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Wichita school board appoints Kelly Bielefeld as next superintendent

Kelly Bielefeld was named the Wichita school district's next superintendent. He joined board members (from left) Hazel Stabler and Sheril Logan at a press conference Friday.
Suzanne Perez
/
KMUW
Kelly Bielefeld was named the Wichita school district's next superintendent. He joined board members (from left) Hazel Stabler and Sheril Logan at a press conference Friday.

The Wichita school board voted unanimously to appoint Kelly Bielefeld as the district's new superintendent. Bielefeld is executive director of college and career readiness for the district and has been a principal and administrator at several suburban districts.

Kelly Bielefeld, a Wichita school district administrator, will be the next superintendent of the state’s largest school district.

In a special meeting Friday, the Wichita school board voted unanimously to appoint Bielefeld as superintendent, pending the approval of his contract at the next regular board meeting on April 10.

He will replace Alicia Thompson, who is retiring at the end of the school year.

Bielefeld, 44, said he was honored and “a little bit nervous, a little bit overwhelmed” to be named to the district’s top post.

“The fact that the board is trusting me with this is just incredible,” he said. “I believe in Wichita public schools. We have amazing people here.”

Bielefeld, the district’s executive director of college and career readiness, will start his new post July 1.

Bielefeld began his career as a language arts and career and technical education teacher at Goddard High School. He has also served as a principal and district administrator in the Clearwater, Derby and Renwick school districts.

He created a social-emotional and character development curriculum in Derby and Clearwater and is an adjunct professor at Friends University.

"I'm very comfortable sitting on the floor and doing alphabet art with kindergartners, and I'm very comfortable shaking hands with seniors and talking to them about what they're going to do after high school," he said.

He joined the Wichita school district leadership team in 2020, leading the office of college and career readiness.

Bielefeld and his wife, Angie, have eight children, ages 4 to 19. Five of them attend Wichita public schools.

School board members hired Iowa-based consulting firm Ray & Associates to assist in the search for a new superintendent. A job profile based on input from a community survey said the next superintendent should communicate well, be able to recruit and retain employees, appreciate diversity and have K-12 classroom experience.

Board president Sheril Logan said board members did not expand the search beyond internal applicants. She would not say how many people applied.

"When we saw the caliber of the candidates that we had internally, we did not feel that we needed to move to an external search," Logan said.

"Mr. Bielefeld brings analysis, experience, insight and enthusiasm to tackle the difficult challenges ahead."

Wichita is the largest school district in Kansas, with about 47,500 students. Nearly 80% of Wichita students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty. The district is the third-largest employer in the Wichita area, with more than 5,600 full-time employees. Its annual budget is more than $980 million.

As superintendent, Bielefeld would oversee nearly $245 million in additional COVID-era relief funding, which the district has used to offset enrollment declines, maintain staffing levels, expand summer school and boost mental health support for students. That funding will end next year.

Other major issues facing the district include overcrowding at some schools, concerns about unruly student behavior, an ongoing teacher shortage and aging buildings that could require a new bond issue to repair or replace.

The district recently paid consultants to study demographic patterns that are affecting enrollment after the pandemic. Officials say the new data could affect attendance boundaries and long-term budget planning.

Details of Bielefeld’s proposed contract were not released Friday.

In November, school board members set a proposed salary range of $300,000 to $325,000 a year. They said it was based on a market analysis of superintendent salaries in the Wichita region and at other large urban districts.

Thompson receives a base annual salary of $296,305. In addition, she receives a $780-a-month car and mileage allowance, $525 a month for “professional, civic and incidental expenses,” and a $25,000-a-year contribution to her retirement, bringing the total package to $336,965.

Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KMUW, KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.