KCPS Superintendent Bedell unafraid to discuss tough upbringing

By Paul Thompson

Northeast News

August 30, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Missouri – First-year Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell will personally mentor Northeast High School freshman Samari Shelton during the 2016-2017 school year. After hearing Bedell’s emotional story about his own experiences in escaping a life of poverty in Rochester, New York, it’s clear that he is highly qualified for the job.

Bedell stopped by Northeast to help roll out its new mentorship program, called My Brother’s Keeper, during an afternoon assembly on Tuesday, August 30. The program’s goal is to pair up members of Northeast’s freshman class with strong role models from the community who will help them attend class regularly and excel academically. Students will be divided into four tiers based on attendance rates, and mentors will be expected to meet with their assigned students no less than once a month.

Following a powerful medley from saxophonist Dr. Brandon McCray, Bedell stepped onto Northeast’s auditorium stage and, in front of hundreds of students and faculty, offered frank thoughts about the importance of hope and the key role that positive mentors played in his own life.

Admitting that the musical performance struck an emotional nerve, Bedell revealed devastating personal details about his life, up to and including the recent death of his younger sister. Bedell told the assembled students that his sister, who had been missing since late May, was found deceased outside of Rochester last Friday. He and his family still don’t know what happened to her.

The tragic loss of his sister isn’t the only heartbreak Bedell has had to endure. The oldest of eight siblings, the KCPS superintendent revealed that his next-oldest brother was charged with murder just last year. While his brother beat the charges, Bedell acknowledged that without a high school diploma, he doesn’t have many options when it comes to supporting his six children.

Bedell then continued on down the list.

“The brother below him got shot in a drive-by when he was 17. The next brother below him is an alcoholic. He was on Judge Mathis last summer because of not paying child support. The next one after him is the sister that we just found her body last Friday,” said Bedell. “Then I have another sister right after her, and she dropped out too. She’s not doing much with her life. I have a little brother; he’s in the streets. Then I have my youngest brother: he’s been in and out of jail since he was 16. He doesn’t care about dying – he’s out there robbing gang members and drug dealers.”

“That’s my story. I stand before you as a superintendent, but the problems and the circumstances that a lot of you are dealing with? I’m not exempt from those either,” Bedell added. “I go home, and I see the impact of what happens when you don’t come to school, what happens when you don’t take advantage of this education system, what happens when you just give up because you’re not willing to put up the effort to fight.”

Bedell would go on to describe his own difficult childhood, along with the story of the mentors who helped him carve out a better path for himself. As he explained, life was not easy during his formative years. His mother abused drugs. Bedell told the story of a job he got early in high school, working as a janitor for $4.25 an hour. His first paycheck was for just over $63, and his mother told him that he needed to hand it over for rent.

“I said, ‘I can’t do that, because I know what you’re going to do with the money. You’re going to take the money, and you’re going to go and buy drugs,'” remembered Bedell. “‘I can’t do that; we don’t have any food in the house.'”

Instead of giving the money to his mother, he went to the store to purchase groceries. When he returned, his clothes were being thrown out the window. Bedell said that from there, he slept in a nearby abandoned car for several days.

“Learning is a struggle, because I’m trying to figure out where I’m sleeping at night,” said Bedell. “I don’t have a home to go to.”

KCPS Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell speaks with a student after his speech at Northeast on Tuesday, August 30.

KCPS Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell speaks with a student after his speech at Northeast on Tuesday, August 30.

He stayed with a friend for a few nights, then with an aunt for a few months. Eventually he settled in with his grandmother, with whom he lived for the majority of his final three years of high school. While his living situation had improved, Bedell admitted that he was still struggling in school. He started skipping class, missing assignments, and was ultimately forced to miss six varsity basketball games due to ineligibility. At his time of greatest need, however, a mentor arrived.

“My homeroom teacher saw my progress report,” Bedell said. “He pulled me to his desk and said, ‘Mark, there’s a lot of pain and suffering going on in your life. You have an academic gift that you don’t even know that you have, because your guard is up.'”

According to Bedell, the teacher added that young Mark was quick-tempered, eager to fight, and hesitant to listen. While Bedell was initially upset at the forward words, he went back two weeks later and told the teacher about all of the hardship he’d been enduring. Along with another teacher Bedell had confided in, this teacher became a positive role model in his life.

“They made me believe that I could do more than I ever thought I could do,” Bedell told the Northeast students. “I started making the Honor Roll, I got my GPA high enough to where I didn’t become ineligible anymore, and then I was eventually able to apply to colleges.”

Looking back, Bedell recognizes the importance that those teachers – as well as the public school system in general – had on his life trajectory. He pleaded with the assembled students to take advantage of the same tools that allowed him to escape his hardscrabble youth in Rochester, New York.

“Had I not taken advantage of what the public school system had for me, there’s no way I’d be standing in front of you and having this conversation. Many of you have a story like mine,” said Bedell. “As I close out, I want you all to know this: I have high expectations for you. You’re not allowed to skate; you’re not allowed to be cheated out of an education; you’re not allowed to take it easy. Our teachers are going to hold you highly accountable.”

Comments are closed.

  • Operation Santa kicks off today at Della Lamb, serving over 1,000 local residents

    December 7th, 2018

    This project will serve over 1,000 low-income families, giving them all the items needed for a full Christmas.

    Congressman Cleaver announces $25 million grant to improve Buck O’Neil Bridge

    December 7th, 2018

    The Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant will include creating a wider bridge span, separated facilities for pedestrians bicyclists, and connector ramps.

    KC Streetcar offers holiday performances for riders

    December 5th, 2018

    Johanna Pounds Editorial Assistant Northeast News This holiday season, the Kansas City Streetcar is holding its second annual Holiday Jam. […]

    Delivery services offer tips on keeping packages safe this season

    December 5th, 2018

    Johanna Pounds Editorial Assistant Northeast News Online shopping season is upon us. Kicking off with Cyber Monday, online sales increase […]

    Animating the world around us: A profile on Ben Radatz

    December 5th, 2018

    Reese Bentzinger Editorial Assistant Northeast News Even though animator Ben Radatz moved from Kansas City earlier this year to Los […]

  • Northeast Chamber of Commerce discusses Independence MAX and Employer Pass Program at monthly meeting

    December 5th, 2018

    Elizabeth Orosco Northeast News Tuesday, November 27th, the Northeast Chamber of Commerce held their monthly luncheon to discuss the Employer […]

    Kansas City Fire Department commemorates 30th anniversary of six firefighter’s ultimate sacrifice

    December 5th, 2018

    Elizabeth Orosco Northeast News The Kansas City Fire Department and the community gathered November 29, to commemorate the 30th anniversary […]

    Historic homes welcome crowds during annual Homes Tour in the Northeast

    December 4th, 2018

    Visitors were able to walk through the homes, meet some of the owners, and see the remarkable restorations that have taken place.

    Online enrollment for KCPS Signature Schools begins today

    December 4th, 2018

    Online enrollment for Kansas City Public School signature schools begins today. Each Signature School has its own enrollment standards and is free for any qualifying child that lives within the KCPS boundaries.

    KC Council debates, holds Paseo name change item until late December

    November 30th, 2018

    After a short but contentious Council debate, the Paseo name change item was held yet again.

  • Local Weather

  • What’s Happening

    retorts illustrated by bryan stalder

    Bed & Breakfast on Gladstone Boulevard

    Northeast News Now in its fourth year of operation, the Inn at 425 remains a labor of love. The evidence […]

    Anatomy of a Hack Piece

    Once again our ol buddies over at The Pitch magazine have broken new ground in an attempt to remain relevant […]