School Boards in Action: San Marcos USD launches Portrait of a Graduate vision

Leadership, adaptability, communication, critical thinking and empathy.

Those are the five skills San Marcos Unified School District is looking to instill in high school seniors by the time they receive their diplomas as part of its Portrait of a Graduate vision.

The vision came to fruition this academic year as the initiative to equip young adults with the 21st-century skills needed to thrive launched at all levels of learning: preschool, elementary, middle and high school.

“This is intended to impact every student in the district,” said school board President Stacy Carlson.

The five areas of focus were identified through a yearlong development process that included more than 100 local stakeholders.

“We had business leaders, members of our city council, our board, we had staff and students, parents — pretty much every stakeholder we could think of — really sit down and think about what types of skills we want students to have when they walk across that stage at graduation,” Carlson said.

The vision, which was approved by the board over the summer, will help direct funding to priority areas.

As students returned to campus for the 2022–23 school year, fliers explaining the Portrait of a Graduate vision greeted them. The fliers also provided practical examples of what these skills look like in action in classrooms. An example for adaptability is to “respond productively to feedback, praise, setbacks, and criticism,” while an example for leadership is to “inspire positive action in others, and [be] confident, responsible, and goal-directed.”

During a recent visit to Mission Hills High School, Carlson said she saw students recognize when the skills were being applied by themselves and others during an art class.

An email campaign also shared the vision with families “so everyone can really see that this is the goal, and this is the vision that we’re trying to have for every student,” Carlson noted.

Measuring impact

“What we’re really talking about is developing whole humans and functional human beings who are able to lead happy, fulfilling lives and not just be an economic widget who is able to graduate, and get into college and get a job,” Carlson explained. “It’s about thinking about the whole child and is a much more holistic way of viewing the process of education that I really love.”

Senior projects and exit interviews are a few tools that will help determine if students are acquiring the five skills. Curriculum is being adapted to ensure the skills are being incorporated into every class, and programming is being made available to all students to support their growth.

Carlson said an additional goal is to have students write out their next steps by the time they move the tassels on their caps from right to left, so they know what they’re going to do and can plan how to do it.

District leaders are working on ways to track student progress as part of their strategic plan.

“Everyone should be thinking about this. It’s not just about the standards and did everyone pass and what’s your graduation rate,” Carlson said. “It really is about what we want every student to have when they graduate, and I absolutely think this is the way we should be thinking about education for all students.”