Monday, March 5, 2018

Portrait of a Needham Graduate

An open letter and invitation to the Needham Community:

Dear Needham Public Schools’ Students and Families:

I think it’s time to talk about your future.

Just the other day I realized that the first class to experience the planned full day Kindergarten program in Needham will graduate from Needham High School in 2032.  That’s right, 2032!  I can’t even imagine what the world will be like in 2033, and it’s both daunting and exhilarating to consider how best to prepare all our students—including those who come before 2032—for today and tomorrow.  I’d like to share an idea about preparing all students for the challenges and opportunities in the years ahead.

I am reminded of a quote attributed to John Dewey, an educational innovator from the last century: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”  More recently my friend and mentor, Anthony Bent, shared with me:  “We should not be preparing children for our past but for their future.”  These observations have really made me think about our current world and your future:

  Career options and economic opportunities for your generation will involve increasing levels of entrepreneurship; technology-driven solutions, including digital automation and AI (Artificial Intelligence) and data management; and innovative and disruptive technology tools, marketplaces, and economic development.

  Environmental and security challenges, including the impact of climate change, the availability of increasingly limited resources, cyber-warfare, and unstable and shifting international alliances, will proliferate.  Renewable energy development, food sourcing, weapons development, and questions around sustainability will drive policy-making, growth, and innovation.

  Issues of race, social justice, poverty, equity, economic development, immigration, and educational opportunity for a nation that is increasingly ethnically and racially diverse will dominate decision-making and planning in the United States.     

  Medical advancements and biotechnology will result in longer and healthier lives; science and space exploration will continue to flourish; personal innovation, ingenuity, and creativity will be prized and rewarded; social media and the creation of new technologies to communicate, solve problems, and build community will help guide and strengthen a new generation.

  Increased civic engagement, including the need for diplomacy, language acquisition, and religious and cultural understanding within and across communities and governmental bodies, will be required to avoid polarization, authoritarianism, injustice, and violence and to build a sense of an ethical community of care and service.[1]

So here’s the idea: We should have a broad conversation about what kind of educational experiences we want for our students at all grade levels as we propel them towards graduation, the challenges ahead, and their future lives.  I think we should research, discuss, debate, and articulate the key attributes, skills, and qualities we want for Needham’s young people, now and as far into the future as we can see.  We will develop a framework—a Portrait of a Needham Graduate—that will inform our work and help us to establish our priorities and plans around which the community can coalesce and contribute.

The timing is right to engage educators, students, and parents in a forward-thinking conversation like this.  First, the world is becoming more complicated, and the knowledge, skills and tools we provide students in 2018 may be insufficient for 2025, 2030, or 2033.  Second, the need to ensure an equitable and inclusive education is essential now if we want all children to have access and opportunity as citizens, parents, entrepreneurs, and leaders in this amazing and dynamic world.  Finally, we need to provide clarity and coherence for the adults in our community, especially our educators, who are tasked with providing for, educating, and leading our young people during a time of increased accountability and competing demands, priorities, and interests.

The good news is that Needham’s parents and educators are already engaged in thinking forward and providing excellent academic support and programs.  It’s time to assess both our current practices and to consider and promote ideas that will boost student learning.

Developing a Portrait of a Needham Graduate will allow us to:

  Reflect on the direction of the Needham Public Schools;
  Explore which key attributes, skills, and knowledge our children—You!—need for the future;
  Operate within a framework of equity in education, preparing all students for the world they are facing; and
  Build a community consensus around the district’s vision, goals, and strategic priorities.

To accomplish this work we will invite a broad-based group of 30 to 40 members of the community, including high school students, educators, parents, business and civic leaders, and higher education representatives, to meet over the next several months to develop a Portrait of a Needham Graduate and strategic priorities that can be shared, debated, and ultimately adopted by the School Committee.

The conversation will reflect the many voices, wisdom, and values of this amazing community.  The work will be invigorating and may challenge some of our assumptions about what the educational experience should be in the Needham Public Schools.  The end product, like a portrait hanging in a museum, will reflect the nuances, perspectives, and experiences of its creators, and it may be imprecise and contain imperfections.  But we will strive to use information, research, and data to create a Portrait of a Needham Graduate, one which is aspirational and will provide a framework for the critically important work ahead—the development of the education, success, and livelihood of the young people in the Needham Public Schools. 

It’s an idea whose time has come—for you and for those who come before and after you. If you are interested in participating in the process for developing a Portrait of a Needham Graduate, please complete the form which can be found at the following link: Portrait of a Needham Graduate

Respectfully and with great hope and faith in your future,

Dan Gutekanst
Superintendent of Schools

[1] Franklin, Daniel. “The World in 2018.” The Economist 01 November, 2017.
      Marx, Gary. 21 Trends for the 21st Century. Bethesda, MD: Educational Week Press, 2013.

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