Momentum of Portrait of a Graduate Process Sparks Change


There’s a ‘perfect energy’ coming together in our district. The opportunity for us is then to use that energy and fuel meaningful change.”  Matt Degner  |  Superintendent

Iowa City Community School District, IA
47 schools, serving 14,000 students

Every Portrait of a Graduate is unique, reflecting the shared vision of the community

Iowa City Community School District began developing its Portrait of a Graduate in spring 2020. COVID-19 temporarily paused early work, but Superintendent Matt Degner knew there was a need to look critically at how the district was adapting to societal changes.  

“COVID highlighted some of the ways we needed to adjust as a system to make sure we were meeting the needs of all our students,” said Mr. Degner. “It was the prime time to be having these conversations.”

Infographic explains Portrait of a Graduate for a school with a vision for deeper learning

Once it became possible to reconvene, over 140 students, staff, parents, and community stakeholders met and discussed some of those societal changes they had seen over the past few months. They talked about the hopes, dreams, and aspirations they have for all students, as well as the skills and mindsets students should cultivate over their time with the district. The final version of their Portrait of a Graduate includes six competencies:

  • Adaptability
  • Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • Empathy
  • Global Citizens
  • Learner’s Mindset

Bringing the Portrait of a Graduate to life for every student

Moving forward, Mr. Degner is excited that Iowa City has a vision for all students. The district is creating an internal team to drive the implementation of the Portrait. He and other district leaders have started thinking about ways to redesign learning experiences so students are supported and develop the skills outlined in their Portrait. They intend to provide learning experiences that match what students will encounter in society, whether collaborating in a group or communicating with someone from a different cultural background.

Moving forward with tenacity 

As an early measure of success, the district will evaluate the investment in the vision from students, educators, and parents. Mr. Degner believes those stakeholders will see its value and want to continue rethinking how the education system can work for all students. “There’s a lot of energy and momentum behind making sustainable change in our district right now,” he shared. “Our goal now is to make sure the tenacity and hunger for rethinking our education system don’t fade.”



Interested in learning more about engaging the education system and the broader community—educators, students, elected officials, community members, and families— to help you build a unifying, collective vision for your students? We recommend these resources: 

For even more support, contact us. We have supported hundreds of school systems as they engage their broader community to develop a Portrait of a Graduate.



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