Portrait of a Graduate

As we commence the 2016-17 school, we have begun to reflect on the basic AIMS of this school year and every year. We are asking ourselves again the simple question; what do want our students to be like when they leave us in the 8th grade? We call this the Portrait of a Graduate. A few years back, as we gathered all our teachers together for the first day back from summer break, we asked groups of teachers to draw and label their portraits of graduates as a reflective and focusing opening activity. They produced a beautiful list of attributes and characteristics they aim to help develop in every Rio student. The list is really long but also really wonderful.

portrait of graduate words frequency by # groups
21st century learner
able to teach the subjects
academically productive
active listener
acts locally
always interested
analytical 5
articulate 3
artistic 3
athletic 2
bright future
caring 9
clear,competent communicators 2
collaborative 9
college algebra
college bound 3
compassion 7
competentreaders,writers, mathematicians
comprehends 2
confidence 13
coooperative problem solver
cooperative 3
creative 9
creative thinker
critical reader
critical thinker 7
critical thinking consumers
culturally aware 2
curious 5
dedicated inquirers
detial oriented
develop goals
doesnt give up
driven to make a difference
eager to learn
effective communicator
empathetic 4
enthusiastic about learning
environmentally conscious
excellent problem solvers
exercises body and mind
eye contact
fluent readers
future minded
future teacher
global citizen learner 5
goal oriented 4
good character
good listener 3
good social skills
good speller
good work ethic
happy 2
healthy 4
helping hands
high self esteem
imaginative 4
independent 3
independent learner
independent thinkers
independent worker 2
innovative 2
inquiring/ inquisitive 7
insatiable reader
integrity 2
intellectual conversation
intellectually curious
kind 3
language arts
leader/ skills 4
life long learner 3
logical thinker
love of learning 3
love of reading 3
loves to travel
math/ skills 2
mature 2
motivated 3
mover and shaker
multicultural 2
multilingual 2
note taking skills
observant 2
open minded 2
organized 3
passionate 3
peace builder 3
perseverance 4
physically fit 3
positive attitude
positive behavior support
positive self concept
problem solver 11
project based learner
projects voice
public speaking 2
pursue goals
readers,avid,fluent, comprehending 7
real life problem solver 2
reflective thinker
resourceful 3
respectful 7
responsible 8
rich vocabulary
risk taker 4
scientific thinker
seeks knowledge
self aware
self image strong 2
self motivated 2
serve others locally, nationally, globally 2
social media
socially aware
speaks for themselves
successful 2
synthesize and evlauate info
team builder
team player 3
techno-savvy/literate 10
thinks for themselves
thinks globally
thoughtful 3
variety of learning tools
walks life’s tightrope
well rounded 3
well spoken
willing to work hard
word problems
work to improve
works well with others
writer 2

As a District, some years later, we are very focused on a honed 21st century vision for our learning organization. Along with these many descriptions of our aims, we are working together with students, families, and community to produce or develop a Portrait of the Graduate that is simple in description and complex in accomplishment.

Rio 8th grade promoting graduates will be:
21 st Century Practices
Excellent and developing communicators
Excellent and developing collaborators
Excellent and developing critical thinkers
Creative problem solvers and makers
Caring learners, citizens, and people
Excellent and developing readers and writers
Excellent and developing mathematical thinkers
Excellent and developing technology users

This year we take the next step in improving our student and organizational outcomes along these lines. We invite community feedback along the way. If you have ideas about shaping Rio’s Portrait of a Graduate, please email Sonia Cervantez at scervantez@rioschools.org.


What’s a great 4C classroom look like ?

Across this country, American schools are innovating, changing, and re-inventing themselves in the calculus of a rapidly changing world. Not every school, of course, but schools like those who are members of edleader21 are focusing on the 4Cs; communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity among other practices that leaders know children need to thrive in the 21st century.

The world is changing and technology is playing a key role in this change. Schools are charged with helping learners succeed in college, career, and life. As schools change in response its important that leaders help learners, families, partners, and community members understand what this change and innovation is all about. This blog post is a brief description that aims to use text to describe my point of view of what a GREAT 4C classroom is all about. There is no ONE GREAT vision of the 4C class….they come in as many shapes and colors as there are Great Teachers and great school systems. What I am putting forward is my take on the GREAT 4C classroom. As educational leaders describe and show their GREAT cases, folks can draw connections and find the universals as well as the differences that abound.

