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.”

Want Northeast News articles sent straight to your inbox each week? Subscribe below!
Enter your email address and click on the Get Instant Access button.
We respect your privacy

Comments are closed.

  • Former State Representative, County Legislator plans to run for KCMO City Council in Fourth District race

    July 6th, 2022
    by

    EllieAna Hale Editorial Assistant Henry Rizzo, former Missouri State Representative and former chairman of the Jackson County Legislature, has announced […]


    SCARRITT SCHOOL

    July 6th, 2022
    by

    The vacant former Scarritt Elementary School on Anderson Avenue, which closed in 2010, will be sold by the district. Proposals […]


    Solarize your home and save money

    July 6th, 2022
    by

    Brought to you by Jerusalem Farm Want Northeast News articles sent straight to your inbox each week? Subscribe below!Enter your […]


    Legal Aid helps neighborhoods restore abandoned homes

    July 6th, 2022
    by

    Abby Hoover Managing Editor In Northeast Kansas City’s historic neighborhoods, preserving the aging housing stock is a priority for those […]


    KC CARE provides health services for all

    July 6th, 2022
    by

    Northeast News KC CARE Health Center began serving the Kansas City community in 1971. They were known as the Westport […]


    Northeast area public pools and spraygrounds

    July 5th, 2022
    by

    CONCOURSE PARK FOUNTAIN 200 Benton Blvd Open year round. BUDD PARK POOL 5600 Budd Park Esplanade Summer 2022 Season June […]


    Kansas City’s Most Wanted

    June 29th, 2022
    by

    KC Crime Stoppers has partnered with The Northeast News to help track individuals in Northeast KC on the Kansas City’s […]


    Vacant Scarritt School slated for reuse

    June 29th, 2022
    by

    Abby Hoover Managing Editor The Scarritt Elementary School at 3509 Anderson Ave., closed in 2010 during the “right sizing” of […]


  • Welcoming KC hosts International Food Tour to celebrate cultures on Independence Ave.

    June 29th, 2022
    by

    EllieAna Hale Editorial Assistant Welcoming KC hosted this year’s KC International Food Tour in Historic Northeast, a day of celebration […]


    State Representative earns Missouri Horace Mann award

    June 29th, 2022
    by

    Michael Bushnell Publisher State Representative Ingrid Burnett (D-19) was awarded the 2022 Horace Mann Award Thursday evening at a reception […]


    American Art Deco: Designing for the People, 1918-1939

    June 29th, 2022
    by

    Sponsored content The Kansas City Museum’s collections of historical materials are an important means of advancing the Museum’s mission and […]


    Community partnerships at the heart of Mattie Rhodes, NEAT Mission

    June 29th, 2022
    by

    Sponsored content Once again the Mattie Rhodes Center’s Northeast facility at 148 N. Topping is sponsoring a series of community […]


    Man sentenced to 28 years for double homicide in 2019

    June 28th, 2022
    by

    By EllieAna Hale Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced June 27 that 25-year-old Mario Markworth was sentenced to 28 […]


    Pedestrian suffers critical injuries in early morning hit and run

    June 23rd, 2022
    by

    Update: The female pedestrian has succumbed to her injuries according to KCPD. A female pedestrian who was standing in the […]


    Cafe Cá Phê hosts fundraising yard sale

    June 22nd, 2022
    by

    EllieAna Hale Editorial Assistant Cafe Cá Phê hosted a Yard Sale Pop-Up Event on June 17 to fundraise and support […]


    World Refugee Day celebration brings together the stories of a diverse community

    June 22nd, 2022
    by

    EllieAna HaleEditorial Assistant On June 18, the North-East Branch of the Kansas City Public Library hosted the city’s annual World […]


    Community Calendar

    June 22nd, 2022
    by

    FRIDAY, JUNE 24 –Welcoming KC Presents the International Food Tour. $30 per person. CLICK HERE MORE MORE DETAILS SATURDAY, JUNE […]


    Sewing Labs welcome international textile recycler

    June 22nd, 2022
    by

    Abby Hoover Managing Editor The Sewing Labs of Kansas City, a nonprofit teaching the legacy of sewing for employment, entrepreneurship, […]


    Students make change in Northeast

    June 22nd, 2022
    by

    Abby Hoover Managing Editor Students from the Ryogoku Soccer Academy are creating change in their community, one project at a […]


    Troost gets creative with business collective

    June 22nd, 2022
    by

    Aniaya Reed Editorial Assistant The Troost Market Collective (TMC) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to create equitable economic […]


  • Northeast Newscast


  • Faces Of Northeast


  • Remember This?


  • Want articles sent directly to your inbox each week? Subscribe below!
    We respect your privacy and will not distribute your information.