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Boston's McKinley schools, renamed in tribute to Mel King, get promise of renovation

Students at the Mel King South End Academy unveil the school's new name. (Max Larkin/WBUR)
Students at the Mel King South End Academy unveil the school's new name. (Max Larkin/WBUR)

Boston’s McKinley schools got a new name – and a new promise – on Wednesday morning.

The four schools, which serve students with disabilities, will now be known as the Melvin H. King South End Academy. The new name is a tribute to Mel King, the legendary organizer and South End resident, who passed away at the end of March at age 94.

But in the school’s cramped and aging auditorium Wednesday morning, what felt just as important was Mayor Wu’s commitment to a renovation – soon.

“Students and families at … the former McKinley have long felt the pain of deferred and deprioritized maintenance. The Mel King Academy will not extend that legacy,” Wu said, before committing to an inclusive design process to begin within the coming year.

The idea of a democratic, community-led redesign would have appealed to King, said Edith Bazile, an educator and activist. “He was about doing things with the community, not to the community,” Bazile said. “I think that the students’ voices here are the most important, and the accountability is with us.”

At the ceremony Wednesday, the head of the former McKinley schools, Cindie Neilson, said the schools' mission is, and will remain, “integrating high quality instruction and specialized therapeutic supports” for students who need them.

The renovation of the McKinley will join a number of large-scale facilities projects already underway in the Boston Public Schools, including the construction of a new Boston Arts Academy and Josiah Quincy Upper School.

The McKinley schools have faced not only deferred maintenance but also, in 2016, the threat of eviction and demolition to make room for a planned new site for the Quincy Upper School.

Even then, the school’s fate was intertwined with Mel King’s, said David Russell, a veteran McKinley educator, now retired.

“When our school was threatened to be evicted, Mel King spoke [against the idea] at the school committee – walked up slowly, kind of hunched over, went way over the time limit,” Russell remembered. “A colleague of mine and I had the same thought at one point; we looked at each other and said, ‘We’re not going anywhere.’ Because he spoke for what was right.”

In the end, of course, the McKinley school wasn’t demolished – and now has a new lease on life.


Max Larkin Reporter, Education
Max Larkin is an education reporter.



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