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Superintendent Bedell ready to work for KCMO students

Students and parents in the Kansas City, Missouri school district may be surprised to see a young superintendent greeting them this year as their children step back into the classroom.

He is quick to tell you that even though he is young he has the experience and background for the job he has assumed. He worked in the Baltimore County Public Schools, the 7th largest school district in the country. He came up through the education rank beginning as a teacher; an assistant principal, principal and then served as an assistant superintendent.

“Coming in as a first year superintendent in a school system of this size in Kansas City allows me to have my hand on everything,” said Dr. Bedell.

He hopes that his young age will help the students relate to him and talk to him about their hopes and dreams for an education. His focus is on the children he serves and he knows that he has work to do to get the schools to full accreditation.

“This is a school district that has faced a lot of battles and continues to face battles. The district has moved from an unaccredited status to provisional accreditation. We are close to being accredited. I want us to take the approach from a can do lens,” he said.

When he was approached about interviewing for the superintendent position, at first he wasn’t interested in moving from his Baltimore County Public School system. He didn’t know anything about Kansas City and the Midwest region, but he was encouraged to put his name in and interview for the job.

“The search firm that contacted me told me it may be a great opportunity for me. They said the kids are like you, you understand the ELL population. Go and interview and get a feel for the city and the board. During my interview I asked the board members why they were serving on the board, I heard answers like my kids graduated here, they believe in the school district, they were advocates for the children and one person said we are the last line of defense. I left with a great feeling,” he said.

He told Hispanic News that he is a religious man and felt that God has had a plan for his life.

“I felt God saying this is where you will be. I have prepared you for this moment, take all of your experiences and use them for this moment. I am dealing with kids that are just like I was. I am dealing with teachers who want to do well but have lost hope. I get to bring my body of work and my life to these kids,” said Dr. Bedell.

His early years were a struggle for him. His mother was 16 years old when he was born and she dropped out of school. He didn’t have a support system to encourage him to study and get good grades and was not given encouragement to dream of success.

His life began to change when a teacher sat him down and talked to him about how they saw an intelligent student before them, but they also saw a student filled with anger and quick to fight.

“I was mad when the teacher said that to me. I said you don’t know anything about me. You don’t know what I am going through, you may think you know, but you don’t,” he said.

He is the only one of his siblings to graduate high school and go onto college, he knows what it is like to grow up in the inner city, experience poverty and bullying. His life took a turn for the better due to the people that came into his life.

“My best friends’ parents, several teachers, then there were other people that I met along my journey that helped me, one friend Kiefer he helped me learn to drive, he didn’t have to do that, but he did. Some friends who encouraged me were in my life for a short time while others are still in my life,” he said.

He wants the children in the Kansas City, Missouri school district to know that dreams can be achieved no matter where you come from or what issues you are facing at home, they can with a good education and caring educational staff, succeed.

“I sat in our cabinet meeting last week and I said students first … every decision we make if we don’t think through how it will impact our kids then we are not doing any justice for our kids. If we keep it children first, everybody else will get on board with that philosophy,” said Dr. Bedell.

As he kicks off his first year in the district, his vision is simple. He will finish a 100-day plan, engage the community, work towards full accreditation and put in place a five-year strategic plan that will make the district a viable option for the city.

His first presentation with their board meeting will be held at Garcia Elementary School where he plans to roll out his plan for the English Language Learners (ELL) students.

“Because of my background I can sit in front of the kids and say things to them others can’t. I can say with creditability I am not going to accept and allow for you to escape, I am not going to allow people to cheat you out of the education you deserve because you are a non-English speaker, or you are a kid without a father or a mother that’s an addict, it does not give you an excuse not to be educated and it does not give us an excuse as educators to say that we will take it easy on you because of your situation,” said Dr. Bedell.

As superintendent he plans to also address students who have an interrupted education, who will not graduate on time and how the district can support them in receiving their education.

“There are many school systems around the country that are in worst condition than this school system. I think there are good things happening in this district that we don’t hear about and there are some strong schools. We have good principals running our schools, we have a young core of teachers that want to be here and are invested in teaching our children but need some direction from the top,” he said.

Dr. Bedell served as the assistant superintendent for high schools at Baltimore County Public Schools for the last six years. While he worked in the Baltimore County school district, they served over 111,000 students. Stepping in as superintendent for the Kansas City school district student body of about 15,000 students, he told Hispanic News that the student body under his direction is very manageable.

Bedell has presented at several national and state level conferences on best practices in education and completed his doctoral dissertation at Nova Southeastern University on school culture, climate and dropout prevention for ethnic minority students from low economic strata. This topic is close to his heart as he lived through and witnessed how students often drop out of school when there is no one to advocate for them.

He credits his love of and success in basketball as a factor that motivated him to stay in school. After becoming ineligible to play on his basketball team because of his grades, he swore to himself that he would never let that happen again and began attending summer and night school. As he focused on his studies, he made the honor roll and was accepted at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I am living a dream right now. My life story is a story of inspiration that tells you being born at the bottom doesn’t dictate who you will grow up to be in this country,” said Dr. Bedell.