Group of students collaborating in a high school classroom.

Moving from Vision to Practice with School Transformation

An update on the nine communities in a Portrait of a Graduate cohort as they make their plans a reality.

For the past three years, the nine New England communities in the “Portrait of a Graduate” cohort have been taking steps to do high school differently to support more equitable outcomes and success for all students. They started by exploring the question, “What do we want all of our students to know and be able to do when they graduate?” Many conversations with students, families, teachers, local businesses, and other community members resulted in a collective vision for student success, also known as a portrait of a graduate. At its core, a portrait of a graduate is intended to serve as a north star for equitably serving all students and ensuring that when they leave high school, they are prepared for what’s next.

At Barr, we believe that building a community vision is an important step to anchor school transformation work. This vision should be centered on students, driven by local context, and informed by research. We support many Catalyze New Models grantees in developing and implementing a portrait of a graduate, including this specific Portrait of a Graduate cohort.

The current Portrait of a Graduate cohort partners include six school districts, two individual high schools, and a regional collaborative comprising multiple districts and a public charter school.

  • Berkshires Collaborative (MA): Pittsfield High School, Taconic High School, Drury High School, BART Charter School, and Hoosac Valley Middle & High School
  • Boston Preparatory Charter Public School (MA)
  • Danbury Public Schools (CT)
  • Franklin Public Schools (NH)
  • Lowell Public Schools (MA)
  • Margarita Muñiz Academy (MA)
  • Meriden Public Schools (CT)
  • Springfield Public Schools (MA)
  • Stratford Public Schools (CT)

Click here to explore the competencies, values, skills, and knowledge defining each community’s vision for student success.

After developing their portraits of a graduate, teams of district and school administrators, teachers, families, students, and community members began laying the groundwork to bring their portraits to life.

Common areas of work completed over the 2021-22 school year included:

  • Deepening their understanding of how their high schools currently did and did not align to the portrait of a graduate competencies, so that proposed solutions and changes would address the root causes of any key gaps;
  • Building momentum and deepening engagement of stakeholders around the need for change; and
  • Re-envisioning the student experience, including rethinking instructional practices and ways of measuring student learning.

In the current 2022-23 school year, the nine communities in the Portrait of a Graduate cohort are building upon last year’s groundwork and taking the first steps to implement changes in their high schools in response to their portraits.

In the current 2022-23 school year, the nine communities in the Portrait of a Graduate cohort are building upon last year’s groundwork and taking the first steps to implement changes in their high schools in response to their portraits. As part of that work, each community committed to focusing deeply on at least one of two areas: the depth and quality of student learning experiences, and/or the academic systems surrounding those experiences. These two focus areas are important indicators of school quality and are areas being explored by many of Barr's Catalyze New Models partners. Detailed information about the two focus areas is available in the Springpoint Indicators of School Quality framework (see Indicators 3 and 4).

A few examples of what the Portrait of a Graduate cohort schools and systems are working on include:

  • The Berkshires Collaborative is
    Illustration of Berkshire Collaborative Portrait of a Graduate with words of student competencies.
    facilitating shared professional learning across schools to develop a common understanding of what proficiency looks like for each of their portrait competencies. Schools are also designing the rigorous and purposeful learning experiences that are required to reach that definition; for example, one school designed a new course where students identify and address community issues that are important to them.
  • Margarita Muñiz Academy is implementing their new instructional vision with a focus on dual language practices, student engagement, rigor, and personalization. In addition, they launched a new City as Campus model that expands learning opportunities beyond the classroom and gives students more choice in planning their own experiences.

  • Springfield Public Schools developed a new strategic plan that will move the district toward realizing their portrait of a graduate. Using a cohort model, groups of Springfield schools are trying out new ways of teaching and learning, while teams across the district reimagine the current systems of grading, pacing, and using time. See this piece in The 74 to learn more.

Barr continues to partner with The Learning Agenda to support the Portrait of a Graduate schools and systems in a cohort learning community. This support includes individual coaching, peer exchange opportunities, and infusing knowledge from other schools, systems, and national experts for continued learning from a larger network that is doing high school differently.

We are excited to continue learning alongside these Portrait of a Graduate teams and sharing their journeys as their work continues!

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Ali Gross

Program Officer, Education