New KCPS Superintendent Wants To Change Attitudes And Increase Expectations

Jul 1, 2016

Credit Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Today is the first official day on the job for new Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell, and he certainly has his work cut out for him. 

Bedell is looking to help the district regain full accreditation, but he is also focusing on changing negative attitudes about the district. In these first few weeks, he says he "wants to come in and just restore hope and really give these kids the best opportunities to be successful." 

Before taking the reigns of KCPS, Bedell was assistant superintendent for high schools at Baltimore County Public Schools, and worked for 12 years in the Houston Independent School District as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and school improvement officer.

Here are interview highlights from Bedell's conversation with Up to Date host Steve Kraske:

On overcoming a negative legacy

"You have people who have had some bad experiences. They're adults now and they have kids, and their guards are up, so if we don't help them lower their guards and say, 'Hey, yesteryear has passed, we have to start looking forward to what we can all do together,' then this recycling of hopelessness with continue."

On making students accountable for their own success

"I had an opportunity when I came here two weeks ago to speak to a classroom of students at Central High School and we got engaged in terms of talking about the outcomes and the expectations ... We can always point the finger at everyone, and there's a lot of finger pointing about teachers this or teachers that, but I said, 'What are you all doing to own up to your own attitudes and behavior?' By the time we finished that conversation, it was a whole different level of involvement. the conversation went more around, What can we do to make your learning experiences better? What should teaching and learning look like?"

On positive signs for the future

"I saw that today at ... Trailwood Elementary, where the learning that was taking place during summer school was just completely authentic. Every kid was out of their seats, the teacher was a facilitator. We really moved away from this 'chalk age' mentality of teaching and learning, and I want our kids to experience that across the entire school system ... where students learn by doing more so than teachers telling students, 'This is how everything needs to go.'"

On how Bedell views his role in the district

"On my way in this morning, I called about six or seven different people that have been instrumental in my career and I just said, 'I don't want anything, I just want to thank you. Thank you for believing in me and giving me this opportunity. My job is to not let you down.' My job is to come here and to work with this team that is working extremely hard so that we can take this school system and really elevate it and move it to becoming a fully accredited school system."

Luke X. Martin is a freelance contributor and assistant producer at KCUR 89.3. He can be reached at luke@kcur.org.