The Boston School Committee is considering renaming the McKinley special education schools after Melvin King, a longtime politician, activist, educator, and lifelong resident of the South End, where the schools are located.
The proposal, which the committee could vote on Wednesday, would rename the schools the Melvin H. King South End Academy. It appeared poised to pass in an initial discussion by the committee this week.
“Education has always been a priority for his activism, and access to education, so I think it’s a great honor,” said King’s son Michael King. “I think it’s great to name the school after him.”
King is a graduate of and former teacher at Boston Technical High School, now the John D. O’Bryant School, and was the first Black candidate to make it to the final election for mayor of Boston, losing to Raymond Flynn in 1983. King, now 94, has also been a friend to the McKinley schools.
Edith Bazile, a longtime local education advocate, proposed renaming the schools for King in March 2021. In her proposal, Bazile noted that former president William McKinley, for whom the schools are currently named, ignored calls to take more action against lynching and other anti-Black violence in the 1890s, while King is a “stalwart community leader, organizer, author, educator, and the first Black Boston mayoral candidate.”
“I am delighted. I think it’s a bold step to move to change the name,” Bazile said. “I think that this sort of renaming and acknowledging courageous leaders that are right here in the city of Boston is something that should continue because we’ve had leaders like Mel King who have paved the pathway for future leaders who have been through BPS.”
Bazile said no one contacted her about the idea.
The current proposal for the name change, which came from the school community after a lengthy process of getting feedback from parents, students, and staff, was received enthusiastically by the School Committee, as well as by members of the public, alongside a handful of proposals to rename spaces at other schools.
“I find them really thoughtful recommendations, particularly about Representative King who has done so much for the city of Boston,” said Michael O’Neill, the committee’s vice chair. “He . . . has testified to this committee a number of times over the years about the McKinley School in the South End and plans for it, and so I particularly applaud that proposal.”
Former acting mayor Kim Janey said the whole city could be renamed after King.
“He is that deserving of recognition. It was my honor in my last act as mayor to name a square after him but he deserves so much more,” she said, referring to a square in the South End renamed for King last year.
Tito Jackson, a former city councilor and mayoral candidate, said King was one of his greatest inspirations.
“Mel King is an exceptional leader in the city of Boston. He has brought people together through some of the most difficult times on the social side, and he elevated justice and equity across our city,” Jackson said. “I believe Mel King deserves to get his flowers while he can still smell them.”
City Council President Ed Flynn, who represents the South End, spoke in favor of the proposal at the meeting and plans to file a resolution in the City Council in support of the renaming, according to his office.
The renaming comes as the district is facing a state mandate to dramatically improve the McKinley schools and special education more broadly.
BPS must make good on its promises to improve the schools so that they live up to King’s name, said Bazile.
“It’s an honor for the school to have his name attached, but the honor will be there only if the name that represents his legacy is reflected in the culture of the school,” she said.
Improving the McKinley schools is part of a state-mandated district improvement plan agreed to by district leaders in June to avert a potential state takeover. In November, a review commissioned for the agreement found that Black and Latino males make up more than half of all students receiving special education services in Boston Public Schools and are most likely to be segregated from the rest of their peers.
The School Committee also discussed renaming dozens of rooms across three other schools and the Boston Arts Academy’s building.