The Kansas City school board should counter its long, troubled history of picking the wrong superintendent by selecting the right one to lead the district.
Two finalists for Kansas City Public Schools superintendent on Thursday will tour schools, meet with teachers and people in the community, and answer questions at a forum at the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts.
Like past superintendents, each finalist is well credentialed.
Mark T. Bedell has no experience as a superintendent, but from a distance he appears to be in the best position to plant strong roots here and grow into the job.
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Since 2012, Bedell has been assistant superintendent for high schools at Baltimore County Public Schools in Towson, Md. The urban district has more than 110,650 students and a $1.5 billion operating budget. Bedell had worked 12 years in the Houston Independent School District as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and school improvement officer. He has a doctorate in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University. Kansas City needs Bedell’s skills in reducing dropout rates and increasing the graduation rate.
The superintendent search began in July 2015. A search firm, Ray and Associates, fielded more than 70 applications. The board hopes to have the new person in place by July.
The other candidate, Ronald G. Taylor, has been superintendent of the Willingboro (N.J.) Township Public Schools since 2011. In his career of more than 20 years, he has been a teacher, assistant principal, principal, regional superintendent and superintendent. He has a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from George Washington University. The Willingboro district has about 4,300 students and a $70 million operating budget. It has experienced declining enrollment.
Kansas City is familiar with that. District enrollment has fallen from 35,000 16 years ago to 16,558 today. The operating budget is $179 million.
Taylor in the last three years has been looking for another superintendent position — in 2014 Hartford, Conn., where he was one of two finalists and in 2013 in Camden, N.J., where he was one of three candidates for superintendent.
Kansas City is all too familiar with leadership instability, having had more than 20 superintendents in 40 years. Al Tunis has been the interim superintendent since Steve Green left in May to take a job with an Atlanta area school district.
Green had been superintendent since 2011 after the sudden resignation of Superintendent John Covington. But Green provided the stability the district needed to regain provisional accreditation in 2014.
Steady leadership is needed for at least the next five years for Kansas City schools to become fully accredited, initiate universal preschool, boost academic performance, get all students to read at or above grade level, close the racial achievement gap, reverse the enrollment decline and gain more community and business support for the district.
It’s a lot to ask of anyone interested in becoming the district’s new superintendent. But neither the city, its children nor this community can afford to settle for anything less.