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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Fort Thomas Schools Painting Portrait of a Graduate

School board members (l to r) John Weyer, Brad Fennell, Superintendent Karen Cheser, Jeff Beach and Lisa Duckworth discuss the way forward for "Portrait of a Graduate"

Kindergartners in Fort Thomas schools will enter the workforce in 2034, a time that seems far in the future, yet is coming fast, said Superintendent Karen Cheser. Right now is the time to begin preparing those students for what lies ahead, she said.

Work is underway for an ambitious but important project that will encompass and engage the entire school community. At the beginning of the school year, Cheser announced a plan to reexamine the school’s mission and to craft a vision she calls a "portrait of a graduate."

The undertaking is part of an international effort by schools to take a closer look at their mission statements, plans and goals for the future. All are seeking to help students build 21st century skills, but what, exactly, does that mean?

To Cheser, that is a key question. When students are graduated from Fort Thomas schools, "what do we want every one of them to know, do and be like? That is our portrait of a graduate," she explained.

Gathering input and talking to industry

The first phase of the project is one of exploration. In October, a small group of Fort Thomas educators attended a meeting of the EdLeader21 network to meet and learn about other high performing districts across the nation and the world.

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Fort Thomas educators then visited some of the districts who are part of the EdLeader21 network to learn more. Teams visited schools in Wisconsin, Minnesota, California and Ohio this winter and shared their findings with their colleagues and at the February school board meeting.

The district also invited leaders from 22 area businesses for an Industry Think Tank in February designed to identify the skills most in demand by area employers.

"They took one question and just went," said school board member Brad Fennell. "It was a wonderful group of lawyers, executives, doctors, small business owners. I was amazed at how much out-of-the-box, broad-based thinking that was going on there about what is truly going to be needed in this workforce."

Qualities identified by the business leaders included both hard and soft skills. Some of these included robotics, logistics and digital mastery, but also an appreciation for diversity, global and cultural fluency, and strong networking and communication skills. Even qualities such as likability, flexibility, compassion and a desire to keep learning were listed as highly desireable.

Opportunities for input and engagement

Teachers and administrators have been sharing and discussing the things they’ve learned this winter and are ready to broaden out the discussion by inviting students, parents and community members to a community conversation on March 15 (details soon).

All are invited to the event that will feature a futurist who will share research on trends from new technologies, such as robotics and artificial intelligence, to the attitudes and interests of future generations.

Additional input from teachers and staff also will be gathered over the next month at staff meetings and through some virtual opportunities. Project committee members plan to talk to students as well to gather their ideas.

On March 27, all are invited to a showing and discussion of "Most Likely to Succeed," a documentary that takes a look at the shortcomings of conventional education today and explores new ideas. High School High in San Diego, is one of the schools featured in the film, and it is one of the schools Fort Thomas educators visited in their quest to learn about school innovations.

In April, the community will have another chance to explore this topic through a film about the Singapore American School, known as one of the best schools in the world. The film will be followed by a live discussion via Skype with Singapore schools superintendent.

Input gathered since winter and throughout March will be compiled into a list of desirable skills. Cheser says she anticipates four to six key skills will provide the basis of a portrait of a Fort Thomas graduate. The next step will be to develop strategies to incorporate these skills across the entire district from kindergarten to grade 12.

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