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Portrait of a Graduate Honors the Past, Plans for the Future

July 8, 2022

The Winnetka Public Schools District 36, IL
5 schools, serving 1,600 students

Progressive school district adopts a Portrait of a Graduate vision in line with its community’s values

The Winnetka Public Schools District 36 has deep roots in progressive education. For over 100 years, the progressive educational philosophy has informed the district’s practices of differentiated instruction and project-based learning. With such a strong reputation as a progressive school system, it was important to integrate the district’s history when developing a Portrait of a Graduate.  

Engaging the broader community

The Portrait design process began in early March 2020. Superintendent Dr. Trisha Kocanda and 60 community stakeholders met to discuss their hopes, dreams, and aspirations for students in Winnetka. The design team started to form some ideas of the skills and mindsets they saw as crucial to include in the Portrait of a Graduate, including:

  • Empathetic
  • Effective Communicator
  • Lifelong Learner
  • Global Citizen
  • Collaborative
  • Creative Problem Solver

Realizing the importance of a growth mindset

The onset of COVID-19 paused Winnetka’s work, but the design team reconvened virtually in fall 2020. The first step was to reassess how the pandemic changed opinions of what competencies should be included in the Portrait of a Graduate. Given the circumstances, the team felt compelled to add a competency: resilience. “After going through seven months of the pandemic, we found that a growth mindset was necessary to emphasize,” said Jen Fiegen, a district staff member who was on the design team. “The children really showed us how important it was to have this mentality.” 

Aligning Portrait of a Graduate competencies with district philosophy 

Design team members worked to ensure the characteristics included in the Portrait of a Graduate aligned with the values engrained in the progressive education philosophy. “The process allowed us to take a critical look at what we mean when we call Winnetka a progressive school system,” said school board member Maxie Clark. “In the end, we were able to identify how these competencies and the progressive education philosophy go hand-in-hand.”  
Moving forward, Winnetka’s Portrait of a Graduate will serve as the anchor for its Strategic Plan. As the district looks toward the future, it will remain rooted in its values and continue to empower students.