Opinion: Let’s invest in NH’s Portrait of a Graduate process

The team that went to California to learn how other schools are implementing their Portraits included a superintendent, school board members, a city council member, small business owner, parents, students and community partners.

The team that went to California to learn how other schools are implementing their Portraits included a superintendent, school board members, a city council member, small business owner, parents, students and community partners. Courtesy



Published: 06-06-2024 6:00 AM

Carisa Corrow of Penacook is co-author of “126 Falsehoods We Believe About Education” and founder of Educating for Good.

I appreciated the recent article on Portrait of a Graduate in schools, and although it is a good primer, there are some significant points missing. First, all high schools that are accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) must define a Portrait or Vision of a Graduate, which is most schools in New Hampshire. It’s been the first step in the decennial process schools go through, and it’s been present for at least twenty years.

The difference is in how schools develop their portraits, how much community involvement is actually involved, and if it becomes a poster on a wall or an actual driving force in the way a school does business. The hope of a Portrait process done well is that it becomes a promise between the community and schools, a social contract. The schools work toward meeting the Portrait by aligning systems and practice and a community supports the work of the schools, not just through funding, but other community partnerships.

So, while all accredited schools in New Hampshire have a Portrait in some way, shape or form, not everyone has developed it with genuine community input or has the same commitment to it as others. Franklin’s process has been different. I know. As a partner in their process since 2019, I’m one who canvassed at the “dump.”

We did most of our data collection in 2020, during a very divided election season. We tabled at events, canvassed at the farmer’s market, talked to folks while they were sitting in their cars at the Elk’s make-shift drive through, a pandemic-inspired innovation. Our two questions, “What are your hopes for graduates?” and “What should graduates know and be able to do?”

The one thing I noticed, regardless of hat, t-shirt, or bumper sticker the answers were so similar. Folks, including students, want graduates to have the skills and mindsets they need to live the life they want to live.

I distinctly remember one woman I talked to at a Drug Take Back Day. She didn’t want to answer at first because without kids in school, she didn’t think her answer mattered. After convincing her otherwise, because everyone in the community has input that matters, she told me she hoped students are healthy. Her eyes welled up and she talked about mental health and substance abuse and her fears about what pandemic isolation might do to young people.

These are the types of conversations that come from deep canvassing. And, it’s the type of process New Hampshire should have gone through when updating the Minimum Standards for Public Education. It’s standard practice for schools, it should be standard practice for our state board of education. And, it wouldn’t be something new to New Hampshire.

In 1991, a report entitled My New Hampshire, My Responsibility was published by the Governor’s Commission on NH in the 21st Century. Then Gov. Judd Gregg, a Republican, had created the commission to study two important questions: “What will make New Hampshire a unique and special place? And, what approaches and initiatives will help assure the protection and promotion of those characteristics?”

It’s an incredible report, created with input from hundreds of individuals and organizations. A bipartisan, comprehensive reflection from a variety of voices across New Hampshire, it took eighteen months to compile. I first learned about the report in 2021, when I started the Leadership New Hampshire class. I wish I had read it sooner.

What fascinated me most about the report is how similar the process was to the Portrait of a Graduate work I was doing in Franklin. Ask everyone two questions, compile the data, and create some next steps that would align a community’s vision to what actually happens.

Two simple questions.

This is how the update of the Minimum Standards for Public Schools, the 306’s, should have started, with a comprehensive inquiry of what New Hampshire residents from all walks of life hope for our young people.

And, what we would have found, similar to the commission Gregg formed and similar to what I realized in Franklin, is that New Hampshirites are more alike than they are different, regardless of what political extremists might have us believe.

So, here’s my call to action. I’ve been pitching this idea for a few years now to anyone who will listen. Let’s invest in a Portrait of a Granite State Graduate process that includes input from the diverse voices that make up our state, not just educators, but families and kids and community partners from Salem to Pittsburg. Let’s use it to guide decisions about how we’re structured, what, where and how kids learn and what evidence we’ll accept as a community where they learned it.

The 306 update was botched from the beginning. We can do better. This is how.