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Roller Coaster Year Ends For Boston's Only Vocational-Tech High School

Madison Park High School in Roxbury (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Madison Park High School in Roxbury (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

It's the last day of the school year for Boston schools. For the city's only vocational-technical high school, the year has been a roller coaster.

Madison Park Technical Vocational High School was still hiring teachers when the school year began. Four days into the school year, students walked out, some carrying signs that read, "We demand an education." They were in the building without class schedules or room assignments.

It took weeks to sort the problems out, and by then, the school was without a headmaster; she'd resigned when it was learned she had not completed the process to be certified as a principal in Massachusetts.

When schedules remained incomplete at the start of the school year, Madison Park students walked out in protest. (Delores Handy/WBUR)
When schedules remained incomplete at the start of the school year, Madison Park students walked out in protest. (Delores Handy/WBUR)

Longtime BPS administrator Al Holland, who was brought out of retirement to stabilize the school while the search continued for a new leader, spoke with pride about the graduating class of 2015.

"Students have been able to go off to college, go on to the workforce and go on to apprentice and union jobs," he said.

Holland said 55 percent will go to college, many with full scholarships to schools like Union College, Brandeis University, Emerson College and Curry College.

Another 40 percent will enter career technology programs, many participating in union apprentice programs, and about 5 percent are headed to the military.

Among the firsts for students this year? Carpentry students built their first house.

"A family will live in that house," Holland said. "You talk about authentic work? That's authentic work."

Madison Park seniors built a house from the foundation up. (Delores Handy/WBUR)
Madison Park seniors built a house from the foundation up. (Delores Handy/WBUR)

In April, the school hired a new executive director, longtime vocational-tech administrator Ken McCaskill. He came here from Hartford, where he'd worked for five years as an administrator. He'd worked in Springfield for 22 years before that.

McCaskill said that, despite the chaos of the past year and the decline in students selecting Madison Park as their first choice for high school, with proper marketing that lets the public to know about the programs offered, the school can and will attract more students. He pointed to Putnam Vocational Technical Academy and Worcester Technical High School.

"I believe it's done in Worcester, which is a city-run vocational school," he said. "Worcester Tech is a blue-ribbon school, one of the best schools in America. And that is a city-run school."

His goal is for Madison Park to become a national model of a great turnaround school.

His leadership team was filled out this week with the hiring of a headmaster, Shawn Shackelford, a longtime school administrator from Michigan. Shackelford also worked as a principal in Jacksonville, Florida.

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