Student Input Guides Transformation in California School District

When Jerry Almendarez assumed control of the Santa Ana Unified School District in California back in January 2020, his primary objective was to pinpoint the common focus and values of the local community.

That data would eventually be condensed into a graduate profile identifying six key attributes that the district’s 45,000 students—91% of whom are Latino and 81% eligible for free and reduced-price lunch—should embody upon completing high school. These six qualities include:

– World-ready scholar.
– Community builder.
– Empathetic communicator.
– Global innovator.
– Collaborative leader.
– Architect of learning.

However, the journey from conception to finalization of that profile proved to be anything but straightforward.

By the time COVID emerged during Almendarez’s initial months in office, he had encountered varying viewpoints among community stakeholders on which characteristics and skills to prioritize.

Assisted by the National Center on Education and the Economy, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, the district compiled data on the traits of high-performing educational institutions worldwide. Almendarez then launched seven months of bimonthly Zoom discussions lasting four hours each, involving approximately 60 community leaders from universities, community colleges, local businesses, the nonprofit sector, and faith-based organizations. The purpose of these meetings was to ascertain the existence of these traits in Santa Ana and assess what the school district was either accomplishing or failing to achieve to enhance academic success.

Nevertheless, these sessions only marked the initial phase. An initial hiccup in the roll-out of the graduate profile in 2021 prompted the district to shift focus towards student input by organizing annual student listening sessions.

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