November 3, 2015

Dear Ollie’s Superintendent, 

Congratulations on your first superintendency. What a great milestone in your career! I am so thrilled that you will lead my grandson’s district and that he will learn in an environment that is purposeful and intentional about preparing students for the challenges of the 21st century. 

Before Ollie was born, as I traveled throughout the country advocating for an updated model of education, I would ask educators two questions: 1) If your child or grandchild masters math, science, English and social studies, will you consider them prepared for the future? Inevitably, they said “no.”2) If your child or grandchild becomes a strong critical thinker, problem solver, communicator, collaborator and creative innovator, will you feel they are ready for the future? Most of them said “yes.” Now that Ollie is entering the 1st grade, I can honestly say that Ollie will be ready for his future if his school system prepares him with these competencies. From my perspective, here is your first challenge: Help your new district define the competencies that will prepare students for the challenges of 21st century. 

 Two Key Pieces of Advice 

1.            Be a good listener, but listening doesn't mean you can't ask questions. 

Listening is probably the most important thing a new superintendent needs to do. Listening will help you learn about your work ahead, but I recommend listening while you try to get answers to the following questions: 

  • Do we have a shared understanding about the essential skills that students need for 21st century life and work? 

  • Is our district intentional and purposeful about developing our students’ capacities to demonstrate these skills? 

  • Upon graduation, are all students ready for the future? 

2.            Focus on a “Profile of a Graduate”

As you engage in conversations, begin to float the idea of constructing a profile of a graduate that clarifies the 21st century skills that students should demonstrate beyond disciplinary content. One way to think about this is to ask, “What competencies do you want every graduate to have when they graduate in 2027?” That happens to be the year Ollie will graduate from high school! Here are a few examples of districts that have taken on the challenge of creating a "profile of a graduate”: 

●             Fairfax County Public Schools Portrait of a Graduate 

●             Jeffco 2020 Vision Development and Strategic Planning 

●             Loudoun Vision 20/20           

I hope that you find these tips and resources helpful as you get started. Best wishes with the start of the school year! 




Note to Readers: How You Can Help Ollie’s Superintendent 

Throughout this academic year I will share some thoughts with Ollie’s superintendent.  We hope that all leaders reading this blog join me to offer suggestions. To get things started, please take a moment and respond to the two questions below: 

1.            What tips do you have for a new superintendent committed to creating and implementing a profile of a 21st century graduate? How would you approach this process? 

2.            Do you have a visual for a profile of a 21st century graduate? Could you post it here? 

Thanks so much for sharing. Our next note to Ollie’s superintendent will focus on creating a culture of collaborative continuous improvement. Talk to you then! 


Ken Kay currently serves as CEO of EdLeader21, a professional learning community that he founded for school superintendents and school heads. He is founding president of P21. Ken co-authored The Leader's Guide to 21st Century Education: 7 Steps for Schools and Districts.