Portrait of a Graduate – Progression After a Year

Insight to the initiative "Portrait of a Graduate" as it progresses.

April 21, 2023

On May 24 2022, a new initiative at SMUSD, the Portrait of a Graduate, was introduced by District Superintendent Andy Johnsen. Johnsen passionately describes the initiative as “our vision for the skills and competencies that we think all of our kids will need to be successful in the 21st century”. Now that it has been almost a year since its release, Johnsen shares its progress, what is planned for the coming year, and where he hopes to see it go in the future. 

In the past year, The Portrait has presented itself in the form of posters that are displayed in classrooms and around schools. The focal principles of adaptability, communication, empathy, critical thinking, and leadership that frame it were developed by a group of around 100 individuals, consisting of parents, staff, students, and local business owners. Since its release, Johnsen has opened the Portrait up to more of the community and has visited all 19 schools in the district, sharing ideas and gathering input. “This year my goal has been to kind of widen the circle and start bringing other people into the conversation,” Johnsen stated.

The implementation of these ideas has already begun to manifest itself. “I would say right now, this year, some teachers have started to experiment with different things and try to incorporate some of those skills into their lessons,” Johnsen remarked. In the ever changing environment of education, the initiative adapts as well. “I think we’re shifting now from a very narrow definition of student success to this more broad 21st-century definition of student success. Yes, we want kids to be academically proficient, but also to have these skills that will set them up for any future they are interested in after graduation.”

Poster detailing the values of the Portrait of a Graduate initiative by SMUSD

Another manifestation of this idea has resulted in the designing of new courses geared towards making students more interested in their coursework. Courses such as Financial Literacy and Financial Algebra have been or are in the process of being added to high school course catalogs. “Every school has to put together an annual plan for their instructional improvements, and this next year they’ll be including pieces from the Portrait of a Graduate,” Johnsen explains.

It is these principles that initiated the next phase of the Portrait of a Graduate, the Strategic Plan —a strategy for the implementation of these ideas— put together by another group of around 60-70 individuals. “The Strategic Plan has four main pillars, it’s all future-ready,” Johnsen said. “We’re going to work on being a future-ready system that supports the growth and development of future-ready educators who are creating future-ready learning environments in their classrooms, and those environments produce future-ready kids who look like the Portrait”.

The idea of “looking like the Portrait” is interesting, as creating a blueprint for a “model” of a certain ideal tends to exacerbate biases, however, the Portrait of a Graduate is designed specifically to combat these expectations. The image on the posters seen around SMUSD campuses depicts a student growing from a small child in preschool to a high school student in a graduation robe. This image includes no race or socioeconomic status, but instead an achievable goal of a high school graduate ready for whatever they chose to pursue after leaving SMUSD.

In the world that we live in today, society’s future, especially in a democracy, requires an educated public. It is with this in mind that SMUSD is preparing its students to not only be able to accomplish their goals after graduation but also to be productive and educated members of society once they leave the school system.

Looking forward into the future, Johnsen has just one goal: “At the end of the day, I want every single one of our 20,000 kids to wake up in the morning and say ‘I can’t wait to go to school today’ ”. It is with this objective in mind that SMUSD continues to improve the education experience into one that prepares all its students for life beyond high school, as well as the obstacles they will face along the way.

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