Mark Bedell, superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Annapolis, Md., delivered advice for superintendents transferring into highly politically charged school districts by sharing his journey and recent transition from Kansas City.
During Thursday's conference session, Bedell laid out his plan for navigating the tense political climate in Anne Arundel County. He began his term as superintendent last July when he implemented his 100-day plan. This included five primary goals: to develop unified school district governance, to ensure an intentional focus on instructional programming, to increase organizational effectiveness and efficiency, to create a culture of trust through action and to establish trust and confidence from the community at large.
During this time, Bedell recounted, he met with many diverse organizations, from Moms for Liberty to the NAACP, making an effort to reach out to them and operate with complete transparency. This, he said, is essential when making that difficult transition — listening and learning, too. The next step, he explained, was part of a larger plan to change the school system itself.
“You can't solo out a group. You have to attack the system. This is what I try to tell people. You can have racism without having racists. I learned that in Kansas City just based on the way that system has been designed,” Bedell said.
He emphasized the fact that words matter, in instances like these, and using language that is inclusive toward children of color and not harmful toward white children is essential. Not only words, though, as he went on to talk about the importance of tone, especially during his first couple of weeks in Anne Arundel.
According to Bedell, healthy discourse, important as it is, is nearly impossible in a situation where one party feels it is being belittled. He urged the audience to take care in choosing those words and to watch their tone with every email sent. And once you make the effort to communicate effectively with others, don't ever forget the importance of listening.
“Here's the one tip I will give each and every single one of you,” said Bedell. “People know that, in most cases, you're not going to give them the answer that they want — you can't. What would people want to know is, are you hearing them? Are you really listening to them?”
The session opened with remarks from Tony Zeikle, vice president of sales at Lightspeed. Zeikle praised some of Bedell’s achievements. “In 2022, he led Kansas City public schools to a full accreditation status for the first time in more than 20 years,” Zeikle said. “However, his most important honors have come from the students that he served. In 2018, students at Southeast High School in Kansas City presented Dr. Bedell with an award for his efforts on their behalf and the positive impact he would have on future students. In 2022, middle college students named Dr. Vidal superintendent of the century. … The middle college program was started by Dr. Bedell to change the lives of nearly 300 Kansas City public school students, who otherwise would have dropped out of high school.”
(Angelina D’Elia is a reporting intern with Conference Daily Online and a sophomore at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.)