Portrait Update - December 2023

Portrait Update

Dear District 97 Community,

I would like to thank members of our community who have already been part of dreaming, designing and defining our Portrait of an Oak Park 8th Grade Graduate. If you have not yet participated, your opportunity to join us is coming soon in 2024. 

Our Portrait will reflect our community’s collective vision for District 97 students and serve as the strategic plan for our organization. Below you will find a brief summary of this story so far. 

Our next chapter will be written in January, when we begin holding design sessions at all 10 of our schools. Stay tuned to learn about how you can be part of this grand project. You can also chime in with a thought or idea at any time via Let’s Talk.   

For now, I wish each of you a joyful start to the holiday season and look forward to seeing you in 2024.

Dr. Ushma Shah, District 97 SuperintendentWith gratitude,

Dr. Ushma Shah, Superintendent of Schools

Dreaming, Designing and Defining Our Portrait

Centering Student Voice and Experience

Pictured: Julian Student Leadership TeamOur district’s equity policy calls for a significant transformation of instructional, operational and cultural systems within our organization. In preparation for our Portrait, we are aligning resources in new ways and making shifts in adult practices to better support our students’ experiences. 

At the core of this transformation is the commitment to amplifying students’ voices and providing them with choices in their learning journey. For example, on Dec. 13, the Student Leadership Team at Julian Middle School engaged in a listening session with district leaders about their hopes for their educational experience and the qualities they are seeking in a school principal. Their feedback not only drove the design of a principal search survey for all students, but it is also actively informing our approach to Portrait of a Graduate.

Educator Design Sessions

Pictured: Portrait planning work from the Nov. 10 Institute Day design session with District 97 staffThis fall, District 97 educators developed a “Version 1” of our draft Portrait that reflects initial thinking around core competencies and learning standards that we believe will be critical to student success. A team of educators met on Oct. 30 to craft definitions for 10 draft Portrait dimensions, which were then used to generate conversations and feedback during our first round of listening sessions.

During our Nov. 10 Institute Day, a different group of teacher leaders participated in a workshop to prepare for our broader community engagement this winter.

Affinity-Based Listening Sessions

Pictured: Participants from an affinity group listening session with Black families on Nov. 12, 2023We launched our Portrait listening sessions in November by meeting with affinity groups named in our equity policy: Black families, multilingual families, families of students with disabilities and LGBTQ+ families. We also partnered with Oak Park Township for a “lunch and learn” with our senior residents.

We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to those who participated in these listening sessions. The insights and personal experiences shared have been invaluable in informing our understanding of the diverse needs and aspirations within our community.

Here are just a few themes we heard:

  • Our use of the word “self-awareness” was too academic. Instead, families asked us to go deeper with concepts like self-love, self-advocacy and connection to others.
  • We need to expand how we think and teach about culture and identity.
  • Families affirmed our approach to affinity spaces, but called for us to take a more intersectional approach in the future. They also asked for ongoing opportunities to network and roll their sleeves up to be part of this process.
  • Our Portrait should reflect learning standards and the expertise of educators.
  • The concept of “Steward of the Earth” did not resonate with families, but there was recognition that our students will need to be agents of change and know how to build coalitions around work that matters.

Next Steps: Portrait Version 1 → Version 2

Pictured: Portrait of a Graduate, Version 1 Draft Dimensions (click to view PDF)The conversations from our affinity sessions are already shaping how we move forward with our Portrait this winter. In addition to reflecting key feedback so far, “Version 2” will be expanded by our teacher design team to include learning goals and standards across all grade levels. Click the image to view Version 1 of our Draft Portrait Dimensions.

Following winter break, all staff, students, families and community members will have the opportunity to join the design process. We are planning multiple pathways for feedback, including interactive events at all 10 schools, virtual sessions and at-home activities. Stay tuned!