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KCPS regains full accreditation after Missouri state school board vote

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Posted at 10:56 AM, Jan 11, 2022

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Missouri State School Board of Education voted Tuesday to restore Kansas City, Missouri, Public School to full accreditation.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which stripped KCPS of its accreditation on Sept. 20, 2011, had recommended the district receive full accreditation for the first time since 2000.

After hearing a presentation at its monthly meeting in Jefferson City, the state school board unanimously signed off on the recommendation, which is effective immediately.

“This is an opportunity to commend the really great things happening in KCPS,” State Board President Charlie Shields, a 1977 graduate of the district, said in a statement. “While this is clearly a significant step in the right direction, KCPS and its leaders still have work to do and must ensure this momentum continues in the district.”

KCPS Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell understands that Tuesday's achievement marks a fresh start and not a finish line.

“I will assure that our goal is to move our students at and above state averages on all measurable outcomes,” Bedell said. “I promise you that we will not let our guard down. We have not arrived, and I need everybody to understand that. We will celebrate, but we owe it to our kids to do better by them.”

KCPS became the first school district in the country to lose its accreditation on May 1, 2000.

It regained provisional accreditation in April 2002, but a variety of issues — including low test scores and graduation rates, superintendent turnover and financial issues — conspired to keep the district from regaining full accreditation status.

Three years after being stripped of its provisional accreditation in 2011, KCPS regained provisional accreditation in August 2014.

The hiring of Bedell, who took over as the 41st superintendent in KCPS history on July 1, 2016, helped usher in a new era for the district, which was founded in 1867.

RELATED | Promises kept: KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell optimistic about full accreditation

Under Bedell's leadership, KCPS ended years of struggles to meet the state's Annual Performance Report targets. The district was meeting only three of 14 standards in 2011 at the time its accreditation was revoked for the second time in 11 years.

“It was unaccredited for cause,” Peter Herschend, who first joined the state school board in 1991, said. “It wasn’t bad performance. It was awful. We were cheating hundreds and hundreds of kids on a consistent basis year after year.”

Herschend called the progress KCPS has made “insufficient progress compared to where it needs to be, but it is such amazing progress to me that I am delighted and will vote for full accreditation.”

He and other board members — including Kerry Casey, who was appointed to the state school board in November — told Bedell and KCPS Board of Education Chair Nate Hogan that the challenge now is to keep demonstrating sustained improvement.

By 2017-19, KCPS had reversed course and its English language arts and math test scores were on track or exceeded state standards, but the state cited a desire to see continuity and consistency within the district’s leadership in declining to restore full accreditation in 2019.

Since 1999, only two of the six full-time superintendents who preceded Bedell lasted longer than 26 months on the job. Bedell is the longest-serving KCPS superintendent since Herold C. Hunt, who served as superintendent from 1940-47.

A hiccup with fraudulent attendance reporting — a scheme in place from 2013-16 that predated Bedell and led to the district repaying more than $192,000 — didn’t directly impact the accreditation decision two years ago, but it hurt the district's APR score and the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic further delayed the process.

The state canceled Missouri Assessment Program testing in 2020 and didn’t include 2021 testing in its revised APR calculations amid the ongoing challenges educators have faced in the last two years.

But KCPS achieved five-year highs in 2021 with its four-year (77.6%) and five-year (78.2%) graduation rates, another sign of its continued progress.

“The progress being made in KCPS is thanks to a number of stakeholders working in collaboration, but would not be possible without the hard work of the students and teachers,” State Board Vice President Carol Hallquist said in a statement. “Led by Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell, Board Chair Nate Hogan, and the entire KCPS Board of Directors, and supported by so many partners in the Kansas City area, the entire school community has made a real commitment to get better.”

While Bedell and his leadership team don't view the restoration of full accreditation as a finish line, it's difficult to overstate what a critically important milestone it is for KCPS.

“A yes vote from this board is not only recognition of where we are today and the work that it took to get us here, but it’s also recognition that every student in this district has the potential to achieve great things with a world-class superintendent and an effective, professional board ready to serve the citizens of Kansas City,” Hogan said.

He added the board understands the importance of maintaining the momentum built since Bedell's arrival.

“Our board is committed to creating, in collaboration with Dr. Bedell and his team, a district that is more nimble, even more effective than we are today, that is equitable, challenging and, dare I say, fun,” Hogan said.

The journey back to full accreditation mirrored one for St. Louis Public Schools, which lost its accreditation in 2007 and needed a decade to have it restored in January 2017.

The Naylor R-II School District, which is in southeast Missouri, also received full accreditation at Tuesday’s meeting after certification of its superintendent.

There was no change to the accreditation status of the state’s other 515 school districts.

The Hickman Mills C-1 School District, which has been provisionally accredited since 2012, is now the only Missouri district in the Kansas City area without full accreditation.

Hickman Mills “continues ongoing discussions with DESE about accreditation” and remains “committed to regaining full accreditation.”

“Leadership, teachers and staff are doing all they can to make sure each student is successful and reaches their full potential,” Hickman Mills Director of Public Information and Partnerships Marissa Cleaver Wamble said via email last week to KSHB 41 News.

Bedell thanked the Hickman Mills School District, which had representatives at the state school board meeting, and KCPS' charter school partners for their support in returning to full accreditation.