Town Halls Promote Frank Talks and Open Conversations

Superintendent gets important perspectives from students and staff at Nov. 9 events

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Kansas City, November 10, 2016:  Chloe’ Roberts, a sophomore at Central Academy of Excellence, stood up and challenged Superintendent Mark Bedell face-to-face, which is exactly what the school system’s leader wanted.

Ms. Roberts was one of about 35 young scholars who participated in a morning town hall meeting for students with Dr. Bedell on Wednesday, Nov. 9 in the library at Southeast High School. The Superintendent hosted a similar event with a couple hundred teachers and staff members that afternoon in the school’s auditorium.

img_6880Roberts asked Dr. Bedell to address an issue that’s been bothering her for a while: figuring out how KCPS can prove to the wider Kansas City community that Central and other schools are making significant gains. She’s tired of being confronted by people with the false belief that her school is a failure.

“How can we show that our schools are improving?” Roberts asked. “I know what we stand for.”

For Dr. Bedell, questions like this were exactly why he wanted to host student and staff town halls during his first 100 days as Superintendent. Plain talk and direct conversations have become an early mark of his leadership.

Bedell encouraged Roberts and her classmates to hold each other and the adults in their lives to account.

“You as students have to do your part. Do the work,” he said. “Hold each other accountable, but then hold us accountable, too. You can change that narrative.”

img_6872That exchange with Roberts was one of dozens Bedell had throughout the day. Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts sophomore La’Dazhia Taylor expressed her appreciation to Bedell for making an effort to connect with students, and added that she wants the town halls to prompt improvements in classrooms.

“My hope is that what we’ve said today will lead to classes that are smaller and more individualized attention from teachers,” Taylor said.

Teachers and other staff had their own town hall that afternoon, and they lined up to share their perspectives with Dr. Bedell. KCPS Teacher Leader Cendie Stanford asked if he’s prepared to improve the way classroom leaders are trained in the school system.

“The answer is a resounding, ‘yes,'” Bedell replied, and went on to talk about providing better professional development for vice principals, engineering effective standard operating procedures around human resources and making sure they’re  screening and recruiting for the very best candidates for every position.

img_6969The student town hall was invite only, while the staff event was open to any staff member; broadcasts of both town halls were live streamed on the KCPS website. Stanford was happy that the town halls were held and impressed with Bedell’s willingness to have a transparent and public discussion about some tough topics.

“It felt like a real opportunity for teachers to provide their feedback and share their voice,” Stanford said.

Still going strong and headed to a School Board meeting after the marathon three-hour staff town hall, he reflected on some of the common concerns and suggestions raised by participants, including the importance of improving the use of classroom technology, helping students address mental and emotional needs, accountability, school culture and climate, and human resource management.

img_6982“It was a very eye-opening experience for all of us, I think,” Bedell said. “What’s clear is that there is a strong sense of concern for the well-being of our students, and that’s something we can build on to begin to address the issues we heard about today.”

One of the most important takeaways that Bedell got from the town halls is that systems need to be created so that students and staff can coordinate and communicate with each other in order to determine their highest priorities so that the school system uses its resources effectively and efficiently.

“I’m not going to be able to do everything they want,” Dr. Bedell said. “But if they can come together and make recommendations as a group, that will make it easier for me to know where to focus.”

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