Mark T. Bedell will do himself and the students of Kansas City Public Schools a great service when he steps into the superintendent’s job on July 1 if he walks the many neighborhoods where the children and families live.
Bedell and his wife, Robyn, who’s a lawyer, have children in high school, middle school and elementary school, whom they plan to enroll in the district. That is a great sign that as superintendent on a three-year contract with a $225,000 annual base salary he plans to make Kansas City schools exceptional for them and the district’s other 15,000 kids.
Of course that means the Bedells also will have to live within the school district’s boundaries. That’s a novel concept for a lot of district employees.
But by living in the urban core the Bedells — like families in the school district — would get a good taste of what it feels like to live in a food desert because there are few close, full-service grocery stores, offering a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The resulting diet problems affect children’s ability to concentrate and learn.
Bedell would be able to see and better address that from living and walking in the city.
Winning full accreditation has to be a priority for Bedell, who had been an assistant superintendent for high schools at Baltimore County Public Schools. Walking through Kansas City’s urban core will help him better understand the heavy lifting that he, teachers and other district officials have to do.
He’ll see the need for comprehensive family support services and tutoring to raise the academic performance of children so the district can attain full accreditation and see enrollment rise. It’s provisionally accredited now. Drawing in more community partners to help address the students’ and families’ needs is critical to the district’s success.
Bedell can drive this summer around 31st Street and Troost Avenue near this city’s long-standing racial divide. When he sees kids heading to Faxon Elementary School, 1320 E. 32nd Terrace, for the summer program, Bedell should get out and walk with them to class.
Be careful of the sidewalks. They are in terrible shape. But that’s a challenge for the kids and their families, too, as are the many vacant lots, rundown and boarded-up houses, litter and unsafe conditions of many occupied residences.
Bedell should continue his walks with the kids when the 2016-2017 school year starts Aug. 15. What he will find is that many children are waiting for buses to go to charter schools — competition giving parents alternatives to the long-struggling district. That should be eye-opening.
Bedell should visit the neighborhoods around the new East Patrol Division police station, which claimed a lot of residences in order for it to be constructed. He should walk to Crispus Attucks Elementary School, 2400 Prospect Ave. In the fall children and staff from Wendell Phillips Elementary School will call Attucks home.
Also in the fall following a new master plan, more kids will ride buses to schools. Bedell needs to invest shoe leather to see whether that’s successful.
He should take other district employees on such walks, covering the Northeast area, East Side, West Side, southeast and southwest schools before officials go to work at the district’s headquarters so that they can better know and build trust with the children, parents and the community.
Establishing a strong bond and credibility is what no superintendent in decades has done. But people crave an honest, personable tie to the district leader.
It will help make up for the parade of superintendents who came for a little while, collected fat checks and then walked away.