Kansas City Public Schools didn't know what kind of crowd would come out to meet the two finalists for the top job in the district. Just how much interest would there be?
Turns out, a lot. The auditorium at Paseo Academy was packed Thursday night to hear from Ronald Taylor, the superintendent in Willingboro, New Jersey (suburban Philadelphia) and Mark Bedell, assistant superintendent for high schools in the Baltimore County Public Schools (suburban Baltimore).
Both men fielded questions for more than an hour. But if there was an overarching concern among the hundreds of parents and teachers in the audience, it was just how committed these two ambitious educators would be to Kansas City.
In the last three years, Taylor has been a finalist for the top job in Hartford and Camden, New Jersey. But during the forum he called Kansas City a "destination job" and a place he and his wife want to live.
Taylor did try to put the best face on his job hunt. “I was a finalist in other places and it shows that I had great qualifications and great interview skills.”
Bedell was just as emphatic. He's only been in Baltimore County for four years but says he wants to make Kansas City home for his family. "When was the last time you had a superintendent put three kids into the Kansas City school system? If that's not commitment, what is?"
Both men also talked a lot about their experience in urban districts and what they say is their ability to turn around failing schools.
Bedell, who oversees 14 high schools and 31,000 students in the massive Baltimore County district, says those schools have the second highest graduation rate in the country for African American males. He says he can do the same in KCPS. "We want to make sure that we give them the belief that they can do more than whatever has been told about them or may even what’s been asked of them.”
Taylor calls himself a data guru and turnaround specialist. “I have always served populations that have similar demographics to Kansas City Public Schools and I’ve had success where others not. And I’ve had longevity where others have not.”
Both Taylor and Bedell have about 20 years experience in education, all in urban districts. Indeed, both came off as competent and knowledgeable during their appearance. However, the crowd was much more engaged with Bedell, breaking out in applause several times.
The board of education will not be taking off Martin Luther King Day. Board Chairman Jon Hile says members will meet Monday and we should know soon after that who will be the new KCPS superintendent.