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Mark Bedell Reflects On His First Semester As Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3

Kansas City Public Schools Supt. Mark Bedell says he’s done observing – it’s time to act.

Last month, Bedell outlined his plan to move KCPS forward in a 22-page report that recapped his experiences visiting schools during his first 100 days as superintendent.

He sat down with KCUR’s Brian Ellison on Up To Date to talk about what’s next for the district.

These interview highlights have been edited for length and clarity.

On St. Louis Public Schools earning full accreditation from the state

It wasn’t just the fact they received full accreditation. ... What makes me pretty excited about that news was the support that Supt. Kelvin Adams had from the community, the support from the board, the support from the state. When you have all of those components working in your favor, it gives you an opportunity to come into a school system that’s troubled to do some unique things, to do some things that are different and innovative and outside the box that then will allow for the school system to make the type of progress they’ve made. It gives me a lot of hope.

On what it’ll take for KCPS to do the same

The commissioner’s made it very clear you have to demonstrate making this type of progress for consecutive years.

On how he chose to spend his first 100 days as superintendent

I didn’t have any plans of coming in to blow up the district and automatically start bringing in my own people. ... I took the balcony approach, had an opportunity to get out and engage the community and the business sector. I spent a lot of time talking to students and teachers.

On how the challenges he faced growing up help him relate to students

I talk oftentimes about the control kids need to have. The respect you need to have for teachers. The respect you need to have for each other. Accountability. I talk a lot about that. I don’t want us allowing kids to skate, taking it easy on them because things are difficult. We recognize that things are difficult, but the way you overcome that is making sure there are high expectations in place.

On bonding with the Board of Education – in an escape room

We’re all very competitive. I’ve told people, I play basketball, I’m a sports guy. I’m ultra competitive. None of us were able to get out of the room. My understanding was the other group said they were further advanced than we were. I think that’s still up for debate. ... It was a great opportunity for us to bond outside of work.

On the No. 1 challenge facing the district

It’s this perception. The perception is just negative. I’ve learned in this district that there are pockets of excellence throughout. ... An example would be James Elementary. I do unannounced visits. I don’t tell principals when I’m coming because I want to see it in its authenticity. When I went to James Elementary, in one of the poorest zip codes in the city, you couldn’t tell what was happening in their environment outside of school. The leadership in that school, the expectations, those teachers, they were phenomenal.

Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.