Imagining tomorrow together: Community-driven vision
Creating a more forward-looking education system
By Stella Kemp, Brad Stam and Fiona Hovenden | November | December 2020
Public education has a moral imperative to work for everyone, preparing young people to become thoughtful and engaged adult citizens who contribute to their local and national communities. Our rapidly changing world and global economy require that students leave our schools able to be adaptive, agile and ready to thrive in society, with careers that have yet to be imagined. Clearly, the benefits of public education impact the whole community. Santa Clara Unified School District is working to transform teaching and learning from its traditional, rigid design to one that is responsive, adaptable, forward-thinking and intentional in preparing students to thrive in our uncertain future. Further, we want to assure that all adults model the skills and dispositions we need to teach to our children, and do so within an educational system that adapts to the ever-changing needs of our students and our society. We believe that creating a more forward-looking education system, and ensuring alignment around shared goals for students, requires a clear, community-developed vision. The process of crafting such a vision brings people together to share their hopes for their community and their young people, and to co-design the future they want. It was only
by fully engaging our community in a comprehensive and inclusive process that SCUSD was able to arrive at a shared vision of what our schools need to do and to be
. We call it Vision 2035. As the name suggests, it is a long-term strategy. And it is only through a sustained commitment from our community that our district can successfully implement the series of strategic plans it will require. That work begins this school year of 2020-2021 amid the current uncertainty and upheaval of a pandemic. This article describes the steps we took related to community engagement as we completed our vision process last year. It also describes the comprehensive approach we took in not only articulating a Graduate Portrait to describe student outcomes but is also creating an Adult Portrait for those who teach and care for those students and a System Portrait to provide the conditions that will support us all in this work.
The vision and process had to be inclusive

The visioning process we used, developed and facilitated by Prospect Studio, included a variety of engagement strategies and opportunities for input. All were meant to ensure that the vision was grounded in the hopes and dreams of the whole community, with its diverse groups and its range of concerns and perspectives. We know Vision 2035 will only be successful if it inspires and addresses as many people in the community as possible.
  • Students need to see and believe that they are being prepared for their futures in ways that are relevant, “future-proofed” and holistic.
  • Families need to see that their students will be taught to thrive in the world, be able to build on their strengths, access resources, address setbacks and areas needing growth with persistence and resilience, and collaborate with diverse groups.
  • Adults within the school district need to know that they will be supported to grow and develop in a rapidly changing field.
Our district’s vision-creation process included thinking about coming trends likely to impact learning and the world of work; human-centered design to think about people’s needs now and into the future; and equity-centered collaboration to make the process as inclusive and equitable as possible. Before the recent Black Lives Matter protests, our community had already identified equity as a key attribute in our vision. The events of the summer, and the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on communities of color, have strengthened our resolve that establishing and maintaining equity — including the equitable distribution of resources, staff diversification, the ongoing analysis of bias and the development, identification and use of culturally sustaining curriculum and pedagogy — is our most important work. In developing Vision 2035, we engaged multiple intersecting groups through a series of collaborative design and feedback meetings over a full school year. The heartbeat of the process was the Core Team, the cross-departmental internal district team that helped coordinate and facilitate the vision process to ensure that it reflected the community’s needs and voices. The Guiding Coalition was the main design group. Made up of parents, students, educators, community leaders, business leaders and elected officials, the Guiding Coalition members were chosen for the diverse communities they represent. They contributed ideas, perspectives, and experience to the design of the district’s long-term vision through a series of events exploring the future of education, and the needs of students, schools and educators in the future. The Guiding Coalition met three times, and members also went on one Learning Journey, either in-person or virtually.

We believe that creating a more forward-looking education system, and ensuring alignment around shared goals for students, requires a clear, community-developed vision.
