Mark Bedell, superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools, on Wednesday night shared plans he has for the district, garnered after completing his first 100 days at the helm.
Bedell told members of the school board that one thing he heard a lot during months of canvasing the community, talking with business, civic and local government leaders, clergy, and other residents, is that trust in the district has been badly damaged.
“What we have to say to them now is this is a new day, a new board, a new administration,” Bedell said. “Trust is fragile, and we are rebuilding it from the ground up.”
Bedell, who came from Baltimore County, Md., where he had been the assistant superintendent for high schools, has been on the job since July. He came in talking about changing the district from a troubled one to one where students are excelling
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Over the past 100 days, Bedell has held a series of community listening and learning sessions in which he welcomed community leaders and residents to brainstorm ideas for improving the district.
He traveled to schools in the district, sharing lunch and conversation with students and teachers, held town hall style meetings, and last month he walked door to door shaking hands and talking to district residents.
Melissa Robinson, who chairs the school board, said Bedell is doing “exactly what he said he would do” when he started the job. And she said she believes that Bedell’s outreach to Kansas City residents will serve the district well in terms of helping it respond to what the community expects from its schools.
“We are very much forward looking to the next generation of this district, to improving this district and being responsive to community needs through our administrative leadership.” Robinson said.
Starting on that path, Bedell said, a first step would be to fix the “disconnect between the central office and schools in the district.” He suggested that his administration do a better job of keeping schools and the community up to date with decisions and plans from the central office.
But more important, he said, are changes he plans that will directly impact student learning.
Bedell took the reins of an urban school district with low test scores and a less than 70 percent graduation rate at the same time as the district has been struggling to grow enrollment and regain state accreditation.
While the groundwork for the district to see improved test scores had been laid in the years before Bedell arrived, last month he was able to announce that for the first time in nearly 30 years, Kansas City Public Schools had scored at full accreditation level on the state-issued report that measures student progress on standardized tests.
If the district can sustain or improve student performance at that level for one more year, it’s looking at regaining full accreditation during the 2017-2018 school year.
“This district has made a lot of progress,” Bedell said Wednesday. “But we have a long way to go.”
He wants to focus more on writing and see teachers get away from passing out handouts and instead make better use of technology.
“We need to get away from the brick and mortar way of education,” Bedell said. “With technology, our kids should be able to learn anywhere they are. A 24/7 accessibility is what we are striving for.”
He also talked about developing a mentoring program with 50 percent of all students in the district paired with a mentor within the next three to five years. Bedell suggested schools do a better job identifying students who can handle more rigorous studies such as advance placement and dual-credit classes.
Teachers and staff, he said, need cultural competency training. And the district needs to provide more social and emotional counseling for some of its most troubled students.
Bedell said he wants to develop a newcomers center for students who are English language learners and expand the district’s prekindergarten program — something he’s already started.
His first order of business, on day one, Bedell announced a seven-hour prekindergarten day at no cost for 1,100 Kansas City children.