Great 4C classrooms to me;

  • are student centered and focus on unfurling and promoting student voice and choice. The great ones move from student voice, to choice, to student governance in the course of a school year.
  • are engaged in deeper learning about concepts and problems that sustain over long periods of time giving learners a chance to saturate and have deep context for their thinking, learning, reflection, creating, and problem solving.
  • engage students in working together over time.
  • engage students in developing their individual skills, practices, and interests.
  • connect to their school, their community and the world.
  • make things, create things, show things, and engage diverse audiences in their creative processes.
  • celebrate the diversity of human experience and development and seek to maximize growth for the learner and the class as a culture (little “c”).
  • help learners and educators tackle problems by saturating themselves in understandings about the problems and then critically and reflectively working to solve the problem or propose solutions.
  • engage learners and educators to take the stance of researchers.
  • offer learners multiple and varied opportunities to communicate in face to face and technology infused contexts as well as with small and large groups, and mass audiences.
  • have great teachers who are able to connect with every individual learner as well as the synergy of the class as a whole.
  • have great teachers who learn to evolve their relationship to their students over the course of the school year as well as longitudinally over the course of their career.
  • are interdisciplinary, transversal, and focused on big ideas and driving questions.
  • strike the right balance between pursuit of nouns and verbs, content coverage and the processes of learning and meta-learning or learning about learning.
  • are fun, messy, hard, and require teachers and learners to push through blocking points in learning in order to take things to the next level. Some call this grit, others call it failing forward, whatever you call it, it takes time, patience, and belief in the learner and educator.
  • easily connect the life of the learner at home to their life at school. Great 4C classrooms are like great songs that stick in your head and your life and the learners take their 4Cs learning with them 24/7.
  • cannot function without the arts.
  • can set a child on the right path for life, “their” path. If they are lucky enough to have multiple Great 4C classes…well that can impact families, communities, and beyond,




Thinking About Testing

The Ides of March are upon us. Soon it will be May and students in grades 3-8, and 11 will be asked to do state mandated tests called the CAASPP which utilizes the SBAC. Folks should follow the links of the acronyms in order to learn what these tests aim to do. Basically, they ask students to go on the computer and respond to questions that test designers have created. There are less multiple choice type questions than in recent state mandated normative tests, rather, they ask students to type in their answers, do some true and false, and explain their answers in one way or another. They aim to assess whether students have met, exceeded, nearly met, or not met standards for skills and content knowledge that the common core standards  framework has determined should be known or accomplished at each grade level.

2016 is the second year these new tests have been administered and results provided to Californian students. These tests aim to provide information at the school level, class level, and individual student level. The tests are very rigorous while also adaptive. Adaptive, in this sense, means that the test questions change based on the prior answer provided by the student. Generally, if the child answers a question correctly it soon provides more challenging questions and if they answer incorrectly, they will soon receive a more basic question. The scores are reported both as scaled scores- a number in the 1000s and as levels; 4= exceeded standards, 3= met standards, 2+ nearly met standards, and 1= not meeting standards.

For Rio students, staff, and families, the District wants to express our encouragement for every child to do their best on each item and each test so that the tests can accurately assess what they aim to assess. We also want children to know that they should increase their levels over the course of their school years at Rio. This will indicate that they are improving and learning more about the standards the test aims to measure. Another and perhaps most important thing to think about these tests or any test, is that the test does not measure or assess what kind of person you are. Students should try their best, see what the results are, work to improve their skills, content, and practices in order to improve over time. The goal is GROWTH.

Students should also know that these tests measure some things and don’t measure others. The Rio School District is working on helping every child develop their 21st century learning practices; collaboration, communication, creativity, and caring. We are beginning to develop rubrics, performance tasks, and authentic assessments that provide students, teachers. schools, and families information about how their children are developing in relation to these aims.

Together, as school and community, we are setting our sites on improving as a learning organization that aims to help every child improve their learning at maximum possible rates and depths.

I am a son

I am a son of an orphaned son of immigrants and immigrants’ daughter.

I am a son of the low income class.

I am a son of high school graduates with no college degrees who raised children who all earned college degrees.

I am the son of truly wise and creative parents and grandparents.

I am the son of parents who loved children and loved family.

I am the son of all people.

I am the son of the earth and universe.

I am the son of the sun, stardust, carbon, recycled material and H2O.

I am a teaching son, taught by many sons and daughters.

I am a learning son.

I am a teaching son.

Teaching sons and daughters, who do you teach?

What sons and daughters do you teach?

Learning sons and daughters, who teach you? Which sons and daughters are your teachers? Your parents?

Along with all the nouns and content we aim to teach, and now in the 21st century, the verbs, skills, practices, processes we teach, what identities do we teach? who do we teach? What connections do we teach? What pursuit of connections do we teach?

I am a son of an orphaned son of immigrants and immigrants’ daughter.

I am the son of all people.

