Relentless in the pursuit of excellence: Superintendent Mark Bedell is a ‘breath of fresh air’ for Anne Arundel Public Schools

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In February 1997, Mark Bedell spoke to his college town newspaper, The Nashville Banner, about his post-graduation goals.

Finishing his bachelor of arts degree with a major in history, the soon-to-be graduate told The Banner that if he were to become a teacher, he would probably go to the poorest school in the country.


“I only had one Black male teacher, I think kids need to see that,” Bedell said in an interview with The Capital last month. A framed copy of the Banner article hangs in his office at the Anne Arundel County Public Schools headquarters in Annapolis. “I think I can relate to them because I have been through tough times.”

More than 25 years after he made his career goals known, Bedell, who will turn 49 in May, has achieved well beyond what he imagined. In June, he was hired as the new superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools. His career spans more than 15 years with stints in the Houston and Baltimore County school systems and as an administrator known for restoring the Kansas City, Missouri district’s state accreditation for the first time in a decade.


When he first joined the Anne Arundel school system in August, Bedell said that he wanted to make the county one of the top school districts in the nation and push the district “from good to great.”

Bedell enacted a 100-day entry plan with a detailed list of actions to achieve his five goals: building a relationship with the Board of Education; closing resource gaps among the lowest-performing students; increasing effectiveness and efficiency; creating a culture of trust among employees; and creating trust in the community at large. In January, Bedell proposed his first school budget, a $1.68 billion spending plan for next fiscal year to address the “embarrassing” compensation gaps that have contributed to a serious teacher shortage in county schools.

“We have employees trying to make ends meet while earning less than $13 an hour,” Bedell said at the time. “I just have to call it like I see it. That’s not a livable wage, and it’s embarrassing.”

Dr. Mark T. Bedell, Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools, points to a framed newspaper article about himself published in the Nashville Banner written in 1997 about his aspirations to become a teacher.

A life-changing conversation

Bedell was born and raised in Rochester, New York. As one of eight siblings born to a teen mother who battled addiction, Bedell’s home life was difficult.

“In the second grade, I had a teacher who told me I was dumb, ugly, and would never amount to anything,” he told a crowd in January during a series of community listening sessions. “I quit going to school in the second grade, and it was at that time, because of my attendance, that I believe Child Protective Services saw the red flags.”

After being sent with his younger brother to live with his aunt and uncle, Bedell took an interest in running and track. Somewhere along the way, he picked up a basketball, a passion he retains to this day.

“Basketball was free. That was my refuge from everything that I was dealing with at home. It was always basketball,” he said.

Bedell said his perspective on education started to shift in 10th grade when a teacher named Mr. Barrett pulled him aside to tell him that he was academically ineligible to play basketball. From then on, Mr. Barrett became a mentor for Bedell, encouraging him to work hard in his studies.


“He said to me ‘Young man, you don’t want to waste your life. You’re academically talented and you don’t even know that,’” Bedell said. “It was the first time that somebody had said that to me.”

The conversation changed Bedell’s life.

He applied to Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he graduated in 1997, the first person in his family to earn a college degree. Two years later, he became a substitute teacher in the Metro Nashville Public Schools system.

In 2000, he accepted his first full-time position teaching second- and third-grade social studies in the Houston Independent School District.

Bedell would climb the professional ladder for the next decade, establishing his foundational experience as an educator in Houston. He became the principal of Booker T. Washington High School for Engineering Professions in 2010, the oldest high school in Houston with the largest demographic of Black students.

“The school had a history of being low performing academically, and I think that we really turned their progress around,” he said.


In 2011, he was promoted to school improvement officer for the Houston school district, a position that equates to assistant superintendent. His first assignment was to oversee Apollo20, a program that has garnered national acclaim for its innovative approach to closing the achievement gaps in math. It calls for adding one additional hour of schooling in math for secondary students who need the extra tutoring for two additional weeks in the school year. Top teachers are hired to provide the extra tutoring.

Apollo20 is now a leading example for Bedell in his pursuit of legislation in the Maryland General Assembly that will grant local school systems more authority and flexibility over school scheduling models.

The legislation did not make it past its first committee hearing in February; however, Bedell is not giving up his pursuit of school scheduling reform, said school spokesperson Bob Mosier.

From Baltimore County to Kansas City

Bedell moved his family to Anne Arundel County in 2012 after accepting a position as the assistant superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools. His daughter’s first school was in the AACPS system, Bedell said during a news conference last summer.

