Superintendent Mark Bedell arrived Friday for his first official day on the job with Kansas City Public Schools and wasted no time making his presence known.
Before the day was done, Bedell announced his first policy move — a seven-hour pre-kindergarten day at no cost for 1,100 Kansas City children.
“This is a great day for Kansas City Public Schools and for the entire Kansas City community,” Bedell said during the announcement at the Woodland Early Learning Center. “We must do everything possible to make sure our children get the preparation they need to succeed in school and achieve their dreams.”
Expanded early childhood education was a promise Bedell made during his first visits to Kansas City as a candidate for the superintendent’s job.
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“If money was no object, I would begin educating children at the age of 2,” Bedell had said then, and repeated Friday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, Bedell pushed through the doors of the new school board offices on Troost Avenue promptly at 8 a.m.
With a cup of coffee in hand, Bedell strolled through the new administrative building, stopping at each cubicle and open office to shake hands and greet school district employees.
“I am absolutely ecstatic to be here,” said Bedell, who told district employees they will be seeing a lot of him as he leads the district. “I don’t want it to be that the only time you see me is when it is time for business,” Bedell said. “I want to establish a culture of trust and building meaningful relationships here. That’s who I am.”
Bedell, 41, came to Kansas City from Baltimore County, Md., where he had been the assistant superintendent for high schools.
On his way to work Friday — after his breakfast of champions, frosted flakes and bananas — he made time to call every person who played a role in getting him to where he is today.
“I told them I don’t want anything except to tell you, ‘Thank you,’ ” Bedell said.
Bedell’s career has spanned more than 15 years. Before joining 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.
His first superintendent post is here and once he gets a chance to decorate, he’ll be the first superintendent to occupy the office. This summer the district moved its central offices from its former space downtown at 1211 McGee St. to 2901 Troost Ave.
“I like that now we are in the middle of the community,” Bedell said about the new district offices.
Bedell takes the reins of an urban school district with low test scores and a less than 70 percent graduation rate. It’s also a district seeking to grow its enrollment and regain state accreditation.
“Accreditation is critical,” Bedell said. “We know that you are not going to really have leverage in terms of being able to invite parents to put their kids in our schools if we are not an accredited school system.”
Bedell also talked about changing the conversation about Kansas City schools from a troubled district to one where students are excelling. Full-day pre-kindergarten is a step in that direction, he said.
“Extended time of being in the school, as well as quality time, matters for our children,” said Jovanna Rohs, director of early learning and Head Start for the Mid-America Regional Council.
Rohs joined Bedell at Friday’s announcement.
“A quality pre-K program can change the trajectory of a child’s life,” she said. “It’s a win for children, it’s a win for the community, it’s a win for schools.”
The full-day pre-K is made possible because of new Missouri legislation that allows the district to collect per-pupil state funding for some pre-K students, combined with federal Head Start dollars and local aid.
Since there is no district transportation for pre-K, Kansas City is offering programs at Woodland and Richardson Early Learning centers and at seven other elementary schools throughout the district.
Bedell said the district also will offer before- and after-school care for its 3- and 4-year-old students at a cost of $184 a month.
Families that qualify for free and reduced-price lunch would pay either $138 or $92 a month, depending on income. In addition, parents could get a state child care subsidy to further reduce that cost.
With extended pre-K set to begin this fall, the next item on Bedell’s to-do list is implementing his 100-days plan. He said it includes “a lot of listening and learning” from the community, district staff, teachers and students.
He said he wants the community to know him and to know “that I am a humble man. I am thankful to be here.”
At public appearances on previous visits to Kansas City, Bedell talked about growing up in a drug-addicted, single-parent household where he was the only one of eight children to graduate from high school. He has said he believes his life experiences can be an inspiration to Kansas City schoolchildren.
A broad smile on his face, Bedell said that while he enjoyed meeting district employees, he was most looking forward on Friday to visiting with students in summer school at Trailwoods Elementary School.
There, Bedell made his way from classroom to classroom, at one point getting down on the floor with a group of kindergarten, fifth- and sixth-grade students who were building Lego structures.
The rest of his day was spent with local media and preparing for an afternoon news conference.
In April, Bedell signed a three-year contract with a $225,000 annual base salary. But he said Friday that he hopes to stay in Kansas City much longer.
“If I am performing and they want me to stay, I intend to stay,” Bedell said.
He and his wife are scouring Kansas City for a home. He has enrolled his three children in district schools. One child in eighth grade and one in ninth grade will attend Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, and his 5-year-old will attend Border Star Montessori when the fall session begins in six weeks.
“In my mind I think that it is hypocritical as a school district leader to ask parents and guardians to trust their kids with us when I’m not willing to trust my own kids with us,” Bedell said.
“It was extremely important for me as a parent to make sure that my kids understood that my job is to come in here and make sure you guys get a sound education, and the same expectations that I have for you are the same expectations that I will have for the other 15,000 (to) 16,000 students we serve in the district.”
Bedell has been roaming the community, having played a game of pickup basketball a few days earlier. He said district residents should expect to bump into him from time to time in the grocery or theater with his wife and children.
Bedell replaces Steve Green, who left Kansas City in May 2015 for a job outside Atlanta. Green worked three years in the Kansas City district.