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Writing Madison Park’s next chapter

Employers can’t find enough qualified workers. Now’s the time to invest in vocational education.

Mayor Michelle Wu and BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper proposed expanding Madison Park Technical Vocational High School on June 6.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

If there were ever a moment for vocational education, this is it. Blue-collar employers across the state, from hospitals to the T, report trouble finding enough qualified workers. And there are even bigger workforce challenges looming: Massachusetts needs workers to care for an aging population, support green industries, drive trucks, and build housing — to name just a few.

Against that backdrop, the announcement by Mayor Michelle Wu and Superintendent Mary Skipper that the city would more than double the size of the city’s only vocational school certainly reflects the right priorities. The challenge for the city, though, will be in the implementation: the school, Madison Park, has a long history of frustrating setbacks, and it will take strong leadership to realize the vision Wu and Skipper have sketched out.


The proposal calls for rebuilding and expanding Madison Park, adding grades 7 and 8, and more than doubling the current student population — from 1,000 to 2,200. Currently, Madison Park shares a campus in Roxbury with the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science. The O’Bryant will relocate to West Roxbury to make room for Madison Park’s expansion, though it will take years of construction before the move can actually occur.

But to attract that many students, Madison Park will need to become more appealing. The school has struggled with low performance for decades. In the latest MCAS results, only 11 percent of Madison Park students met or exceeded expectations in English and 7 percent did so in math. As of March 1, 60 percent of Madison Park students were chronically absent in the current school year (the district rate is 37 percent.) Many of the state’s other vocational schools, meanwhile, have waiting lists.

Former mayor Marty Walsh, despite his own background in the trades, was unable to turn the school around. Early in his tenure, the Globe reported on an internal memo calling for the city to either fix or shut down the school, but neither happened — Madison Park limped along with frequent leadership turnover.


The city’s new plan includes the creation of a committee that will study which new career and technical education programs to launch at Madison Park that align with Boston’s workforce needs. The committee — cochaired by Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce President and CEO James E. Rooney, Friends of Madison Park member Louis Elisa, and IBEW Local 103 member and Madison Park alumna Renee Dozier — will also explore partnerships with Boston-area employers and labor unions. The district already secured a partnership with JetBlue to support a new aviation technology pathway.

The city’s announcement should also open a needed, but painful, discussion about overcapacity across the district. If Madison Park does manage to pick up another 1,200 students (and the O’Bryant adds another 400, which the plan also contemplates), other schools will have to lose that many. The district already has declining enrollment. But for too long, district officials have tiptoed around BPS’s overcapacity. Wu’s proposal makes that discussion unavoidable — which, to its credit, the administration seems to acknowledge. “The future of BPS is likely in fewer, larger high schools,” Ricardo Patrón, Wu’s press secretary, said in a statement. “The development of a District-wide, long-term facilities plan will include a transparent set of guidelines for considering school closures or mergers so that BPS community members are part of the process.”


If that indeed is the future, it makes sense for a vocational school to be one of those remaining high schools. With this plan, Wu and Skipper show more ambition for Madison Park than their predecessors ever did. If they’re successful, they’ll help the city’s employers meet their workforce needs — and, more importantly, help Boston’s graduates prosper in a changing economy.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.