Kansas City Public Schools Names Mark Bedell New Superintendent

Jan 20, 2016

Mark Bedell, assistant superintendent for high schools in the Baltimore County Schools, was named to the top job in KCPS Wednesday.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR

Kansas City Public Schools officials announced the district's new superintendent Wednesday.

Mark Bedell has been an assistant superintendent in the Baltimore County District for the past four years. He began his career in Houston.

He beat out Ron Taylor, the superintendent in the Willingboro, New Jersey, district.

The announcement comes after the board met behind closed doors for 90 minutes Monday and reviewed feedback from last week’s forum, where the two finalists each answered questions for an hour.

Bedell clearly wowed the crowed with a style he calls "authentic" and is clearly down to earth. “Most people would say this is viewed as a while collar position but to me this is a blue collar position," he said in an interview from his Baltimore County Office. "It’s a position that you have to roll your selves up, you have to get in the trenches, and most importantly don’t ever lose the perspective of the work that a teacher does, the work that an assistant principal does, the work that a principal does.”

Kansas City Public Schools board chairman Jon Hile said Bedell's performance at the forum was perhaps the most important factor.  “When you look at the way he interacted with the community, the bond he began to build there, along with his fantastic qualifications, it became a very clear choice to the board.”

Bedell has a remarkable personal history. He's the only one of eight siblings who graduated from high school and was homeless for a time in ninth grade. He says he is reminded how important education is every time he goes home to Rochester, New York.

“I’m not exempt from a lot situations that our kids are dealing with. Where I have family members who are in jail. Where I have family members who are on drugs. You know, I have family members who are neglecting their own kids,” he says.

He went on to Fisk University in Nashville where he played basketball and led Division III schools in scoring his senior year. At one point during the forum at Paseo Academy Bedell said "I am a KCPS student. But I am one that succeeded."

“While his qualifications and his experience will make him a very successful superintendent anywhere, I think that his story, his own personal narrative, makes him the right fit for Kansas City,” Hile says.

It's hard to find anyone who doesn't like Bedell. KCPS teacher's union president Andrea Flinders says she met him last week and calls him "a good choice" and "very charming." Flinders also said she got a call from the union president in Baltimore County who said she was sad to see him go.

Her only criticism is that he's never held the top job. "He doesn't have a lot of experience at that level," she says.

Bedell admits he faces a learning curve as a new superintendent but says politics is nothing new to him. “My job is to get out, to advocate, to listen to the community, to be very transparent with our politicians, the legislators, the Department of Education and to advocate for what is need in the Kansas City Public School system.”

Bedell began his career in the Houston Independent School District starting as a teaching and moving up until he was promoted to the district's school improvement officer.

In his role as one of two assistant superintendents for high schools in Baltimore County he has 14 high schools that report to him with 31,000 students. There are about 16,000 students in KCPS.

In the forum, Bedell said he wants to make Kansas City his home.

"When was the last time you had a superintendent put three kids into the Kansas City school system? If that's not commitment, what is?" 

Longevity was a big concern among parents and staff at the forum, many concerned that a revolving door of superintendents eats into the district stability.

Hile says the district needs to get away from the notion that a superintendent is going to stay in KCPS for many years. The future of Kansas City schools, he says, is in the hands of the community.  “I think for too long we’re relied on superintends to tell us what our schools should be and we as a community have not worked hard enough to determine what our schools should be.”

Bedell agrees and says there can be no success without the everyone working together. “My expectation as a superintendent is that we have a level of belief that we give our kids this growth mindset that they can do more than they ever thought they could do.”

The district will now enter into contract talks with Bedell. The job pays between $210,000 and $250,000 a year. He's expected to be on board by July 1.

The district has been looking for a superintendent since Steve Green unexpectedly left last May to lead the DeKalb County School District in suburban Atlanta.

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR. He's also co-host of KCUR's political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @samzeff.