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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Fort Thomas Schools Select Key Graduate Qualities

Highlands High School graduates 2018. FTM file.

Graduates of Fort Thomas schools should take with them a set of key qualities, in addition to academics, that will put them in good stead as they go forward in their careers and their lives, says Superintendent Karen Cheser.

At the May school board meeting Cheser shared five strengths that each graduate should have, a culmination of a yearlong quest that involved teacher, parent and community input, conversations and research.

She said a graduate of Fort Thomas Independent School District will be a:
  • Courageous Leader who displays high levels of leadership, optimism and hope.
  • Empathetic Collaborator who not only knows how to work with others but who respects other's perspectives.
  • Global Communicator who demonstrates the ability to communicate effectively in writing, verbally and interpersonally.
  • Curious and Critical Thinker who values inquiry and is always seeking to learn more.
  • Creative Problem Solver who demonstrates creativity and entrepreneurship. 

Why develop a Portrait of a Graduate?

The Board of Education had to replace some of the key administrators from the previous year and in doing so, charged the Fort Thomas Independent Schools Central Office with not resting on the laurels of achieving great things with regard to just the Commonwealth, but also the global marketplace.

When Cheser and other school administrators met to begin planning for the 2017-18 school year, she noted that the schools had a great mission statement in place but there was no way to measure how and whether that mission was being fulfilled.

In part, the mission statement says the district “provides engaging and challenging learning experiences which foster creativity, curiosity and innovation, while inspiring all students to pursue lifelong learning and become productive members of the global community.”

Said Cheser, "The statement was developed five years ago, and we realized we hadn’t really actualized it. We hadn’t asked what is our plan? What are the steps to get there? What do we want our students to know, do and be like when they leave school? What is our portrait of a graduate?"

The first step in the process, she said, was figuring out what is meant by terms such as "creativity" and "innovation," and what are the qualities and skills that demonstrate these terms.

A deep dive to discover what grads need to know, do and be like

The process began in earnest when a small group of educators attended the EdLeader21 Conference in the fall. EdLeader21 is a network of educators from high performing school districts around the world who are focused on preparing students with 21st century skills.

A committee of administrators, teachers and counselors formed to work on the project. Teams of educators were sent out to some of the highest performing districts from the EdLeader21 network to learn more and gather ideas from school districts across the country.

"We sent teachers on four different visits to different schools that we knew would have something to offer…. They had different things they were good at from personalized learning to project based learning to career focused learning and so on," Cheser said.

Many meetings between educators followed to share what the groups had learned. The next step was to bring in the business community to learn what skills they expected from graduates. In February, the district invited leaders from 22 area businesses to an industry forum on the topic.

After that came a series of community conversations with parents and others in the district. In March the district showed the film "Most Likely to Succeed" and followed it with a panel of teachers who had gone on the visits to other school districts.

Another opportunity invited the community to see a film about the Singapore American School District that included a Skype interview with that district’s superintendent and the director of teaching and learning. Singapore district staff spoke with 100 of the top college admissions directors to learn what colleges look for in students.
Orangetheory Fitness Newport Pavilion. 

From there, committee members visited faculty meetings for additional teacher input and surveyed hundreds of students. Since then they have been sifting through all the information and ideas collected winnowing input down to the five key qualities.

Subcommittees are forming for each of the five areas as the project moves into the next phase — to identify the skills that support those qualities and devise strategies to ensure students acquire those skills.

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