KC mayor reflects on KCPS superintendent leaving after securing full accreditation

Published: Jun. 9, 2022 at 9:17 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Just months after achieving accreditation for Kansas City Public Schools, Superintendent Mark Bedell has announced he will be leaving in August after six years in his position.

He’ll be moving to a district in Annapolis, Maryland, near where he previously lived.

“When the KCPS Board of Directors took a chance on me in 2016, I promised to move this district to full accreditation,” Bedell wrote in a letter to the community announcing his departure.

For 22 years, the district had been unaccredited or provisionally accredited. The Missouri State Board of Education restored the district’s accreditation in January of this year. Bedell said the graduation rate rose from 68% to 78% that during his tenure.

“Dr. Bedell has had this school district on the ascendancy for years,” said Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas after Thursday’s city council meeting. “I am proud of his work to get us back to accreditation. I’m proud of his work to make sure that our schools are in a better place.”

Bedell also provided stability in a district with high turnover. The last time a superintendent stayed for six years or more was 50 years ago. James Hazlett held the position from 1955-1969. Several that followed held the job for three to five years each. Since 1999, however, three superintendents lasted for two years or less.

“We have not had that level of consistency,” said Lucas. “What does that tell the children who often may not have that consistency either at home, with organizations. with community, with neighbors, with so many other things? I’m proud that there was somebody that students got to know as the superintendent.”

From the beginning, Bedell spoke about his untraditional route to high school and higher education. He never knew his birth father. His mother died of a drug overdose. He was a ward of the state. He was homeless. He said he identified with what some of the kids in Kansas City were facing in and out of the classroom.

“I admire Dr. Bedell’s courage, strength and determination for our community and its children,” Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr. wrote in a statement Thursday. “He brought a passion for education that is unmatched and, while we will miss that, he has left a strong foundation for us to build on.”

The board voted unanimously Wednesday night make Deputy Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Collier interim superintendent. Collier started in the district in 1999 as a substitute teacher, then worked her way up through the ranks to become an assistant principal, principal, and chief human resources officer.

A description of her career with the district written by KCPS leadership included the following:

She is very passionate about education and believes that all children deserve access to a rigorous, equitable and culturally responsive education, as it has the power to unlock doors of experience, access and opportunities that would otherwise be closed.

One of Dr. Collier’s most urgent academic goals is to ensure that KCPS students are proficient readers. She believes that literacy is a social justice issue and every child, no matter their race, social-economic status, zip code or education level of their parents, has the right to learn to read. It is a moral imperative, as competence in literacy will either serve as a gatekeeper or a passport to a promising future. With laser-like focus on literacy, math and culturally responsive practices, KCPS will be on our way toward fulfilling our mission of every child thriving socially, emotionally and academically.

“What we have built over the last six years is a solid foundation of support for our students and families,” Bedell wrote in Thursday’s letter. “I am leaving strong people and programs in place, and I trust them to keep moving KCPS forward. Dr. Collier will need to the support of the city and community if this district is to continue to make progress.”

“We know there are a lot of things that we have to do,” said Mayor Lucas. “We’re far from perfect, but Kansas City’s public schools, Kansas City, and the entire region are better off thanks to his contribution over these last several years.”

Current and former board members declined to remark on camera Thursday, opting to wait until a news conference with Bedell, Collier, and Board Chairman Nate Hogan scheduled for 9:45 a.m. Friday at the Board of Education building.

Click here to read a letter from Dr. Bedell and click here for a biography about Collier.