Success Stories

District Spotlight: Columbus City Schools

October 15, 2020

Re-Envisioning Education in Ohio’s Largest School District

When Dr. Talisa Dixon took the helm as the Columbus City Schools (CCS) Superintendent, she saw her new role as an opportunity to build bridges within the Columbus community. The District serves 50,000 students across 109 schools and is one of the biggest employers in the region. The largest school district in the state of Ohio, CCS faced many challenges when Dr. Dixon took over including a lack of community trust and a failing grade on the state report card. However, as a former CCS administrator herself, Dr. Dixon believes in the potential of the District and its schools and made it a priority to repair the relationship with the community. She began with a listening tour, and as she engaged with staff, students, and families, she realized CCS was on the verge of adopting a draft strategic plan that did not reflect the priorities of the Columbus community.

Instead, Dr. Dixon partnered with BFK to engage with stakeholders and collectively develop a Portrait of a Graduate, a shared vision centered on their collective hopes, dreams, and aspirations for students. She wanted to craft a bold vision that would guide the work of the District and prepare students for success, regardless of which pathway they choose. The CCS Portrait of a Graduate would reflect the local priorities of Columbus’s large and diverse communities and capitalize on the many assets in the City, known as a national innovation hub.

“The Portrait of a Graduate process and our partnership with Battelle for Kids have been instrumental in establishing the educational vision for our district, especially as we begin to develop a comprehensive strategic plan that will guide our work for years to come. Our educational vision—one that was created by collaborating with and engaging the broader Columbus community—will be at the heart of our planning process. We cannot do this important work alone, and it was critical to have many different voices at the table to create a vision of what we want for ALL students in Columbus City Schools.”
—Talisa Dixon , Ed.D. | Superintendent, Columbus City Schools, OH

For this work, CCS leaders convened a Design Team comprised of over 150 stakeholders representing different perspectives such as educators, families, students, elected officials, and partners. CCS and BFK facilitated a series of community conversations across the city, which were open to the public and livestreamed. Through this dialogue, CCS and community members examined:

  • How is the world changing and what are the implications for Columbus students?
  • What are the skills and mindsets students need to be successful in a this rapidly changing
    and complex world?
  • What are the implications for the learning experiences students have in CCS schools?

As with the rest of the nation, CCS also had to confront the social unrest resulting from racial inequality in Columbus. Dr. Dixon seized this opportunity to lead and address educational inequity.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented both challenges and opportunities as it illustrated in real time the importance of 21st century skills, such as adaptability and communication. CCS adapted and shifted to virtual engagements with the Design Team and used these sessions to reflect on the implications of current events for their Portrait of a Graduate. Community members provided ideas and recommendations on the role they should have in activating the Columbus Portrait of a Graduate. Inevitably, the timeline for the Columbus Portrait of a Graduate had to be extended and CCS leadership has been flexible and committed. While challenging, the shift to virtual community engagement in a large and diverse district was successful due to the positive connections established early in the process.

CCS is on track to finalize their Portrait of a Graduate by the fall. Once complete, the Portrait of a Graduate and will play a critical role in the upcoming strategic planning process.