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Building the Portrait of A Graduate

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KSD community to create a ‘North Star’ for students

Kearney, Mo., December 3, 2021: Macy James nearly always had a north star, and she wants other students to have that same experience.

Ms. James is a senior at Kearney High School, where she excels both in and out of the classroom. She is the school’s National Honor Society president. She serves on the KHS Student Council. She’s an officer in the Future Business Leaders of America club, a member of the KIND club, and competes on the swim team.

KHS senior Macy James

James’ journey illustrates why Kearney School District is launching the process of engaging with the community to develop a “Portrait of a Graduate,” the district’s vision for the 21st-century skills, character traits, and social-emotional competencies that every student will need to succeed in college, career, and life.

When KSD leaders talk about the ideal outcome they want every student to achieve, James is the very model. When she talks about her educational experiences in KSD from kindergarten through high school, she readily identifies one significant advantage.

“I had a very clear idea very early on what I was aiming for, the kind of person that I should work to become: a good communicator, someone with a sense of self-worth, a confident person,” James said. “I’m not sure everyone gets to that point, at any age. Having a goal provides a lot of motivation, because you understand why you’re working so hard.”

Assistant Superintendent for Academic Services Jennifer Kopp is leading the Portrait of a Graduate development process for KSD. The initiative was launched with the recognition that the district and the community needed to come up with a clearly defined set of goals for Kearney’s children in a rapidly evolving global economy.

“Through an inclusive process, the Portrait of a Graduate will become the KSD community’s collective vision for its students,” Kopp said. “We know we want all graduates to attain transferable skills, knowledge, understanding and dispositions necessary for future success and life-long learners.”

High-quality public school systems across the U.S. have already created their own versions of the Portrait of a Graduate, and they are being used successfully to drive achievement, according to Interim Superintendent Todd White. In the Kansas City region, these districts include Liberty Public Schools, North Kansas City Schools and Lee’s Summit R-7 Schools.

“We know it will be a value-add for our students and community to develop a Portrait of a Graduate,” Dr. White said. “This process will pay dividends for decades to come.”

KSD has already begun sharing information about the Portrait of a Graduate process with students, parents/guardians, staff and community members. KSD will be asking students, parents/guardians, alumni and community members to provide their input by completing a survey that will be open from Dec. 6-17, 2021. Kopp and her team will also be meeting with a community task force.

The end product of this initiative will be KSD’s “North Star,” a portrait of the skills, knowledge and mindsets the Kearney community believes will create the best future for our students.

“This vision, when complete, will help align and prioritize resources and provide curricular focus and points of emphasis in a student’s educational career in Kearney,” Kopp said.

Macy James believes that vision should include teaching young people how to be engaged members of their community. She’s looking forward to studying business or journalism at the University of Missouri, and is already planning to give back once she completes her studies.

“I think we all need to learn how to be encouraging, helpful people,” James said. “We need more opportunities to engage with our community, and that needs to start on day one of school.”

Visit for links to the Portrait of A Graduate surveys starting Monday, Dec. 6, and ongoing updates. Email for questions or comments.

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