Mark Bedell is feeling it, and who can blame him?
“It’s a new day,” he whispers to an attendee at Wednesday night’s District Advisory Committee meeting. “I’m so excited. Look at this turnout.”
Yes, look at it. About 45 people showed up on a crazy-cold night in which participants talked about how different parts of the community could support Kansas City Public Schools, the district that Bedell leads.
A few years ago, Bedell could count those attending these sessions on two hands. Not anymore.
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But on this frigid night, it’s not the number 45 that has Bedell jazzed. It’s 82.9. That’s the score the district racked up in the latest state report on annual performance released Friday.
It’s a monster number — so high as to be completely unexpected. In Missouri, a district needs a score of 70 to be considered for full accreditation. A year ago, Kansas City Public Schools scored a 63.9 after rocking an even 70 in 2016, which ranks as one of the district’s best in decades.
Bedell likes to use sports metaphors owing to his days at Fisk University, where he ranked as one of the nation’s leading Division III scorers. This year’s score would be like putting up 50 in a single game, hallowed ground that Bedell never reached.
“Literally, I hit the wall,” Bedell told me about the moment he got the call from two of his deputy superintendents with the news. “I was like, `Stop punking me.’ Remember that show `Punk’d?’ Stop punking me.”
But no one was punking Bedell. He was floored, thrilled, ecstatic. In his wildest dreams, he was hoping for 75. But 82.9?
“Are you serious?” Bedell asked. “It’s huge.”
This once again places the district on a path to full accreditation, a distinction Kansas City Public Schools have lacked for 30 years. Don’t underestimate for a second what a game-changer that would be for the city, for teachers, for principals and parents and the students themselves. Imagine what it would do for self-image and self-confidence and for tearing down another wall that divides a city split by fully accredited districts and those that aren’t.
So many Kansas Citians have endured the stigma of attending schools tainted with a subpar aura. Some veteran teachers with decades in local schools have never known what it’s like to work in a fully accredited district. The 82.9 score is so strong that you can make the argument to state education officials that Kansas City finally belongs, and no one would laugh you out of the room.
Best guess? It will take another year of good scores to convince Missouri’s educational establishment to give it up for Kansas City. Bedell is OK with that, and he predicts flatly that the district will make it.
“I feel good about where we are,” he said.
Good, yes. But not satisfied. That will happen, he says, on the day that test scores in Kansas City finally match those in Lee’s Summit and when no one doubts that Kansas City schools are on par with any district around.
But big moments come around only so often, and this is one of them. We didn’t get a Super Bowl. But we got an 82.9 and a superintendent who, unlike so many of his predecessors, plans to stick around.
In the long run, that’s not a bad tradeoff.