Newton Public Schools (NPS) is working to redefine the vision and direction of the school system through Portrait of a Graduate, a project that defines the common objectives and aspirations for every student in the district, according to its website.
According to NPS’ website, Portrait of a Graduate seeks to define the abilities, proficiencies, and characteristics that every student should have by the time they graduate from the district. It aims to take into account how the world has changed and what skills students will need to succeed in the learning environment of today, the webpage reads.
NPS Superintendent Anna Nolin said the initiative began because the Newton School Committee (NSC) asked her to create a vision for the future of NPS.
“The school committee asked, as part of my new role, to set a vision and guidance for the district,” Nolin said. “[Portrait of a Graduate] seemed the perfect way to energize our community about next steps for our school system.”
NPS Communications Director Julie McDonough said the project is a uniting tool for Newton, creating a complete understanding of what it means to be an NPS student.
“What you wind up with at the end is a set of skills that you want every student to graduate with,” McDonough said. “But the power is that it’s a collective vision that the community, the staff, and the students have helped to develop. So everyone is on the same page.”
Although Portrait of a Graduate is still new, Ward 6 NSC member Paul Levy said he hopes it can act as a way to ensure accountability within NPS.
“My hope is that we will have a broad community and school system consensus on what we’re hoping for from the schools, which, in turn, will create the ability to hold the school system accountable,” Levy said.
According to McDonough and Levy, Portrait of a Graduate will guide NPS in making sure that its programming accurately reflects the district’s goals for its students.
“[Portrait of a Graduate] serves as kind of the North Star for the schools … it provides a framework around which the school can organize [and] can make sure that all of the initiatives and things that we are doing fall within the skills that the staff and students and community have said are important for graduates,” McDonough said.
The Portrait Design Team will have 300 people—approximately 50 percent will be residents and 50 percent will be NPS educators—ensuring everyone can weigh in on the future of NPS students post-pandemic, according to Nolin.
“Having everyone together in the room is also a powerful activity—to create togetherness, build understanding, and [possibly] provide healing in a post-pandemic educational world that was focused on conflict and problems only, not a vision for an exciting future,” Nolin said.
Levy said the Portrait Design Team will set a good example for students in terms of navigating differing opinions.
“It brings out the disagreements that people have too, and then in the process, people talk it through and they reach a consensus,” Levy said. “And so in that respect, it’s also a nice learning lesson for the students to watch how to disagree among yourselves and still come up with something, which I think we could use more of.”
At the NSC meeting on Oct. 23, Nolin voiced concern over voluntary teacher participation in the Portrait of a Graduate initiative due to the ongoing NSC and Newton Teacher Association contract negotiations.
“It’s a key worry, a deep worry,” Nolin said. “We have discussed and will discuss with our principals that, should we not be able to do this in a volunteer capacity, would we turn to staff meetings.”
NSC Chair Tamika Olszewski also emphasized the importance of teacher support for Portrait of a Graduate.
“I hope we can get that level of participation as we know our educators’ voices [are] key—it’s essential,” Olszewski said.
Levy said he hopes that Portrait of a Graduate will serve as a way to emphasize communication between NPS and the Newton community.
“I’m hoping that the people who participate, really enjoy it and learn from one another, and that we, the school committee and the superintendent, in turn learn from the community,” Levy said.