Park Technical Vocational High School. When first built, Madison Park stood as a symbol of racial equity by making sure Boston kids from historically underserved neighborhoods had a real chance to end the cycle of generational poverty. Today, chronic under-enrollment and outdated school facilities plague Madison Park classrooms, leading to a cycle of underfunding and indifference from the city and a lack of interest from Boston’s students.
Madison Park should be the gem of Boston’s public school system. It’s time we have the tough conversations, make the necessary investments, and give it some polish to make that a reality.
Along with securing stable leadership willing to get in the trenches and turn around Madison Park, we must develop a strategic plan to revitalize the school, including paving the way for a funding policy to streamline state Chapter 74 revenue sources straight to the school itself to allow administrators and educators to properly and strategically allocate the funds.
In step with our school community, we must also explore instituting an admissions process that will increase positive educational outcomes while embracing those with special needs or who thrive in nontraditional classroom and curriculum programs. Such a process should include various steps and engagements to ensure our students and families understand the unique commitment required of a vocational technical education, where a strong attendance record and internships are vital to success.
With over 20 programs in everything from cosmetology to culinary arts, automotive repairs to HVAC and plumbing, the city and Boston Public Schools must invest in improving programming to ensure that our schools offer a dynamic curriculum with updated technology and facilities to properly prepare students to hold jobs right after graduation. While other state vocational technical schools have updated programming to align with new and emerging industries, Madison Park has fallen behind.
By expanding workforce development opportunities at the school beyond the typical trades and providing pathways to careers in biotech, renewable energy, and Web development, we will prepare students for the needs of Boston’s workforce, both present and future. All need to be able to thrive long-term once they graduate from our schools, and a solid foundation and skills acquired from in-classroom instruction — as well as real-world experience — is the formula for success.
Strong partnerships with employers across the city will play a significant role in that. In 2019, only 29 of 358 juniors and seniors at Madison Park had co-op jobs, according to the Pioneer Institute’s study of the school. Co-ops and internships are critical to setting up our students for a successful, stable career. Here, Madison Park is painfully lacking. Each day we delay in forging new relationships with the community is another day wasted forging the path forward for our kids. This shouldn’t be too high a hurdle for our innovative city.
The potential of Madison Park is there. We just need to be bold enough to fully realize it. We can start a new chapter for Madison Park, Boston Public Schools, and brighten the future of thousands of students and families who will thrive given a great education and long overdue tools and resources.
When we think about Boston’s budget and make the tough decisions, we must take into consideration the probable impact of our city dollars. And while money certainly doesn’t grow on trees, some, including myself, would say that it most definitely grows in our classrooms — paying dividends for our students, schools, and the future of our city.
Annissa Essaibi George is a Boston city councilor at-large and a candidate for mayor.