Friends of Madison Park says BPS withholding resources

Yawu Miller | 4/30/2014, 11:21 a.m.

Long before the school department sent an intervention team to Madison Park Regional Technical and Vocational school, there were signs of trouble and requests for help.

The high school — the city’s only vocational school — was under a 2012 Innovation Plan, a new headmaster was hired and the school department had invested over $1 million in additional funding for the school.

Yet when headmaster Diane Ross Gary sought last year to hire an assistant headmaster and a discipline officer for the 1,084-student school, school department officials refused her requests, citing budgetary constraints.

As unusual as it is for a school of that size to run with no assistant headmasters, the absence of help was even more puzzling considering the inordinately high number of students enrolled at Madison — 35 percent according to the BPS website — classified as having learning or behavioral disorders.

“There are special education students who do well in vocational technical schools,” said longtime Madison Park teacher Dennis Wilson. “The special education students who want to be here do well. The problem is there are many special education students who were problems in other schools who were transferred to Madison.”

A school department spokesman disputed the percentage of special education students at Madison Park, stating via email that the number is closer to 25 percent, but did not respond to queries about Gary’s requests for additional staff. The group Friends of Madison Park, of which Wilson is a member, say the actual number is higher than the 35 percent listed on the BPS website.

The school department launched a 2012 Innovation Plan for Madison Park, calling for a longer school day, deep partnerships with the business and vocational communities, and a school schedule that allows students to train for 21st-century careers while also receiving rigorous academic instruction. Since the plan was developed BPS has invested $370,000 to turn the building into one of the most technologically-advanced schools in the city, has purchased $350,000 worth of new textbooks and has invested $340,000 for new technical/vocational materials, according to a BPS press release.

Friends of Madison Park members say a specialist hired by the school department to forge partnerships with businesses and vocational communities brought in no new partnerships in the year he worked at Madison.

Interim School Superintendent John McDonough said in a press statement that the school has not made nearly enough progress. Last year the average Madison Park student missed five full weeks of school, according to the BPS press release. Attendance rates for African-American students are seven points below the district average and one in four Latino students at Madison Park missed more than seven weeks of school. Last year just 30 out of the school’s 1,100 students participated in an internship or co-operative career/vocational opportunity.

“None of us is meeting our obligations to prepare students for success at Madison Park,” McDonough said in his statement. “We must make major changes now so Madison Park can truly become the center of excellence and it has the potential to be.”