New KCPS superintendent lays out vision, engages parents during ‘Listening and Learning Tour’

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- No topic was off-limits Thursday night, as the new superintendent for Kansas City Public Schools went directly to parents and teachers to find out where the district can make improvements.

Superintendent Mark Bedell dubbed a series of community meetings he is leading the “Listening and Learning Tour.”

The first stop was at Dubois Learning Center on Linwood Avenue, where about 50 people packed a room to hear Bedell’s vision for the district.

His goals included things like mentoring, transparent communication, and better attendance and graduation rates.

Bedell then handed the reigns over to the parents, teachers and fellow district leaders, who were asked to sit in small groups and make lists of pros and cons. The goal – to hone in on things they feel are successful versus where they would like to see improvements.

Their suggestions ran the gamut, from better transportation options, to more communication and parent involvement, to more mentoring programs.

At the end of the night, everyone who talked with FOX 4 agreed this type of meeting can only lead to good things.

“I think it was wonderful to have the community involvement and to meet Dr. Bedell,” said Amy Slaybaugh, who has two children in high school in the district. “I think he has a lot of really great ideas and a lot of passion for the district.”

Aaron Myrick, a mentor who launched his own program to help kids at KCPS, also participated.

“I think it’s a positive approach,” Myrick said. “I also think it’s a creative and effective approach because it got me listening. I got a couple of the teachers and the staff also listening as well, and everyone is just engaged and they’re communicating, and that’s the biggest key.”

Annette Ervin, who has been a KCPS teacher for 27 years, was vocal with her suggestions and felt Bedell would take them to heart.

“Dr. Bedell has been such a positive, welcoming breath of fresh air,” she said. “His sincerity, you can feel it, you can taste it, you can see it.”

Bedell said the event was everything he could’ve hoped for and more.

“[I was] very pleased with the turnout,” he said. “We had a full room. Our people were actively involved, actively engaged… So I actually felt like this was a huge success.”

Bedell said when he heard parents and teaches speak, a few things stood out to him as top priorities.

“They really want us to focus on transportation,” he said. “I think they were excited about the energy that we’re bringing right now with administration being here.”

“But most importantly, they want their kids to be educated and there’s accountability and that teaching and learning is at the forefront of everything that we do.”

As for that transportation topic, Bedell acknowledged recent issues surrounding the district’s bus system and said he’s working toward positive change.

“I’m looking at every option right now available,” Bedell said, “including us potentially purchasing our own buses and starting to build our own fleet so we don’t have to necessarily depend on vendors to ensure that our kids get to and from school.”

Hours earlier, Bedell won more support when he answered a challenge from a local radio DJ.

DJ  Danny Boi from 96.5 The Buzz accused KCPS of dodging the tough questions.

He tweeted, "rather than do softballs -- why not let me interview him today?"

Within 20 minutes Bedell replied and said he was on his way.

The Buzz put him on the air during the show "Afentra's Big Fat Morning Buzz," and the superintendent explained he's a pretty competitive guy.

"I'm not the type of school system that run away and hides and tries to conceal problems -- at least under my leadership," Bedell said.

In the 13 minute interview, Bedell talked about his relationship with the school board, connecting with at risk kids, and his commitment to stay in Kansas City.

Danny Boi's post interview tweet says, "Mark Bedell gives me hope and got me involved? This might actually work."

Listeners reacted. One called the interview an example of real leadership.