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The System Portrait

Why have an Educational System Portrait?

An educational System Portrait describes the core characteristics that will need to exist within the school district. It also outlines the conditions that will be created, promoted, and practiced by educational leaders to deliver on the promise to the beneficiaries of the district.

For students and adults to reach their Graduate and Adult Portraits, the system must be designed to support their work. A system is made up of an interconnected set of elements that includes an organization’s structures, supports, standards, agreements, incentives, and cultures. These are the component parts that need to be aligned with the goals of the Graduate and Adult Portraits and the Core Values. To this end, the following eight System Portrait elements have been identified. While some of these practices are already in place, these elements identify what must be practiced consistently system-wide, from individual school sites to central office departments, in order to collectively reach these goals over the course of the vision timeline.

The education model inherited by today’s school districts was designed for the needs of the industrial era. Society, the economy, the environment, and the world of work have all changed dramatically since then, requiring a significant redesign of educational systems to address current needs, enabling students and adults to succeed, today and into the future.

The System Portrait is created with the same long-term outlook, to lead the district in producing better options and outcomes for students, families, and the community. It illustrates the key characteristics that need to permeate the school district in order to meet this goal.

The following System Portrait elements have been developed through iterative cycles of input, feedback, and revision, as illustrated in the roadmap.

Graduate Portrait

World-leading Educational System

SCUSD is a proactive, world-class school district, operating at the leading edge of education.

SCUSD is a world-leading, innovative district. It is dedicated to ensuring that the community’s fiscal resources are invested responsibly in leading-edge professional practices, materials, facilities, and technologies, to provide every student with an excellent education. The district actively recruits and develops a high-performing, diverse workforce that delivers exceptional services to students, families, and the community. Businesses, organizations,
and families collaborate with educators in building a dynamic educational system that prioritizes students and enriches the community.

Student-centered Learning Experiences 

SCUSD provides meaningful learning experiences that are centered on each student’s interests and goals.

SCUSD listens and responds to student voices. By focusing on students’ needs and interests, the district supports educators in building flexible learning environments that help students achieve and exceed standards. SCUSD encourages students to discover and progress toward their dreams, passions, and life and career goals through educational experiences that reflect their interests and needs. Education is
a positive, self-directed, collaborative journey that creates the foundation for joyful lifelong learning.

Data-driven Improvement Culture

SCUSD leverages data to drive system-wide continuous improvement practices.

SCUSD uses cycles of continuous improvement as its core problem-solving methodology. District culture embeds the practice of these cycles system-wide to find root causes, track indicators, and implement effective strategies to meet and improve student outcomes. To ensure that each child is successful, equitable allocation of resources—along with instructional and administrative decision-making—are informed by ongoing collaborative data collection and analysis. The district trains every adult to support or facilitate research and implement findings to advance their work. This includes using progress-monitoring tools that help adults support students in reaching their academic, behavioral, and social-emotional learning goals. These data tools are also used collaboratively by students and adults in assessing their own progress, adjusting their strategies, advocating for their own work, and providing mutual feedback.

Teaching and Learning for Real-world Relevance

SCUSD teaching and learning models focus on real-world application of academic and experiential knowledge.

SCUSD schools prepare students for life through standards-based learning that is rigorous, relevant, and interdisciplinary. Educational activities emulate the real world by teaching practical skills alongside foundational academic knowledge, all with the goal of preparing students to become successful adults. District-wide practices and incentives provide educators time, knowledge, and resources to collaborate with their colleagues and others, including industry professionals, in delivering this educational model. The district actively offers students ways to explore and pursue a variety of post-graduation options, including, but not limited to, college.

Empathetic Culture

SCUSD’s empathetic culture prioritizes health, wellness, and safety.

SCUSD supports and advocates for personal achievement and physical and mental well-being. The district’s empathetic culture promotes personal accountability and collective responsibility for each other’s well-being—students and adults—and for maintaining a kind and safe environment for everyone. Highly developed cultural awareness attends to the whole person, appreciating that every individual has value and is important.

Inclusive Educational Supports

SCUSD provides appropriate educational supports to ensure that every student receives an excellent education.