Members of the Guiding Coalition, such as this Special Education teacher, found the conversations particularly relevant. “I really like and appreciate how we’re all being brought to the table to discuss the needs of the students and the teachers. I think it’s really important not to just look at the system as a whole in terms of education, but looking at each individual and their well-being.” After the first Guiding Coalition meeting, one large and several targeted community meetings were held to get broader input. The results of these meetings informed the design work done at the second Guiding Coalition meeting. The results of this were then brought back out to the community again to check that those earlier ideas had been understood, to elicit feedback, and to gain additional input. This information guided the third and final Guiding Coalition design meeting. A teacher and union leader said: “An important part of the conversations we are having is ‘what is our role in the future … and how do we help fulfill our dreams and our goals for our students and give them purpose in their learning?’ I’ve been excited to be a part of that conversation.” The draft work from these iterative sessions was then presented to the school board in a study session, and then board feedback was incorporated. At this point, Prospect Studio’s process usually includes a large public presentation of the draft work. However, the shelter-in-place order required a redesign. Instead of an in-person presentation, Prospect Studio created two microsites (English and Spanish) linked to the district website. A broad communication to all families, staff, community, and business partners invited people to explore the draft vision content on the site and then use linked Google forms to give final feedback.
Vision 2035 includes outcome goals for students, adults and the system

The process ultimately resulted in this vision statement for students that will serve as a North Star to guide all the work going forward: “Graduates of Santa Clara Unified School District are resilient, future-ready, lifelong learners who think critically, solve problems collaboratively, and are prepared to thrive in a global society.” The vision is built around the Graduate Portrait — a description of the community’s aspirations for its young people. The Graduate Portrait describes the knowledge, skills, and dispositions the community believes will best prepare SCUSD graduates to thrive in the increasingly diverse environments in which they will live, and in careers that may not have been invented yet. For SCUSD, this resulted in eight elements covering academics as well as attributes such as self-care, resilience, equity, and global citizenship. One community member’s survey comment was typical of the reaction to the breadth of goals: “I am so gratified to see the inclusion of empathy, equity and wellness skills and to see the understanding that these are qualities to be taught and learned in our schools.” The process also identified what is necessary for the Graduate Portrait to be actualized. It guides adult actions and decisions, aligning leadership, management, teaching and learning, and resource allocations for student success. The related Adult Portrait thus describes the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that all adults in the system will need — because all adults’ work supports students’ success — to help students attain the Graduate Portrait. The System Portrait describes how the system will need to change to support the adults to support the students. This process also resulted in a revision of the district’s core values, tying together the district’s deep beliefs about the present and the future it will create for students. The inclusion of these goals for adults in the basic vision held special meaning for the students who participated in the process, one of whom said, “I think my favorite thing today was when … we got to talk about what the teachers can improve because normally we’re talking about what we can improve.”
Multiple engagement strategies are central to the visioning process
In a community visioning process, diversity is not just a “nice to have.” A school district has to provide a high-quality education for all children, regardless of characteristics such as socio-economic background, race, ethnicity, culture, and physical ability. To do this successfully, district staff need to understand the realities, the concerns, and the hopes of all students and of their families and caregivers.
Diversity serves as an additional purpose in creative problem-solving groups. It is a good way to maximize the variety of possible solutions or ideas generated. Research indicates that cognitive diversity is the best indicator of a novel, and fast, solution generation (Reynolds, A., Lewis, D., 2017; Beilock, S, 2019). The experience of Prospect Studio has shown that in large-scale community work, diversity in the age, work background, neighborhood/community representation, race and ethnicity of participants can be reliable proxies for different ways of thinking and for approaching ideas and solution generation.
