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Portrait of an ACS Graduate

Our Process

When developing a strategic plan, it's easy to fall into the trap of listing "givens," things that are likely going to happen anyway and aren't aspirational in nature. We didn't want that for this strategic plan; we wanted to redefine and disrupt our process by identifying goals that will truly be transformative and continue our journey to the top. To do this, we set out to answer, "What makes a graduate?" by interviewing students, teachers, staff, parents, alumni and community members. These results created the Portrait of an ACS Graduate, our vision for students and what they will need to succeed in college, career and life by identifying 21st century skills, character traits and social/emotional competencies. Navigate the buttons and website below to learn more about how we defined the Portrait of an ACS Graduate. You can also view the document here as passed by the ACS Board of Education.

"I want to have the will to be an innovator. To have a sense of self worth that isn't defined by academics alone but a desire to improve my whole self."

- An Arlington Middle School Student


The following competencies were the most common trends we heard while developing the Portrait of an ACS Graduate. Committee members, students, teachers, staff, parents, alumni and community members in Arlington said graduates need these skills before leaving Arlington Community Schools to make them well-rounded students and citizens beyond test scores alone. As a school community, we will work to ensure these competencies are addressed in all grades PreK-12.

students in lab dissect an animal


Communicate Effectively

I think the biggest shock to my system going into college is that I was terrified communicating with people I didn't know. Communication is such an essential skill that I wasn't even aware that I lacked, and I wish I had been forced into those uncomfortable situations before I had graduated high school. - ACS Alumni, Class of 2018


Collaborate Intentionally

Most projects nowadays are done on keynote or powerpoint, but I would like the opportunity to work with and learn from others more even in regular classes. I think COVID has shown us that there's value in building relationships and working together to solve the world's problems. - AMS Student


student in hallway uses iPad to scan QR code on a wall


a female student presents her science project in front of a panel of judges


Cultivate Creativity

There's nothing like seeing a kid create something themselves instead of filling out the same old worksheet I've used for the past 10 years. - ACS Elementary Teacher

LEARN MORE ABOUT cultivate creativity

Be Resilient

Resilience and perseverance. Whether in college or the workforce, they need to have the strength and GRIT to not give up when the going gets tough. We can teach them how to follow a path forward, and most importantly, ROOT for them along the way by investing in THEM, not their final grade. - Parent of AMS Student

LEARN MORE ABOUT be resilient

a student uses a paper cup and string in STEM class to play a telephone game


a student embraces another student in a hug


Lead with Empathy

Service to others. In workforce this means helping a business succeed by being an asset to that business. Not the typical 'What's In It For Me.' - Arlington Community Business Owner


Our Strategies to Attain the Portrait of an ACS Graduate

Developing the Portrait was just phase one for the committee; we then had to determine our strategies, or action steps, to live up to the ideals and competencies of the Portrait. Once the Portrait of an ACS Graduate was adopted by the committee, each team went back to their individual schools to solicit feedback from leadership teams and various teacher groups for possible strategies. Since each school is unique in terms of student needs and abilities and staffing, the strategies we adopted are overarching and broad in nature but specific enough to help guide the schools and district in this important work.

A final thought as you read more about our adopted strategies below: our Portrait of an ACS Graduate Strategic Plan notably doesn't include timelines, dates of completion and specified action steps. Instead, it gives us a visionary set of goals, a north star through our Portrait and the space and flexibility needed to adapt to the needs of our students.