SCUSD recognizes that learning is a continuum. Therefore, it distributes resources equitably and advances inclusive educational practices that ensure successful learning outcomes for every student. Diversity is intentionally destigmatized, and difference is regarded as a strength by recognizing and showcasing each individual’s unique skills, talents, perspectives, and abilities. By embracing diversity and recognizing intersectionality, the district takes into account the overlapping identities that combine in the experiences of marginalized groups in order to understand the prejudices they face and respond with effective solutions. Educational supports are integrated so that every student and educator benefits from—and contributes to—enriching educational experiences.

Equitable Impact

SCUSD intentionally applies culturally and linguistically responsive and sustaining practices to achieve equitable outcomes.

SCUSD uses data-driven methods to remove barriers and distribute resources to reach its equity goals and ensure the success of historically disadvantaged students. It intentionally disrupts predictive outcomes based on race and ethnicity by responding to the unique needs of diverse communities. Educators are trained in, practice, and teach the most up-to-date, culturally relevant curricula. Through continuous professional development, all adults are supported in using evidence-based, culturally and linguistically responsive and sustaining practices that enable them to learn, grow, and hone methods that thoughtfully engage students, families, staff, and communities.

Community Stewardship

SCUSD is a responsible steward of community resources and a collaborative provider of community benefits.

SCUSD ensures that community fiscal resources are invested responsibly and used to benefit its stakeholders. The district’s structures, practices, and culture focus on transparency and accountability, especially to support its most vulnerable families. It encourages students and adults to collaborate as concerned citizens to improve social, environmental, and political conditions, locally and globally. The district partners with others to strengthen the community’s collective ability to make decisions proactively and take action to respond to new and existing challenges.

System Portrait Implications

Supporting the Graduate and Adult Portraits

The System Portrait illustrates the way in which the district system components (structures, supports, standards, agreements, incentives, and cultures) will be designed intentionally to support achievement of the Graduate and Adult Portraits. The System Portrait was developed in alignment with the ideas that emerged from the Graduate and Adult Portraits. However, the ongoing planning and implementation of the system changes will be based on guiding and supporting the district to achieve the knowledge, skills, and mindsets outlined in the Graduate Portrait. Moreover, because a system is perfectly designed to produce an intended outcome, if we want improved outcomes for students and adults in this district, the system has to facilitate the new behaviors and actions instead of constraining them.

For example, elements in both Graduate and Adult Portraits state that teaching and learning will be different from what is seen consistently in SCUSD classrooms today. If students and adults are to engage in the desired teaching and learning methods, the system will need to adopt changes, such as redesigning how time and space are used; developing supports to help transition from the current model to the new one; creating curriculum standards and materials to reflect differences; communicating agreements about learning between students, teachers, and families; aligning incentives to consistently recognize these new behaviors;
and supporting the cultural aspects that embed these beliefs within the updated system.

The Purposeful Process of Managing System-level Change 

School districts, like many other systems, are complex organizations, with both tangible and intangible parts woven together that are simultaneously independent and interdependent. This complexity makes system-level change a challenging and exciting endeavor, requiring iterative processes and continuous improvement cycles to ensure that the system achieves the desired results—in this case the Graduate and Adult Portraits.

For successful system changes to take root, all stakeholders need to be aligned and moving collectively toward the vision. This requires strong leadership to guide the vision implementation, dedicated energy toward community coherence, stakeholder buy-in, shared ownership, alignment of resources and incentives, constant coordination, consistent and transparent communication throughout the process, and intentional development of a culture that reflects the Core Values. This is a purposeful process of managing change that requires school sites, central office departments, families, and the community to maintain a commitment to realizing these system changes over time for the benefit of current and future SCUSD students.

Outline the Scope, Sequence, and Syncopation of Implementation 

Large-scale change does not happen quickly. Resource constraints can prohibit changes from occurring all at once, and there are benefits to progressive changes that come at a pace that allows the changes to become sustainable over time and embedded within the organization and its culture.

To ensure successful coordination in this implementation, a clearly defined scope, sequence, and syncopation are outlined in a series of accompanying strategic plans.


Stories from the Future