Santa Clara USD used a mix of strategies for input and feedback. The process included four different kinds of groups who engaged in a variety of ways, from the deep involvement of the Core Team to community members who responded to surveys. This approach enabled us to reach diverse groups and invite multiple perspectives. Through the process, we also used a variety of modalities including individual reflection and writing, small group discussion, large group discussion, large-scale posting of anonymous Post-Its at community meetings, and response to online surveys. Although questions and instructions were given in English and Spanish, participants were invited to respond in whichever language they preferred at in-person meetings, and the district’s translation department translated the responses. The Guiding Coalition groups, where most of the design work happened, were built around small, diverse groups which included at least one student, one site-based educator, and one family member. To gather input from people who were not part of the Guiding Coalition, we scheduled a variety of community meetings. For example, with the help of district staff and family advocates, we gave brief overviews of the process and ran input and feedback exercises at group meetings that were already scheduled. These included: DELAC, Migrant PAC, Special Education PAC, Elementary and High School districtwide leadership meetings, and the Superintendent’s Student Council. Additional targeted meetings were scheduled outside of these regular meetings, but at sites where groups were already located or were familiar with attending. Because students are at the heart of this work, the input sessions kicked off with a special student summit at the local community college (Mission College). However, it can be difficult for students to get to meetings outside of school hours. To address this and reach as many students as possible, the high school team did a stellar job of interviewing students during targeted school meetings, hearing from 500 students in focus groups over two weeks. In general, student reflections had a particular impact, as one member of the Guiding Coalition noted, “[The student panel] was very powerful to listen to their voice, and what they had to say about how we need to think about the future.”
A school district has to provide a high-quality education for all children, regardless of characteristics such as socio-economic background, race, ethnicity, culture, and physical ability.
For reasons of historic bias and persistent inequity, and/or to protect their families, some communities are wary of interacting with any formal institutions. Reaching these communities was one of the most important areas of the work (along with hearing from students), and trusted individuals who are from the community, or have worked deeply with the community over time, were critical connectors. These individuals may be from nonprofits serving the local community or maybe faith leaders and local politicians. Local school site staff and the district’s Family Resource Center staff also functioned in this capacity. To honor the time people gave to the process, the district employed a variety of ways to thank them. Students participating in the Guiding Coalition, or those who came to the Student Summit or one of the community meetings, gained community service credits. Staff participating in the Guiding Coalition were compensated for their time. Nutrition Services catered drinks and snacks for the community meetings, and participants at the Family Resource Center gained early access to a food distribution event and additional free entries to a Christmas raffle. However, there were many people — family members, community members, and business leaders who participated in the Guiding Coalition — who generously gave their time and perspectives simply for the benefit of public education in SCUSD. Participants were asked to work generatively. This work is about creating a vision for the future. We began the process by asking people to share what they would like to stop or let go, allowing participants to share grievances and complaints. There is important information in this for the district and the process, but it also gives people somewhere to put their grievances to clear space for their creativity to come through. We spent much more time in the process thinking about the future that this community wants to create for its young people, and while the future is not a blank slate and we need to proactively ensure that the current inequities are not replicated, there was more space for diverse groups to think together about what they would like to create. (For more on Prospect Studio’s strategic foresight process visit:
.) The community input phases of this process were nearly completed when the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order went into effect. Because the process included strategic foresight and was intended to guide the district into the future, its elements have remained relevant even through the crisis of the pandemic. The first strategic plan connects key vision areas with actions that help staff, students and families navigate the unprecedented disruptions of COVID-19. The work and community engagement will continue Vision 2035 is ambitious, both in its 15-year-long vision for the district and its breadth, encompassing goals not only for SCUSD’s graduates but for adults and the system overall. Both the district and Prospect Studio are members of Scaling Student Success, a California network of LEAs and support providers working together to develop strategies for the transformation of K-12 education to meet 21st Century needs. Developing effective community engagement strategies is integral to the network’s efforts because the boldness of its members’ visions requires ongoing partnership with students, staff, families, community members and business leaders. It is for that reason the SCUSD vision document ends with a Call to Action, essentially an invitation to all to participate in the ongoing work: “We ask you to consider that the health and success of the school district drives the health and success of the Santa Clara Unified community. Whether you are a student, a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a civic leader, a business leader, or a senior citizen, consider what YOU can do to support the Graduate Portrait, the Adult Portrait, and the System Portrait, and consider how YOU can positively influence the efforts of your organization, family, or community group to work toward these goals.” We are counting on the continued support of our community and a sustained partnership throughout the journey to realize SCUSD’s Vision 2035.