Align the POG competencies to every course PreK-12 through tailored professional development and lesson planning.
This is our commitment district-wide to keep the Portrait of an ACS Graduate competencies at the forefront of everything we do. District Office departments, administrative teams, classroom teachers, PLCs and other ACS teams should find ways to promote and highlight: Communicate Effectively, Collaborate Intentionally, Cultivate Creativity, Be Resilient, Lead with Empathy.
Identify and develop a K-12 college and career platform that helps learners discover interests, strengths and post-ACS goals to create a long-term road map from the moment they enter the district.
The district has begun researching robust platforms that will track student interest data from the time they enter ACS. The goal of this platform will be to eventually track career interests, college programs matching those interests, nationwide scholarship opportunities, alumni directory information and more. This will also help give parents a road map to future colleges and careers for their students.
Define and build essential student life skills in a 9-12 progression: Money Management; Organization & Planning; Networking; Stress Management; Professional Communication; Building Healthy Physical & Mental Habits
"Kids need to learn how to do taxes." We heard that line continuously throughout the process, and while learning how to do taxes is important, we think there are other foundational money management skills and life skills that can help high school graduates succeed. This action step challenges Arlington High School to find ways to intentionally incorporate these life skills throughout our students' high school careers.
Define and build essential student life skills in a PreK-8 progression: Organization & Planning; Initiating Tasks; Time Management; Emotion Management; Effective Oral, Written & Non-Verbal Communication Skills
"What skills do our students currently lack" was one of the primary questions asked of students, teachers, parents and community members during the Portrait of an ACS Graduate Strategic Plan. "Life skills" for students in Grades PreK-8 look very different from those of their older peers. This action step challenges and encourages us to embed the life skills stated above as frequently as possible to prepare students for high school.
Continue rigorous and inclusive professional development content by seeking administrator, educator and staff input.
In order to keep the Portrait of an ACS Graduate at the forefront, we must be intentional about how professional development ties back to the five competencies. We will also continue to seek administrator, educator and staff suggestions as to what type of professional development opportunities they would like to have available in ACS.
Host annual school-level student listening sessions to ensure student voice is being considered, heard and incorporated where appropriate.
Student listening sessions were held at all elementary, middle and high school levels during the strategic plan process, and truthfully, we loved it! Our school-level teams found great value in hearing unadulterated and honest feedback from our students about what they love and, frankly, hate about school and how we can more effectively educate and reach them on their levels. They were also honest about themselves by self-evaluating themselves and their peers.
District commitment to additional mental health resources through staffing, educator and staff training, social-emotional supports; and promote regular and intentional wellness solutions for students, teachers and staff.
Research now shows that nearly 1 in 5 children struggle with some form of mental health illness (anxiety, depression, ADHD, among other disorders), and even locally, we've seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this in some children. In line with Tennessee's Whole Child initiative, we want to ensure that students have the support they need to succeed not just through academics alone but through cognitive, physical, social and emotional development. But to have the healthiest student body, we must also keep our focus on supporting our teachers and staff by promoting regular and intentional wellness solutions.
Implement and encourage school and district-wide service-learning projects that positively impact the community at large and promote empathetic citizenry
We know that community service is a major component of college admissions, particularly when it comes to obtaining competitive scholarships. The more you give back to the community through service the greater ability you have to show your well-roundedness as a student. But through this strategic plan process, we've learned how much our stakeholders value community service and what it can do to create a resilient and empathetic citizen. This is our commitment to support and encourage more service-learning projects in our schools to develop empathetic leaders.
Empower school administrative and leadership teams to incorporate building-specific solutions to model and attain the Portrait of an ACS Graduate competencies.
If it's one thing this strategic plan doesn't do, it's that we don't pretend to have all the answers. We know that these visionary goals will look much differently at each educational level, and that's okay and welcomed. The goal of this Portrait of an ACS Graduate is that WE ALL (students, teachers, staff, parents and community members) take ownership of the five competencies, and that will thrillingly take on many different shapes and sizes.
Develop and implement strategies to improve and expand parent education programs in areas such as: academics, social-emotional learning and child mental health, preparing for your child's next steps, etc.
2022-2027 will present new challenges yet also new opportunities in our students' educational journeys. ACS is ripe with talented educators, counselors, social & transition specialists, nurses and so many more experts who can help parents "parent" by offering their expertise through our already established ACS PEP Talks Program.
Support the interests and involvement of students by identifying clubs and organizations that actively engage students in real-world learning.
We asked teachers, staff members, students and parents what they loved about schools in ACS. While academics was at the top of the list, another overwhelmingly popular answer was clubs, organizations and ways for students to get involved beyond the classroom. Engaged and involved students will not only fuel their love for school, it will also better help them master our five competencies: Communicate Effectively, Collaborate Intentionally, Cultivate Creativity, Be Resilient, Lead with Empathy.