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Headed to Maryland, Mark Bedell leaves Kansas City Public Schools in a ‘much better situation’

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A man wearing a suit and tie gestures while talking at a podium. There are several library books in the background.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
KCPS Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell talks in January this year after the district regained its accreditation status.

Dr. Mark Bedell, who led Kansas City Public Schools for the last six years, oversaw the restoration of full accreditation to the district for the first time in eight years.

Dr. Mark Bedell, the Kansas City Public Schools superintendent for the last six years, is leaving to take a similar position in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, where he was once a resident.

During his tenure at KCPS, Bedell oversaw the restoration of full accreditation to the district for the first time in eight years. Speaking on KCUR’s Up to Date, he thanked the KCPS school board for “not allowing me to fail.”

“I think that helped to galvanize and create some confidence with the business sector, with the community and everybody beginning to wrap their arms around us,” he said. “I truly believe that as a leader, you know when it's time, when your work is done. And it's time for somebody else to come in and to move it forward.”

Bedell said he accomplished everything he said he would do, including getting the district re-accredited earlier this year and having his own kids graduate from KCPS schools.

Bedell said leading an urban school district entails not just being a superintendent but also advocating for social justice.

In a statement Thursday announcing his departure, Bedell said there were issues that kept him awake at night that a superintendent alone can’t solve.

“I’m talking about racism, injustice, a lack of affordable housing, inequitable economic development practices, violence and other systemic issues that cannot be solved in our classrooms alone,” he said in the statement.

Bedell has been outspoken about what he sees as Kansas City’s inequitable economic development policies and the city’s practice of awarding tax breaks to developers at the expense of the school district.

He also spoke about the lack of stability in some students’ lives, particularly those whose families face eviction.

“It impacts the social and emotional well-being of our students as a whole, because if they're moving from school to school to school, there's a constant restart, but there's also a social and emotional impact that's associated with that,” Bedell said. “That then becomes an impediment to these kids reaching their full academic potential.”

Dr. Jennifer Collier, a KCPS educator for 22 years, will serve as interim KCPS superintendent for the 2022-2023 school year.

At a news conference Friday morning, Bedell said he was leaving the school district in “good hands.”

“She is Kansas City Public School District inside and out,” Bedell said of Collier. “I have 100% confidence in her and at this point it's on her. It’s her show, it’s her opportunity to not give these board members any opportunity to say ‘Why should we be looking elsewhere?’”

Collier said that while she would like to be the district’s permanent superintendent, she wants to spend the year focusing on students. The first thing she said she’ll focus on is student achievement, specifically in literacy.

“It's either a gatekeeper or a passport to a promising future,” Collier said. “And so we owe it to the children here of Kansas City Public Schools, regardless of their background, regardless of the barriers that they've experienced, all of the challenges and the trauma that they may have experienced and gone through. All those things should not determine that they are not literacy competent.”

Collier also addressed the district’s struggles with a “revolving door of leadership,” with decades of high superintendent turnover. She said that’s why it was important to stay on the path that the district is on.

“However, we have to also make sure that we're looking at areas where we can improve and tweak those areas, ways we can innovate, there could be some changes. I don't think that all change is bad,” Collier said. “But I definitely think that we need to stay on the track where we're going because I believe under Dr. Bedell's leadership, a very solid foundation has been laid.”

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