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Maryland Superintendent Shares His Navigation Through Politically Charged Issues in His Community

Mark Bedell, superintendent of the Anne Arundel County School District, Annapolis, Maryland, was one of the speakers at the "Crisis-Proofing Leadership: A Blueprint for Navigating Politically Charged Districts" session, during the National Conference on Education at the San Diego Convention Center, Feb. 16, 2024. Photo by Howard Lipin.

When a controversy divided his school district and community, Mark Bedell took it as an opportunity.

In 2023, the educator was in his first year as superintendent at the Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland when a board member introduced a proposal to ban flags that don't represent the U.S., state or local government.

That created divisions in the community with LGTBQ and Black Lives Matter supporters opposing the policy while others supported it.

Bedell shared his experience in navigating that controversy during an AASA Conference session, “Crisis-Proofing Leadership: A Blueprint for Navigating Politically Charged Districts.”

Bedell said board members tried to get him to take sides on the issue, but he refused to be drawn into the fight, letting board members decide the issue themselves. They did, eventually, vote down the policy.

But the proposal raised emotions. Bedell showed a packed room during the Friday afternoon session videos of heated discussions at board meetings.

“Yeah, it was explosive,” he said. “But these conversations needed to happen.”

He communicated with both sides, even bringing members of the LGBTQ community together with members of Moms for Liberty for a meeting.

“Even in the difficult times of a leader, always look for the good that can come out of a situation.”

Bedell said that attitude can be applied to other aspects of running a school district that’s the 37th largest in the United States.

For example, when faced with a lack of school bus drivers, he had the district buy small vans that didn’t need special licenses for people to drive them. As a result, he has eliminated bus driver vacancies.

It’s important to be candid with people, even those who criticize the district, like the local councilman Bedell met with who eventually praised him and the district.

“Transparency and being honest with people,” Bedell said. “Being upfront with people. Teaching people how to treat you, early on. If you don’t do it early on, its curtains for you.”

(Luis Monteagudo Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Diego and a reporter for Conference Daily Online.)

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