Kansas City Public Schools has selected interim superintendent Dr. Jennifer Collier to continue to lead the district in a permanent role.
The district’s Board of Education announced Wednesday that it had voted unanimously to select Collier as the sole finalist for the job. Collier has worked for the district for more than 23 years and has been the interim superintendent since Mark Bedell stepped down last summer.
Collier started out as a teacher at Northeast High School, worked her way up to principal, director of human relations, and then deputy superintendent. For the past year, she has led efforts around Blueprint 2023, the district’s long-term strategic plan that includes highly controversial school closures.
The announcement was met with applause from those in attendance at the school board meeting, followed by members thanking Collier for his service to the district at all levels.
“Dr. Collier has demonstrated both in our interviews and in her interim role, her outstanding leadership, integrity and pride in our school district,” said Member Tanesha Ford. “She has our full confidence as a deeply rooted steward in our schools and communities. Dr. Collier has respect for our historical heritage and has a true vision for a bright future.
The school district said it began a nationwide search for the superintendent job in fall 2022, conducted by JG Consulting, which included city hall and stakeholder meetings. The district said it has received 17 applications for the job.
This week, the district entered contract talks with Collier with a formal announcement to be made at a future date. Collier and the school board declined to comment further on the nomination.
“I just want to thank this board for trusting me and I’m just honored,” Collier said. “I’m honored and just super excited about the future of KCPS.”
“Who Do We Need Right Now”
After decades in which KCPS saw a revolving door of leadership, Bedell’s six-year tenure made him the school district’s longest-serving superintendent in 50 years. That stable leadership is credited with transforming the struggling district, which has long faced low test scores and declining enrollment, and with helping to win its decade-long struggle to regain full recognition.
A coalition of religious leaders backed Collier ahead of the vote, describing her as a “homegrown” with roots in Kansas City and the person most poised to succeed Bedell.
“He made his career in the public schools of Kansas City, Missouri. He is a double minority. She is an African American and a woman,” said Bishop Clifford A. Jackson, pastor of the St. Paul Monument of Faith. “She is what we need right now. Kids love it, staff love it. The people in the community love it.”
Collier’s leadership over the past year has also received positive feedback from community members for how it handled the district’s controversial plan to close 10 schools over the next few years. After weeks of heated pushbacks and public outcry, the district has scaled back its plan and will close just two schools this fall.
Prior to the January vote, several panelists praised Collier’s ability to listen to community feedback and regain their trust.
“Through it all, she has shown intelligence, pragmatism and courageous leadership, and has demonstrated that her primary concern is the well-being of the children in this district,” said Gregg Lombardi, executive director of the Lykins Neighborhood Association. “I would say these are fantastic qualities for an interim superintendent. And I would also say these are really good qualities for a permanent superintendent.
More schools could be closed in the future, but Collier said he hopes the community will work together to approve a bond, boost enrollment and improve academic performance to avoid further closures.