Over four years there, Bedell established a comprehensive dropout prevention program for Baltimore County students and initiated a school-funded PSAT testing day for ninth, 10th and 11th graders.

In 2016, Bedell left Maryland to pursue an offer to be superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools in Missouri.


The Kansas City school system had fallen on hard times when Bedell arrived. It had lost its state accreditation and the superintendent’s position was a revolving door, school officials said.

“He was absolutely the right leader at the right time,” said Kansas City Public Schools board Chair Nate Hogan. “I don’t think that we could have found a more perfect superintendent where we were at the time.”

In his time leading Kansas City Public Schools, he implemented a program aimed at helping young adults aged 17 to 24 who had dropped out of the school system get back on track to graduate and prepare them for the workforce.

He also launched a mentoring program to match adults with almost 8,000 students, revitalized athletic stadiums and added new athletic and extra-curricular programs in all high schools. Academic performance and the district’s graduation rate improved under Bedell’s watch and he expanded participation in advanced placement, dual credit and International Baccalaureate courses. City schools outpaced the state in math and reading achievement scores, according to a 2021 Kansas City Public School news release.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, he ensured every student had access to a reliable Wi-Fi network by parking buses on streets for children to access the vehicles’ built-in Wi-Fi hot spots, Hogan said.

Despite turnover on the Kansas City school board, Bedell built strong bonds of trust with members to achieve his vision, Hogan said. But what made Bedell the best superintendent, he said, was his personal story and his ability to connect with students.


“His personal story is very real,” Hogan said. “He grew up just like some of the kids in the school district.”

Bedell said that when he shares his personal story, he wants the community to know why he is “relentless in the pursuit of excellence” for every child in the school system.

“When I talk about my story, I generally want people to know the blue-collar journey that I went through to get where I am today and let them know that hard work really can pay us,” he said.

Back to Maryland

Last December, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education declined to extend the contract of Superintendent George Arlotto. Arlotto had led the system since 2014 and worked for Anne Arundel County Public Schools since 2006.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the school system of more than 80,000 students needed a new leader.

A few weeks later, and a thousand miles away, Bedell got a phone call from the Missouri State Board of Education. After six years of work, the board had decided in January 2022 to restore accreditation to the district, despite COVID disrupting the tests that are used to gauge academic progress in schools, instead using factors like an increased graduation rate.


After that, Bedell said that he felt like it was time to move on.

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education unanimously approved a four-year contract for Bedell in June that will pay him $305,000 annually to start. His first day was Aug. 8.

When asked why he returned to Anne Arundel County, Bedell cited several reasons. His wife, Robyn, enjoyed their time in the area when he worked for Baltimore County — some of her family lives here — and his daughters have already spent time in the school system.

Dr. Mark Bedell and his wife Robyn, are all smiles after the Board of Education unanimously approves appointment of Dr. Mark Bedell as next Superintendent of Schools.
Dr. Mark Bedell is introduced as the next Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools after the Board of Education members met to vote on his appointment Friday.

“I also realized that you sometimes don’t want to overstay your time,” he said. “In this job, you can become stale with the work, then you overstay your time, and your legacy can be tarnished.”

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Robert Silkworth, vice president of the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, called Bedell a “breath of fresh air” for his ability to develop good relationships with the school system’s stakeholders in a short amount of time and for engaging the community during his listening tour in the fall.

“Out of all the decisions the board has to make, choosing Dr. Bedell as our superintendent was the best,” Silkworth said. “He did something that many superintendents do not do, taking the time to attend and host these tours around the county. It’s really time-consuming to sit and engage with community members in an effort to introduce and establish himself.”

Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Dr. Mark T. Bedell, ED.D., during an interview Wednesday March 15, 2023.

Bedell is currently working with the school system to launch #BePresent, a new initiative focused on encouraging community members to partner with the school system and be present and active in daily school life.

The initiative was announced at a news conference in January to address reports of rising violence and other serious offenses in the school district.

At a Board of Education meeting last month, he said the initiative is “off to a great start” with 19 volunteers currently in training. The initiative is set to launch in 11 schools. Bedell expects to expand the program in the fall.

With only a few weeks remaining before the close of his first school year, Bedell said the school mentor program is the start of a long process of bringing hope and opportunity to every student in the county, a mission he’s been his been on since 1997.

“We still have people in parts of our community where they feel hopeless,” he said. “If we can instill hope in our educators of what could be self-efficacy being significantly improved, not only in the educator but in the children, that’s where the magic begins to take place from a belief standpoint.”