I am the son of the earth and universe.

vern and jackiejoan durante




Renaissance in Rio and Oxnard


Recently we have engaged in a series of visits of community members and staff to Rio School District classrooms and Oxnard High School District Classrooms. These visits have brought visitors from the business community, school community, city government and recently city government officials and educators from Kuanianen, Finland. It was great to host Jarkko and Anders on multiple days of visits, discussion, and planning. In these last few days it has become ever more present that Rio and the city of Oxnard are in a true Renaissance. A cultural rebirth. Visits to Rio classrooms, ACE Charter High School Classrooms, Rio Mesa High School classrooms, the Mexican Consulate, along with great partnership discussions with software designers, the Ventura County Office of Education, retired educators, and the city of Oxnard recreation department evidenced that the Oxnard plain is experiencing a great period of growth and innovation. Each of these experiences was rich in evidence of 21st century learning combined with deep commitment to children, family, community at hyper-local and hyper-global scales.

We want to thank all those who were part of this amazing few days of partnership development and learning and invite others from within our community and around the world to engage with our city, community and set of school Districts that are leading, innovating, and doing amazing things that aim at what Anders came all the way from Finland to learn about, and that is creating a City wide learning program or a “Smart City.” I realized, in the last few minutes of our world wind visit, that Oxnard is a smart city in a renaissance, rebirth, aimed at getting smarter and better in the 21st century. Match that with the beautiful weather, geography, and wonderfully diverse and beautiful people that live and come here, and the city that was born from agriculture more than 100 years ago is poised to shape its next 100 years through a process of hard work and learning that place its schools-from preschools to Universities at the center of an amazingly creative and dynamic human energy.052068

Why Art Matters?

This year the Rio School District has made a concerted effort to develop our Visual arts programs across our eight schools. In doing so, we hired two new outstanding art teachers who are working to develop art lessons and learning with students and teachers alike. This week we will hold our first art show of the year which we hope to follow up with our end of year show in May.

There are many great thinkers who answer the question posed by by this blog. Elliott Eisner, Daniel Pink, and many others are resources to describe why integrating arts into learning is essential as well as why art for art’s sake is equally a deep human need.

From my point of view, as a graduate of a Bachelor of Fine Arts program and a life long maker and lover of art, art is a basic element of what it means to be a human being. Not having arts in schools removes this basic element and steals the opportunity for students to experience and learn about themselves and their world. Art has existed as long as there have been humans. We can look to the caves of Las Caux or Rock art of the Chumash to see human’s expressive yearnings to use visual imagery to understand and communicate their understandings of their world, themselves, and their realities.

In the last few years I have found a treasure trove of creativity in the children and teachers of the Rio School District. Integrating the Arts in our daily learning activities has promoted children’s development of 21st century practices; communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and caring. These practices are needed deeply to survive and thrive in our modern society even as they were essential for humans over the last forty thousand years of our existence. Some say, it is art, that separates us from the beasts, although I have seen some amazing artwork created by elephants and monkeys.

What does it take to be great?

21st century teacher

The leadership of the Rio School District is aiming at greatness. We are rallying our resources and energies to achieve great things. Our main function as a school District is teaching and learning. Along these lines we have established goals and narratives that aim to help every child develop their 21st century practices; collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, and caring as well as their literacy in reading, writing, math, and technology. All in all this equates to hiring well and supporting our teachers in their development to become great teachers.

The picture in this blog post suggests some important attributes of a great 21st century educator. Along with these newer mindsets, we are aiming to support every Rio teacher in every subject area to become great teachers of reading and writing as well as great teachers of English language development for second language learners. This is what our Rio students need and what will qualify for Rio becoming great.

We are excited about the current year’s effort among our teaching staff who are engaging with new online professional development platforms, Redbird Learning and PADDLE, that are part of our developing system to support teacher learning and growth.

A “portrait of a graduate” is a new term for what school systems aim for in their students. Rio greatness will come from teachers and support staff working together to significantly increase the 21st century skills of our students as well as their basic literacy and command of the English language. This is our charge, our aim, and our enduring work.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American man that left teachers and students an endless legacy of learning for as long as there are schools , lessons, and the country we call the United States of America. In memory of his legacy, I often sing a song I wrote with classes as a way to talk and teach about MLK.

The lyrics go like this;

We are free free
We are free, free, free
We are free free
Thank you Martin Luther King

Black or white
Yellow, brown, red
Its not your color
Its the person instead

We are, are, are
We are, are, are

We are very proud
We sing right out loud
We are very proud
That Dr. King could help us out

We are, are, are
We are, are, are

Dr. King’s life is testament to many things in life. For students, I like to highlight what a great reader, writer, and thinker he was as well as how he lived and gave his life for the cause of Love and Peace.

MLK Day is a great day in my book.