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Madison Park High is underperforming, state says

Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, the city’s only vocational school, has been troubled for years.
Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, the city’s only vocational school, has been troubled for years.(John Blanding/Globe Staff/File)

Massachusetts officials on Wednesday designated Boston’s long-struggling vocational high school as “underperforming,” a declaration that puts the school at risk of a state takeover if it fails to dramatically boost achievement.

The move came a year after Madison Park Technical Vocational High School had received a reprieve from the state amid hopes that it would see improvement, following a revolving door of leaders and failed turnaround plans.

“We’ve waited for several years to see an upward trajectory in Madison Park and are failing to see it, despite the fact that there’s some great partners in place,” said Mitchell D. Chester, the state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education.

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Chester said the underperforming designation would give the Roxbury school “a fresh start.”

The declaration, based on students’ MCAS scores over time as well as its unsatisfactory dropout rate, means that administrators will be able to go around teacher union contract provisions to lengthen school days, fire teachers, and make other changes.

The underperforming designation was a blow to Superintendent Tommy Chang and Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who have said improving Madison Park is central to their vision for city schools. In September, Walsh and Chang expressed optimism about the school’s chances of rebounding under newly appointed leaders.

Chang said Wednesday that “we had a great start to the school year,” but more must be done to turn the school around. “It is a huge priority of mine,” Chang said.

The superintendent said teachers would have to re-interview for their jobs, and some would lose their positions, but that the School Department would support them through the process.

“These are individuals who have given their lives to working at that school,” he said.

Walsh said he has confidence in the school’s new leaders and expects to keep them in their posts.

“We have a strong headmaster, we have a strong leadership, we have strong involvement there,” he said. “I see nothing but a bright road ahead for Madison Park.’’

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Madison Park showed modest gains on the MCAS this year, with 60 percent of 10th-graders scoring advanced or proficient in English, 13 percentage points better than 2014, and 25 percent attaining those scores in science, up from just 3 percent.

But in both science and math, it also saw a greater percentage of students fall into the failing category.

The state’s decision comes despite the high-profile hiring of Kevin McCaskill, former principal of the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical High School in Springfield, who was appointed Madison Park’s executive director in April. Shawn Shackelford, previously a principal in Florida, was named headmaster in June.

McCaskill said Wednesday that he was disappointed with the designation but confident his team could fix the school.

“I just really look forward to the fact that additional resources will be put in place, and allowing the time to really get the changes in necessary to . . . drive student performance to the next level,” he said.

Elton Bocage, who is co-chairman of Madison Park’s school site council and whose son and daughter attend the school, said he has already seen improvement under McCaskill and Shackelford’s leadership and hopes they can continue their work.

“They’re trying very hard to try to get things back to par,” he said. “It’s not going to take one day or one week.”

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Madison Park’s troubles predate Chang or Walsh. Former mayor Thomas M. Menino called for an overhaul of the school in 2012, and it was considered last year for closure or takeover.

In July 2014, a review panel told the School Department that Madison Park needed to either improve quickly or be replaced by an independent regional vocational school.

Improvement did not come. When classes began two months later, many students had no schedules, leading to a low-level administrator being placed on paid leave.

That employee was suspended only to quell controversy, said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, which represents the administrator.

Amid the uproar, then-headmaster Diane Ross Gary abruptly resigned after the School Department discovered she never achieved certification to lead a school in Massachusetts.

Later that month, Chester considered declaring Madison Park underperforming, but he gave the school another chance after School Department officials assembled a turnaround plan.

Madison Park was the only school statewide to be declared underperforming by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Wednesday, but ratings declined at four other Boston schools.

Massachusetts ranks schools by tiers, with level-one schools being those that have strong MCAS scores and meet goals for narrowing achievement gaps.

Schools labeled “underperforming,” like Madison Park, fall into level four and are in danger of dropping to level five, where they are designated “chronically underperforming” and taken over by the state.

Fenway High School and New Mission High both declined from the top tier to second tier, Boston Community Leadership Academy dropped from second to third tier, and Boston International School dropped from first to third tier.

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Officials also declared Wednesday that two Lawrence schools exited underperforming status, as did a school in Springfield and another in Worcester.

An additional 14 schools statewide, including eight in Boston, showed improvement but remained underperforming. Several Boston schools have previously emerged from the status, starting with Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester, which recently has been lauded for its improvement.

Two Boston schools rose to the state’s top designation: the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in Roxbury, adjacent to Madison Park, and the Samuel Adams Elementary School in East Boston.


Meghan E. Irons of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com.