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Education

Kansas City Public Schools regains full accreditation after decade-long struggle

Man wearing a gray suit gestures with his left hand while talking at a podium in front of shelves filled with books and a sign that reads "Full Accreditation."
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
KCPS Superintendent Mark T. Bedell discusses the district's return to full accreditation on Tuesday at J.A. Rogers Elementary School.

Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell said that while the district is celebrating regaining its full accreditation, they "have a lot of work to do."

Kansas City Public Schools’ decade-long quest for full accreditation is finally over.

On Tuesday morning, the Missouri State School Board of Education voted unanimously to grant full accreditation to the district at its monthly board meeting.

The move marks a game-changing moment for KCPS, which has been provisionally accredited since 2014.

Superintendent Mark Bedell told the board following their vote that the work to improve the district isn’t over yet.

“We're gonna celebrate today because we deserve that, but tomorrow we roll up our sleeves. We have a lot of work to do and I'm competitive,” Bedell said.

The district lost its accreditation in 2011 after undergoing a revolving door of superintendents and the closure of half its schools.

Because state assessments were interrupted by the pandemic, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s recommendation was based on a number of other factors.

The department’s presentation cited the district’s improved graduation rates, math and English language arts scores and consistent leadership.

Bedell has pushed for full accreditation since he was selected as district superintendent in 2016.

His leadership was cited by Carol Hallquist, who represents Kansas City on the state board.

She reflected on his interview for the position, when he showed up late because he was busy connecting with residents across the city.

“That kind of boots-on-the-ground caring has really, I think, enabled him to engage the community and a really great board of directors,” Hallquist said. “He is the longest tenured superintendent in the last 53 years, and leadership and tenure make a difference.”

The district achieved the minimum score required by the state for full accreditation during Bedell’s first year on the job, but DESE wanted to see sustained progress. KCPS struggled to reach state benchmarks in consecutive years after that.

Ahead of the vote, board member Kerry Casey raised questions regarding the assessment’s focus on growth rather than achieving standards.

Board members said while there is room for improvement, Tuesday's presentation demonstrated the district’s consistent progress.

Board member Peter F. Herschend said he has been on the board and recalled the district when it was unaccredited.

“We have made insufficient progress, compared to where it needs to be, but it is such an amazing progress to me that I am delighted and I will vote for a full accreditation and I will also expect better results next year and the years following," Herschend said.

Ahead of the state meeting, the district was recognized nationally in a St. Louis University PRiME Center report for helping students improve in English language arts and math. The report emphasized the need to focus on student progress rather than achievement scores.

KCPS Board President Nate Hogan, a one-time Kansas City public school student, told the board that many students attending the district experience trauma like he did as a youngster.

“I'm an example of what focusing on growth for students can yield in the way of life changing results,” Hogan said. “For too long, we have left too many students with a hyper focus only on kids who perform well in a single moment in time on a standardized test.”

A woman standing at a podium addresses a room full of people sitting in chairs. Signs reading "full accreditation" stand on either side of her. There are shelves of books behind her along with two large television screens with photos of school children.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
J.A. Rogers Elementary Principal Adriane Blankinship-Johnson welcomes a gathering of officials and others who attended Tuesday's press conference at her school to celebrate KCPS' return to full accreditation.

Local education leaders also reflected on the struggles endured by the district at a news conference at J.A. Rogers Elementary School after the state’s decision.

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Collier said she had lived through the disappointment and frustration when the district was labeled as unaccredited or provisionally credited. She said regaining full accreditation isn’t the end for the district’s growth.

“As an urban school system, serving students who predominantly represent historically marginalized communities and groups, we must center them as we rethink and reimagine an educational experience that enables them to boldly pursue their passions, their interests, and to become the best versions of themselves,” Collier said.

Bedell said he hoped regaining full accreditation will not only give students but the entire city pride in the district, and called on elected officials for support.

He told the crowd at J.A. Rogers that the current school system is antiquated and needs to be dismantled.

“We can't stay accredited on the path that we're on right now. We're antiquated, outdated. We're too rigid,” Bedell said. “And if COVID didn't teach us anything, here's what it did teach us -- that we're not agile enough to really, truly prepare these kids for the future that they deserve.”

He said that many students adjusted to an “anytime, anywhere” learning model during the pandemic. With a flexible schedule, students were able to work during the day, do internships and even support their home.

Bedell said he’s asking the state board to remove legislative barriers that require a certain “seat time” for funding.

The move to fully accredit the district comes as it plans to “reimagine teaching and learning” under its Blueprint 2030 strategic plan.

Updated: January 11, 2022 at 4:52 PM CST
This story has been updated to include comments made by school leaders after DESE granted full accreditation.
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