After a nationwide search, longtime Kansas City Public Schools administrator Jennifer Collier has been named the district’s next superintendent, officials announced Wednesday.
Behind closed doors, the school board voted unanimously to select Collier as the sole finalist for the job, an announcement that was met with cheers from the crowd at Wednesday’s board meeting. Collier, who has served as interim superintendent since Mark Bedell stepped down last summer, has earned the endorsement of many prominent community members throughout Kansas City, as well as several religious leaders.
He has worked for KCPS for 23 years, as a teacher, principal, human resources manager and deputy superintendent. Most recently, she helped guide the district through the first phase of a renovation plan, responding to community feedback by reducing the number of schools closing this fall from four buildings to two.
“I’m just humbled and humbled and super excited about the future of KCPS,” Collier said Wednesday.
The school board in October contracted with JG Consulting to conduct the search for the district’s national superintendent. Board member Tanesha Ford said 17 people have applied for the position. Five candidates were interviewed and narrowed down to two earlier this month. Officials did not say who the other candidate was.
Ford said the school district will make an announcement about Collier’s contract in the near future.
“Dr. Collier has demonstrated both in our interviews and in his interim role, his outstanding leadership, integrity and pride in our school district,” Ford said. “He has our full confidence as a deeply rooted administrator in our schools and communities. Dr. Collier has respect for our historic legacy and has a true vision for our bright future.”
Former Superintendent Bedell last summer accepted the senior leadership position at Anne Arundel County Public Schools, located in Annapolis, Maryland. After serving six years, Bedell cracked the revolving door of district leaders, serving longer as superintendent than any other in more than five decades.
Many credited that steady leadership with helping the district improve and regain community trust after a history of declining enrollment and a two-decade struggle to regain full state recognition. During Bedell’s tenure, the district increased academic achievement scores and graduation rates, helping him finally gain accreditation once again in January 2022.
Many community members said they were pleased with the decision to make Collier interim superintendent, seeing her as someone who has also been instrumental in helping achieve recent successes and who is a “homegrown” leader committed to staying put.
She stepped in at a critical time, as officials were working to gain community buy-in for a long-term renovation plan that last fall included a proposal to close 10 schools over several years.
That proposal led to widespread protests, petitions, and heated public gatherings. Taking the feedback, district leaders withdrew the plan and recommended closing only Troost and Longfellow elementary schools this fall. The school board approved the closures in a 4-2 vote in January.
Officials say they may propose closing more schools in the coming years as the district struggles to deal with an overstock of outdated and under-enrolled buildings. But Collier said she hopes to capitalize on the energy seen among parents and neighborhood leaders and rally the community to boost enrollment, improve student outcomes and avoid further closures.
Before the school board voted to close the two schools, several community members said they supported Collier for superintendent.
“I think it’s important to maintain the trust that he has instilled in the community and build on the goodwill that he has established,” Alissia Canady, a former city council member and Northeast High School graduate, told the board.
Last month, several Kansas City clergy gathered at the St. Paul Monument of Faith Church in the Northeast area to endorse Collier as superintendent, surrounded by signs made by KCPS students that read, “Dr. Collier is the change” and “KCPS is in good hands with Dr Collier”.
Faith leaders said they are confident Collier can continue to build that support and invigorate the district, which has experienced declining enrollment for years as more students leave for charter schools and suburban districts.
“He has the trust of the community, as demonstrated in his handling of the difficult and ongoing process of closing the school,” the Rev. John Modest Miles, of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church, said last month. “He has the trust and support of the teachers and their union. Kansas City Public Schools are in the fog of a raise. Dr. Collier is the surest way to keep that momentum going.
Collier holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas, a master’s degree in education from the University of Avila, and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She received her PhD in Educational Leadership from the UMKC in 2018.