Reynolds, A. Lewis, D. “Teams Solve Problems Faster When They're More Cognitively Diverse” HBR, March 2017 Beilock, S. “How Diverse Teams Produce Better Outcomes,” Forbes, April, 2019
Stella Kemp is the superintendent and Brad Stam is the chief academic and innovation officer at Santa Clara Unified School District. Fiona Hovenden is the founder of Prospect Studio.
A closer look at Santa Clara USD’s Graduate, Adult and System Portraits

The Graduate Portrait  

Resilient mind, healthy body
Students are mentally and physically resilient individuals who know how to manage stress, work toward a balanced lifestyle, make productive personal decisions, and cultivate networks of supportive and affirming allies.  
Critical thinking scholar
Students graduate with strong critical and creative thinking skills, developed by applying foundational academic knowledge across various disciplines to develop new understandings. Collaborative problem solver
Students know how to collaborate effectively with diverse teams to understand problems and develop creative, realistic solutions that address the needs of people and situations. Future-ready learner
Students are well prepared for their futures, with key life skills, a strong sense of direction, ability to plan, and self-directed learning skills that enable them to adapt to a rapidly evolving world. Effective communicator
Students are effective and responsible communicators who can organize and express information in different ways to diverse audiences, using a variety of methods and tools. Inclusive empathizer
Students have an inclusive mindset and value and empathize with others who are different from themselves. Equity ambassador
Students understand the historical roots of racial and cultural bias and how these have led to institutionalized and biased practices, and they know how to act in ways that promote equity. Global citizen
Students have a global orientation, seeing themselves as part of a larger interdependent and connected worldwide ecosystem in which they have responsibilities as productive citizens.
The Adult Portrait  
World-leading professional
Each adult at SCUSD has deep expertise and strives for excellence in their area of responsibility, whether instruction, administration, support, or operations. Student-centered lifelong learner
Adults at SCUSD commit to the moral imperative of education, by providing high-quality, accessible, bias-free learning for all. Creative and critical thinker
All adults at SCUSD continually develop their abilities to become skilled creative and critical thinkers, moving easily among a variety of thinking strategies according to the situation and need. Adaptive forward thinker
Adults at SCUSD prepare students to thrive in a changing world by modeling adaptability and resilience and by having a vision for the future that guides their everyday actions. Inclusivity champion
Adults at SCUSD believe in developing each student’s assets and supporting each student to reach their full potential by achieving and demonstrating the Graduate Portrait elements to the best of their ability. Equity advocate
Adults at SCUSD are courageous advocates for equity and access, and work proactively to establish a culture of social and cultural empathy. The caring adult
Adults at SCUSD demonstrate their care for students by being proactive and responsive to students’ emotional needs, and holding high expectations for their success. Empowering collaborator
Adults at SCUSD are active collaborators with students, co-workers, families, and community members because they believe in the value of multiple perspectives and collective effort in improving student outcomes.
The System Portrait

World-leading educational system
SCUSD is a proactive, world-class school district, operating at the leading edge of education. Data-driven improvement culture
SCUSD leverages data to drive system-wide continuous improvement practices. Teaching and learning for real-world relevance
SCUSD teaching and learning models focus on real-world application of academic and experiential knowledge. Empathetic culture
SCUSD’s empathetic culture prioritizes health, wellness, and safety. Inclusive educational supports
SCUSD provides appropriate educational supports to ensure that every student receives an excellent education. Equitable impact
SCUSD intentionally applies culturally and linguistically responsive and sustaining practices to achieve equitable outcomes. Community stewardship
SCUSD is a responsible steward of community resources and collaborative provider of community benefits.
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