Members of the Boston School Committee voiced frustration Wednesday night over the growing problems at the city’s only vocational high school, from the last-minute filling of dozens of positions to the failure to provide all students and teachers with class assignments during the first four days of school.
Margaret McKenna, a committee member, said it was mystifying that the School Department did not intervene much sooner so Madison Park Technical Vocational High School could have a successful start to the new year, especially since the school had been in crisis for years.
“We really handicapped them,” she said. “I don’t know who can walk into a school and do what they need to do, especially without a schedule. We failed here.”
Meg Campbell, another member, said the school system was far too slow and negligent in fixing the scheduling problems.
“Let’s say this was Boston Latin School: I don’t think we would have had kids without schedules for [four] days,” she said.
Campbell pushed for a motion to hire an outside consultant to review all aspects of Madison Park, including its management and its partnership with Roxbury Community College, another failing academic institution. But the other four school board members present refused to support the motion.
Madison Park provoked the most passionate comments from the School Committee members at a meeting that addressed a number of recent problems, from late school buses to an ill-fated proposal to hand over the Dearborn STEM Academy to a charter-school operator.
Interim Superintendent John McDonough formally withdrew the Dearborn charter proposal Wednesday, a week after he announced he was reconsidering the recommendation. He said that the proposal lacks support from the Dearborn community, and that he is working with them on an alternative proposal. But he added it might be too late.
“I’ve been continuing to have discussions with the state, and I continue to be concerned the state will recommend [receivership] for the school,” he said.
The state’s recommendation could come as soon as next week.
The discussion on Madison Park lasted about an hour and will be the subject of another meeting next month when the board will receive an update.
The Rev. Gregory Groover, a School Committee member, called the scheduling problems “unacceptable” and “inexcusable,” echoing the words used by the board’s chairman, Michael O’Neill, a day earlier.
McDonough took responsibility for some of the problems, noting he had put a freeze on hiring pending a report from an “intervention team,” which recommended in June a new composition for the hiring committee. That team also recommended changes to the school’s class schedules.
But McDonough also placed blame on the Madison Park school, saying that for years it was mishandling class assignments for students with disabilities and those with limited fluency in English. “An approach to scheduling that puts them last is unacceptable,” he said.
Problems with schedules, however, persisted Wednesday at Madison Park, the first day all students and teachers were finally assigned to classes, school officials said.
For instance, students in one grade who should have been assigned to two social studies classes got only one, and students at another grade level who should have had just one social studies class got two, a School Department spokesman said.
“It’s a shear mess,” one teacher, who was not authorized to speak on the matter, said in an interview earlier in the day. “If this was happening anywhere else, heads would be rolling.”
While Madison Park generated few comments during public testimony, some neighbors of the Dearborn spoke out. They continued to raise concerns that the Dearborn building will be demolished next year to make way for a new facility. They also urged the School Committee to consider other sites and to preserve the Dearborn’s more than century-old building.
“If the Dearborn school is a success — the school could and should be moved — and the Dearborn School as we know it now will have been torn down for no reason,” said Joanne Keith, a neighbor.
James Vaznis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly rendered a quote by Joanne Keith, a neighbor of the Dearborn School.