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Seeing the Big Picture Through a Portrait of a Graduate

Seeing the Big Picture Through a Portrait of a Graduate

What do kids in kindergarten today need to succeed when they graduate from high school?

That’s the question that has driven a powerful partnership between the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) and some local school districts.

The portrait of a graduate process is part of the larger work of strategic visioning. It asks parents, students, community members, and school and district staff: “Where do we want our students to be in 15 to 20 years when they graduate and what attributes and skill sets do they need to possess?”

The focus also includes adults and systems to ask what is needed for students to succeed.

“The superintendent or cabinet level needs to be looking at whole systems, or it’s just one facet,” Mountain Empire Superintendent Patrick Keeley said. “For example, if you sketched out all the people who have a hand just getting kids to school — director of transportation, lead driver, bus driver, mechanic, purchasing, business services, etc. — there are thousands of inputs just to get students to school.”

Beginning around 2020, SDCOE’s team has worked with schools, districts, students, families, and communities to address system- and community-wide issues and goals. This includes collaboration with district leadership, research on the challenges impacting the larger community, one-on-one empathy interviews, as well as panels and focus groups with staff, parents, students, and community members. Students are involved early in the process and can be as young as 5th grade.

Together, the teams look at what steps or system changes are needed to meet three levels of goals, known as “horizons” in the portrait process. Horizon one asks and looks at what’s happening right now? — current issues. Next, they look out to horizon three, which is 15-20 years in the future — what do we want? Then, they take a look at horizon two, answering what changes need to be made to reach horizon three?

For Mountain Empire, several community work sessions were held between October 2022 and May 2023, as the community and district worked together to draft the portraits. Once completed, they are presented to the district’s board of education for approval and then published. The two-year follow-up process includes strategic planning and implementation.

“The portrait of a graduate/strategic visioning work is directly and deeply aligned with community schools and SDCOE’s North Star goal,” Worrall said. “Our team is very proud to be carrying out this work in service of our future graduates across the county.”


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