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Kansas City Public Schools superintendent surprised that they won full accreditation so quickly

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A man in a grey suit gesturing while talking at a podium. Shelves in the background are stocked with library books from an elementary school.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell addresses the crowd assembled at J.A. Rogers Elementary for a press conference to celebrate the district's return to full accreditation.

KCPS Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell says one of the keys to turning the district around was time and patience — from the school board, families and the community.

Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell says the news that his district would be granted full accreditation came as a surprise.

On Tuesday, the Missouri State Board of Education granted full accreditation to Kansas City Public Schools. It was a game-changing moment for KCPS, which has been provisionally accredited since 2014.

“To be frank with you, I didn't think it was going to happen anytime soon," Bedell told Up To Date host Steve Kraske.

Bedell said the designation will be a source of pride for students who can now say they graduated from a fully accredited school district. He also said it would renew a sense of fulfillment for educators, some of whom have been with the school district since it first lost its accreditation more than 20 years ago.

“There are people who were here in 2000, there are people who were here in 2011 when the district lost it again,” Bedell says. “And for those people, I think this will let them know that everything that I did was well worth it.”

KCPS lost its accreditation in 2011 after high turnover of superintendents and the closure of half of the district's schools. Bedell took over as superintendent in 2016 and is now the longest-tenured superintendent in the district in more than 50 years.

Bedell hopes superintendents across the country who might be struggling with similar problems can use his work as a model for what change can be achieved. One key, Bedell said, is time.

“The problem is in urban education, most people want you to come in and they want you to turn them around in two years,” Bedell said. “And it didn't take two years for the district to get into the hole that it's in. It took decades.”

Strong collaboration and support between the school board and administration were also important in ensuring consistent change could take place.

“I hope that this serves as a model around the country, in urban school districts that have gone through struggles like ours,” Bedell said. “That board of directors in the community give these superintendents time.”

Bedell says the board of education's unanimous decision to grant full accreditation was due, in part, to a boost in math and English scores, which had plagued the district in past state assessments.

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

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.

Bedell cited a compelling study done by the St. Louis University Prime Center that focused on schools with high poverty and growth. Out of 30 schools with high poverty, eight KCPS schools made the list for highest growth in English, and five KCPS schools were shown to have high growth in math. Bedell also said there were a number of fully accredited school districts in the state that KCPS was outperforming. All of this data was used by the school board to advocate for accreditation.

Bedell's focus will now be on implementing plans for Blueprint 2030, an initiative that will, “redesign how we support our students socially, emotionally, and academically,” Bedell said.

One item he wants to explore is what the traditional school day and school year might look like. For example, extending the school day to allow flexibility for traditional learning as well as internships or pivoting away from a traditional two semester school year to three trimesters that would allow teachers to better utilize time in the classroom and cut down on burnout.

Bedell said eventually, he hopes to modernize and renovate school facilities to fit with the district’s new vision of teaching and learning.

Money for such an endeavor would come from school bonds, which would require citywide voter approval. While suburban school districts have passed bond votes recently, KCPS hasn’t had a successful school bond initiative since 1967.

“Hopefully (we can) engage everybody over the next year and, and to see if we can get it on the ballot for next April,” Bedell said.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9 a.m., my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. My email is steve@kcur.org.
As senior producer of Up To Date, I want our listeners to hear familiar and new voices that shine light on the issues and challenges facing the myriad communities KCUR serves, and to expose our audiences to the wonderful and the creative in the Kansas City area. Just as important to me is an obligation to mentor the next generation of producers to ensure that the important conversations continue. Reach me at alexanderdk@kcur.org.
Jacob Martin is a news intern at KCUR. Follow him on Twitter @jacob_noah or email him at Jacobmartin@kcur.org.
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