Two veteran educators from the East Coast are the finalists vying for the Kansas City Public Schools superintendent job.
The school district on Tuesday announced that Ronald G. Taylor, superintendent of the Willingboro Township Public Schools in New Jersey and Mark T. Bedell, an assistant superintendent for high school with the Baltimore County Public Schools in Maryland, are the final candidates to lead the Kansas City district.
Both Taylor and Bedell will visit Kansas City on Thursday to tour the district and meet with the public at an open session at Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, 4747 Flora Ave.
Taylor will speak to the public and answer questions from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Bedell will speak from 6:45 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. While in Kansas City, the finalists will also meet with teachers, community leaders and visit schools.
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“We have worked very hard to make this process one that involves the community,” said Jon Hile, Kansas City school board chairman. “And I feel very comfortable that both of these candidates meet the criteria and reflect the values and qualifications expressed during that process.”
The finalists were selected from five candidates recommended by Ray and Associates, the search firm Kansas City school leaders hired to find a replacement for Steve Green. More than 70 applications were received for the position.
Green, Kansas City Public Schools’ 27th superintendent, left in May to take a job in DeKalb County outside Atlanta. Since then, the district has been led by interim superintendent Al Tunis.
Green was tapped to lead the district in 2011 in the midst of turbulence that left it unaccredited because of low test scores. The year before he was hired, the district, faced with a $50 million deficit, decided to close nearly half its 61 schools.
Green came in determined to turn around the district and regain full accreditation. He faced a fight from the state, which sought to take over the district, but test scores climbed and provisional accreditation was granted in 2014. Scores stayed fairly flat in 2015.
The new superintendent will be expected to continue the push to full accreditation, and boost an early childhood program.
Whoever is selected would be paid an annual salary in the range of $210,000 to $250,000 and must have shown experience with a set of criteria, including leading urban children toward being high-achieving critical thinkers and “assessing existing realities before introducing changes in programs and initiatives,” according to information on the district’s website.
Taylor has experience leading a suburban district outside Philadelphia that has five elementary schools, a high school and a middle school with a total of 4,300 students and a $70 million operating budget.
His career in urban public K-12 education spans more than 20 years, during which he has been a teacher, assistant principal, principal, regional superintendent and superintendent. Taylor has worked in the Washington, D.C.. Public Schools, Boston Public Schools and Newark Public Schools.
Taylor, who has a doctorate in education from George Washington University, has been instrumental in increasing the number of schools reaching Adequate Yearly Progress as defined by the U.S. Department of Education’s No Child Left Behind legislation in both Newark and the Willingboro Township schools. Taylor began his career in early childhood education.
One of Taylor’s career highlights includes being honored by the Washington, D.C., Public Schools Board of Education as the first principal of a “Beating the Odds School” for achieving high academic student performance with an impoverished and disenfranchised population. He is known in his district as a “data guru” and is an advocate for making student-centered decisions based on data.
Members of the The Willingboro Board of Education did not respond to requests for comments about Taylor.
Bedell has no experience as a superintendent but is on the executive team for a large urban school district.
He would be leaving a district that is in the midst of reorganizing, including instituting new school boundaries. The Washington Post announced this week that Bedell’s boss is a candidate to lead Maryland’s largest school system.
Baltimore County schools, where Bedell is an assistant superintendent, has more that 110,650 students and a $1.5 billion operating budget.
Bedell has a career spanning more than 15 years. Before joining the Baltimore County Public Schools four years ago, he worked for 12 years in the Houston Independent School District as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and school improvement officer. While there, Bedell received the Young Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award two years in a row.
In Baltimore County, Bedell, who holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University, created an approach to reduce dropout rates and saw his district’s graduation rate increase to 87.6 percent for the Class of 2014. That was up nearly four percentage points from 2012.
During the same period, the district’s suspension rates decreased from 8.3 percent to 5 percent. He also worked to increase the participation rate of juniors taking college entrance exams.
Bedell is a former basketball coach at Fisk University, where he also received his undergraduate degree in history and education. He coached while working on a master’s degree in educational leadership from Tennessee State University.
According to his biography, he grew up in a drug-infested home with seven siblings and an abusive stepfather. He was the only one of his siblings to graduate from high school.
Teachers in Baltimore County were not happy to hear Bedell is a finalist in Kansas City.
“I’m crying,” said Abby Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, “because if he gets this position we won’t have him any more. If I was a little younger I’d follow him.”
Beytin, who has known Bedell for four years, said, “He is the real deal. He is hands-on. He mentors individual kids in high school.”
Charles McDaniels, who heads the Baltimore County school board, said he’s witnessed Bedell mentoring students. “He has the ability to inspire kids who I would consider at risk,” McDaniels said. “He fills a unique role here.”
Beytin said teachers working for Bedell tell her that “he has real heart. He cares.” She said Bedell told her he was ready to leave and do elsewhere — as a superintendent — what he’s done in Baltimore.
Kansas City’s search firm conducted a national search using a list of 19 expectations developed after a series of public sessions last year to identify, as a profile, who would be the district’s best leader.