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Kansas City Public Schools names 'homegrown' educator Jennifer Collier as next superintendent

A woman wearing a pink blouse talks at a microphone. Behind her some people are standing listening. They are inside a school library.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Jennifer Collier speaks at the ceremony announce Kansas City Public School's re-accreditation on Jan. 11, 2022.

Collier has worked for the district for more than 23 years, and has served as interim superintendent since Mark Bedell resigned last summer. She's recently led efforts around Blueprint 2023, the district's long-term strategic plan that includes controversial school closures.

Kansas City Public Schools has picked interim superintendent Dr. Jennifer Collier to continue leading the district in a permanent role.

The district’s Board of Education announced on Wednesday that it voted unanimously to select Collier as the sole finalist for the job. Collier has worked for the district for more than 23 years, and has served as interim superintendent since Mark Bedell resigned last summer.

Collier got her start as a teacher at Northeast High School, working her way up to becoming principal, director of human relations and then deputy superintendent. In the last year, she has led efforts around Blueprint 2023, the district's long-term strategic plan thatincludes highly controversial school closures.

The announcement was met with applause from those in attendance at the school board meeting, followed by members thanking Collier for her service to the district at every level.

“Dr Collier has proven both in our interviews, and in her role as interim, her exceptional leadership, integrity and pride in our school district,” said member Tanesha Ford. “She has our full confidence as an administrator deeply rooted in our schools and community. Dr. Collier has respect for our historic legacy and has a true vision for a bright future.”

The school district said it began a national search for the superintendent job in fall 2022, conducted by JG Consulting, that included featured town hall and stakeholder meetings. The district said it received 17 applications for the job.

This week, the district entered into contract negotiations with Collier with a formal announcement to be made at a future date. Collier and the school board declined to comment further on the appointment.

“I do want to just say thank you to this board for your confidence in me and I'm just humbled," Collier said. "I'm honored and I'm just super excited about the future of KCPS."

'Who we need at this time'

After decades of KCPS seeing a revolving door of leadership, Bedell’s six-year tenure made him the school district’s longest serving superintendent in 50 years. That stable leadership is credited with transforming the struggling district, which long faced low test scores and dwindling enrollment, and helping win its decades-long fight to regain full accreditation.

A coalition of faith leaders advocated for Collier ahead of the vote, describing her as “homegrown” with roots in Kansas City and the person best poised to succeed Bedell.

“She's risen through the ranks through the Kansas City, Missouri, Public Schools. She's a double minority. She's an African American and a female,” said Bishop Clifford A. Jackson, pastor of the St. Paul Monument of Faith. “She's who we need at this time. The children love her, the staff loves her. The people in the community love her.”

Collier’s leadership over the last year also received positive feedback from community members for how she handled the district’s contentious plan to close 10 schools over the next several years. After weeks of heated pushback and public outcry, the district scaled back its plan and will close just two schools this fall.

Ahead of January’s vote, several speakers praised Collier’s ability to listen to community feedback and regain their trust.

“Through it all, she has shown intelligence, pragmatism, and gutsy leadership, and she has shown that her top concern is the welfare for the kids in this district,” said Gregg Lombardi, executive director of the Lykins Neighborhood Association. “I would say those are fantastic qualities for an interim superintendent. And I would also say that those are really good qualities for a permanent superintendent.”

More schools could be shut down in the future, but Collier said she hopes the community will work together to pass a bond, boost enrollment and improve academic achievement to avoid additional closures.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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