Mattapan civic leaders put their focus on Madison Park High

Madison Park Technical Vocational High School. WBUR/Jesse Costa photo

It’s a long ride from Mattapan to Seaver Street via Blue Hill Avenue, but Madison Park High is near and dear to the members of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council (GMNC) and many residents as well.

Few neighborhood associations in Boston talk regularly about education, and even fewer discuss high school education, but the Madison Park topic has been on nearly every agenda of the GMNC since early 2019.

Now, with its celebrated new headmaster, Dr. Sidney Brown, in place and former executive director Kevin McCaskill (now a Boston Public Schools central office administrator) remaining the school’s biggest cheerleader, there is a new push to get Madison Park, and technical vocational education in Boston, back on track.

Madison Park is the only technical vocational school serving Boston students, and GMNC’s Fatima Ali-Salaam, the council’s chair, said the neighborhood is concerned because they see Madison Park as a key to helping young people stay in the neighborhood – with Mattapan and Dorchester being the largest neighborhoods that the school draws from.

“There has to be change at Madison Park,” said Ali-Salaam. “There is no place for laziness or apathy. There is only a place for taking care of our children, and we have to step up and do that.”

By and large, the GMNC and its membership express the sentiment that elected officials and past mayoral administrations have abandoned technical vocational training and have never devoted the proper resources to Madison Park to make sure students are challenged, trained, and encouraged to pursue a career in the trades, hospitality, or allied health.

David Lopes, a carpenter and resident, said the school has failed for many years to train students from Mattapan and connect them to jobs in the industry. He said he has high hopes for a new administration, but he is skeptical.

“It’s not about any one person’s failure,” he said. “It’s about the system and the process that starts at the top of the administration. It’s about our elected officials that have totally missed the point on vocational technical education and how to get to it.”

Added resident Anthony Lewis: “It seems that someone is giving us the okie dokie on Madison Park. It doesn’t make sense that BPS took all the trades out of the schools and there is a building boom in Boston. Someone isn’t being up front with us. Boston schools trained people well in the trades when it was more of a white population, but as soon as the Black population started to increase, they took the trades out of the schools.”

Brown and McCaskill and their team joined a virtual meeting on Monday night to talk about a new day on the horizon for Madison Park. Sidney Brown, who has just started his first term as the leader of Madison, comes from a storied past of turning around troubled technical vocational schools around the United States.

“My number one goal is to make Madison Park the best technical vocational high school in the state,” he said. “Second, our students need to know they have a trifecta education where they have a trade certificate, an academic diploma, and a RoxMAPP (dual enrollment) degree as well…I need a contingent from Mattapan, Roxbury, and Dorchester to provide mentors and business people and community members to come in and talk to the kids. This is probably the best curriculum I’ve seen at a technical vocational high school and this is the third school I’ve turned around.”

That turnaround will be incremental, though, and it starts, he said, with getting parents and community members to stress better attendance for students. In 2020, the school had 76 percent attendance, and so far this year it is only at 83 percent. These numbers prevent students from being able to go out on internships where they can train hands-on and be paid at the same time.

“We have to get that up around 90 percent to make sure our students get to go out and do co-ops,” said Brown. “A lot of our seniors don’t get to go to co-ops, so we have to get that up.”

McCaskill said that Boston has been slow to absorb the importance of technical vocational schooling, which suburban schools and areas like Worcester have embraced decades ago. That has led to a generation of students in Boston who have not been prepared to take advantage of the lucrative trades and technical industries that flourish in the city.

“The narrative around Madison has always been negative,” he said, “and that’s because Boston is the last frontier in understanding the value of vocational education, especially for people of color.”

McCaskill said there has been a change in the making, with the school increasing in enrollment by 30 percent (from 841 to 1,180) since 2015. He said Madison has been the only open enrollment school in the district to gain students.

“Parents are voting with their feet,” he said. “Students no longer have to go to college to be successful. It’s not taboo to say students don’t need to go to college to achieve upward mobility.”

Brown, however, explained that the task at hand is to enliven the student body to be motivated to achieve and to be reliable and excited. He said he needs parents and the community where students live to help students “get their minds right.” He mentioned that McCaskill had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Mass General Hospital for 3,600 jobs to be reserved for Madison students. However, if they aren’t prepared, those jobs – as well as the many construction, trade, and biotech jobs – will pass them by.

“They have to be on time, be drug-free, and have the right attitude,” he said. “If they don’t have those three things, there isn’t much we can do for them…If we don’t get them to that point, they won’t be prepared for these MGH jobs either. We have a great MOU with them, but we have to produce the product now. We have jobs waiting for them, but we need role models and mentors and the ability to ‘be what you see.’”

McCaskill said one way to start encouraging the students is to renovate the existing building, which lacks important things like Wi-Fi in all areas and safety lighting in the stairwells.

“Renovate that building top to bottom and make it a 21st Century educational facility and just watch what happens,” he said.
At-Large candidates Ruthzee Louijeune and David Halbert were on the meeting, and both said they fully support the vision of technical vocational training at Madison. The two mayoral race finalists, Councillors Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu, have talked extensively about Madison in their campaigns. They were asked to comment for this story, but did not return messages before Reporter deadlines.

GMNC NOTEBOOK

• The organization wrote a letter of support, along with the River Street Civic, to support a new full liquor license for Mello Vibez Restaurant on River Street. The new restaurant has had a good following with the neighborhood, many on the meeting said.

• On Oct. 18, the city’s Transportation Department will have a meeting to discuss the sidewalk space on Blue Hill Avenue – including what can and cannot exist on the sidewalk and the status of grant money for the corridor.

• The Zoning Committee of the GMNC sided with abutters against supporting a development proposal on 56-60 Oak Ridge St. The project would build new residential dwellings on two lots – one with a single-family now existing and the other a vacant lot with two significant oak trees. Abutters had rejected the proposal and the Zoning Committee also voted to ask the Zoning Board (ZBA) to reject it as well. There is a hearing set for Nov. 9 at the ZBA.

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