In the automotive technology department, instructor Tom Rafferty rides in two small diesel engines, part of a growing collection that students at Madison Park Technical Vocational can work on. Some will be converted to bio diesel. The students, most of whom are immersed in the empty engine bay of a Honda, barely notice.
At Carpentry, students examine the fractions before heading to the North Avenue construction site where they have already poured a foundation with insulated concrete forms and built a two-story frame of a new affordable home, in collaboration with YouthBuild and the New England Regional Council. carpenters. Then they will install the roof.
In the bakery, Culinary Arts students Paige Sullivan, Crismelis Nunez and Giovanna Mannering put the finishing touches on a batch of truffles that they will sell at lunchtime.
The hustle and bustle of activity in Madison last week stands in stark contrast to the difficult start to the school year, when students protested outside the school after many went more than a week without a class schedule. This headline-grabbing debacle was emblematic of the challenges the school has faced in recent years as it grapples with administrative turnover and what many describe as a lack of resources.
The latest victim of the school struggle, Diane Ross Gary, was forced to resign following student protests. Current manager Al Holland said the challenges Gary faced were considerable.
“She did a lot of things that no manager had to do,” he told The Banner. “She had to hire an administrative team and 60 teachers in the week before the start of the school year. People don’t know how difficult it is.
Holland, a consultant to Boston Public Schools who retired from Health Careers Academy in 2008 where he was principal, said Madison Park now has the support of acting school superintendent John McDonough.
“The superintendent is committed to making Madison a successful school,” Holland said. “Anytime it starts at the top, it’s going to happen.”
Staff issues aside, Madison faced other significant challenges.
In recent years, the number of special education students in Madison has grown to one-third of the population, well above the state average of 17 percent. And a third of Madison’s students also learn English. The school now has a director of English language learners and a director of special education, in addition to the new program directors, a director of student support and an academic director.
Then Holland says the school needs a roadmap for reform.
“We have to have a comprehensive plan that focuses on how we move it forward and make it the best tech school in this state,” he said.
Holland says he and the teachers and administrators at Madison Park are meeting with parents and community members to help develop the plan.
Holland says the school will need additional resources for its technical and academic programs.
“The school is stabilized and functions like a normal vocational technical high school,” he said. “But there is a lot of work to be done. Over the years this school has been treated like a regular high school. And it is not.
Holland, who served as an executive assistant under former superintendents Lois Harrison Jones and Thomas Payzant, said the school department needed to change its resource allocation policy equally to all high schools, given Madison’s unique status. Park as a business school.
“Superintendent McDonough began to view Madison Park as a career technical high school, which other superintendents don’t have,” he said. “Every superintendent has been challenged by the budget process, making sure every school has the same resources. If your student population of English learners and special education students is higher, this should be factored into your funding.
One area where Madison Park has excelled is in the partnerships it has built in recent years, many of which are now coming to fruition: YouthBuild and the Carpenters Union working with carpentry students; the Unite Here hotel workers union, which works with catering students; students in the auto repair and auto body repair programs work with local garages on their repair projects.
“If we can build a house and provide a living space for people in the community, it’s a great learning experience and the kids are contributing to the community,” said Holland.