Do Kansas City schools already have their next superintendent? Faith leaders say yes
A group of prominent faith leaders on Thursday endorsed Jennifer Collier for Kansas City Public Schools’ next superintendent, saying she is uniquely qualified to move the long-strained district forward.
“She has the trust of the community, as demonstrated in her handling of the difficult and ongoing school closing process,” said the Rev. John Modest Miles, of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church. “She has the trust and support of the teachers and their union. Kansas City Public Schools are in the mist of a rise. Dr. Collier is the surest way to keep this momentum going.”
It’s a meaningful endorsement for Collier, who has served as interim superintendent since Mark Bedell resigned last summer. Collier has worked for KCPS for 23 years, as a teacher, principal, chief human resource officer and deputy superintendent. Most recently, she helped guide the district through the first phase of a restructuring plan, reducing the number of school closures next fall from four buildings to two.
Kansas City clergy, representing hundreds of students in their congregations across the city, urged the district to appoint Collier, joining the chorus of other community members and parents. The district is conducting a national search for its next top leader and expects to narrow the field down to finalists later this month.
“I am humbled and honored to be endorsed for the KCPS superintendency by the city’s faith leaders. I am in my 23rd year with the district where I started as a substitute teacher, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else,” Collier said in a statement. “I appreciate the support I’ve been receiving regarding Blueprint 2030 and the robust academic vision I have for the future of KCPS. Our students deserve a world-class education and I plan to give them just that. With continued support from the community, we will move this district forward together.”
Former superintendent Bedell last summer accepted the top leadership position at Anne Arundel County Public Schools, based in Annapolis, Maryland. After serving for six years, Bedell broke the district’s revolving door of leaders, serving the longest of any superintendent in more than five decades.
Many credited that stable leadership with helping the district improve and regain community trust, after a history of enrollment decline and a two-decade-long struggle to regain full state accreditation. During Bedell’s tenure, the district raised academic achievement scores and graduation rates, helping it to finally become accredited once again in January 2022.
Many community members said they were happy with the decision to appoint Collier as interim superintendent, viewing her as someone who also was instrumental in helping achieve the recent successes and who is a “homegrown” leader, committed to staying. She stepped in during a critical time, as officials were working to gain community buy-in for a long-term restructuring plan that last fall included a proposal to close 10 schools over several years.
That proposal led to widespread outcry, petitions and heated public meetings. Taking community feedback, district leaders reeled back the plan, and recommended closing only Troost and Longfellow elementary schools next fall. The school board approved the closures with a 4-2 vote last week.
Officials say they might propose closing more schools in the coming years, as the district struggles to operate an overstock of under-enrolled, aging buildings. But Collier said she hopes to capitalize on the energy seen among parents and neighborhood leaders and to rally the community to grow enrollment, improve student achievement and avoid more closures.
Before the school board voted to close the two schools, several community members told the board they support Collier as superintendent.
“Dr. Collier has stood in the line of fire through a very difficult situation and never gotten defensive, always listened and has used the information she has gotten from us to make a plan that is a gigantic improvement,” said Gregg Lombardi, executive director of the Lykins Neighborhood Association. “Through all of this, she has shown intelligence, pragmatism and gutsy leadership. And she has shown her top concern is the welfare of the kids. I would say those are fantastic qualities for an interim superintendent. And I would also say those are really good qualities for a permanent superintendent.”
On Thursday morning, several Kansas City faith leaders said they were confident Collier could continue to build that support and reinvigorate the district, which for years has reported dwindling enrollment as more students leave for charter schools and suburban districts.
The clergy members gathered at St. Paul Monument of Faith Church in the Northeast area, surrounded by signs crafted by KCPS students, which read, “Dr. Collier is the change” and “KCPS is in good hands with Dr. Collier.”
“She’s homegrown. And not only is she homegrown, she’s a double minority, she’s female and African American. She’s the right fit for the Kansas City, Missouri public schools,” said Pastor Darron LaMonte Edwards of United Believers Community Church. “We will never, ever get this opportunity again. And there is no other candidate who has these kinds of credentials, who has served our children and come up through the ranks of Kansas City Public Schools.”
Collier earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas, a master’s in education from Avila University and an educational specialist degree in educational leadership from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She received her doctoral degree in educational leadership from UMKC in 2018.
When she was appointed interim superintendent last year, Collier emphasized that the district needs continued stability, after decades of “ups and downs” and “disappointment” with constantly changing leadership.
“We’ve had what I call change fatigue,” Collier said at the time. “That trickles down into the classroom and negatively impacts our students. And so I think it’s highly important that there is some continuity, continuation of the great things we’re doing.”