America’s Best Urban Schools Symposium

The 2018 America’s Best Urban Schools Symposium will be held on October 8-10, 2018 in San Diego, California. Please join our returning attendees who have called the NCUST Symposium the most powerful professional development experience of the year!

The America’s Best Urban Schools Symposium is an opportunity to celebrate excellence in public education and learn from urban schools and districts that achieve impressive academic results, especially for children of color, English learners, students with disabilities, and students who meet low-income criteria. You can expect one full day of school visits to high performing schools and two days of high-quality programming, time to team-build with your colleagues and make new connections, and non-stop inspiration to recharge your gap-closing, achievement-raising spirits!

Our theme this year is Leadership for Excellence and Equity. Each of these schools benefit from leaders in their discipline or role that contribute to the overall success of the school. Throughout the symposium, we will feature teachers, principals, support staff, superintendents and researchers sharing the hard-fought lessons they have learned. A special focus will be on excellent and equitable dual language schools. Learn from schools who are ensuring all their students are bilingual, biliterate and bicultural.

Each of our award-winning schools, including three dual language schools, will host a session that describes their journey to success and the practices they engage in to ensure deep learning and continuous improvement. As well, each session leaves lots of time for questions and conversation to explore the ideas and issues in depth. Educators attending the symposium exit with specific plans regarding how they will break down barriers to achievement for students at their school.

Keynote Speakers

Principal EL
Salome Thomas-EL

Salome Thomas-EL is a national education consultant and long-time teacher and principal in Philadelphia. He received national acclaim as a teacher and chess coach at Vaux Middle School, where his students have gone on to win world recognition as Eight-Time National Chess Champions. Principal EL is a regular contributor on the "The Dr. Oz Show" and the author of the best-selling books, I choose to stay (movie rights optioned by Disney), and The Immortality of Influence, which stresses the importance of leadership, mentoring, parenting and service to others. Thomas-EL speaks to groups across the country and frequently appears on C-SPAN, CNN, and NPR Radio. He has received the Marcus A. Foster Award as the outstanding School District Administrator in Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania's distinguished Martin Luther King Award. Principal EL was honored as a Reader's Digest Magazine, "Inspiring American Icon" and recently appeared on The Oprah Radio Network.

Kate Gerson
Kate Gerson

Kate Gerson has driven the design and development of curriculum implementation and professional learning, trained transformational school leaders, and served as both a high school teacher and principal. As managing partner of programs at UnboundEd, Kate sets the vision and oversees the design, delivery, and quality of all programs. Kate was the senior fellow for educator engagement at the Regents Research Fund, where she oversaw the design and development of New York State’s groundbreaking curriculum, training and professional development resources related to higher educational standards on Previously, she was executive director with the national nonprofit New Leaders and trained aspiring school leaders. She also served as a principal at a turnaround high school for overaged, under-credited students in South Brooklyn, New York

Esperanza Zendejas
Esperanza Zendejas, Ed.D

Dr. Esperanza Zendejas officially began her second term as the Superintendent of the Rio Grande Valley’s largest school district, Brownsville ISD, on June 25, 2015, with unanimous approval from the Board of Trustees. Prior to her permanent appointment, she had served as the BISD Interim Superintendent for five months beginning on February 16, 2015.

Since arriving back in Brownsville, Dr. Zendejas has initiated open enrollment at all 38 BISD elementary schools and implemented an Extended Day Enrichment Program at several of those schools. She installed cost-saving measures, including the reduction of expenditures and positions through attrition, that enabled the school board to award 3% raises for the 2015-16 school year to all teachers and classified employees. Dr. Zendejas was instrumental in passing a tax ratification election with 84% voter approval which generates $5 to $6 million net per year for one-time expenditures to improve, repair, and expand district facilities without increasing the current tax rate.

Most importantly, Zendejas has taken significant steps to improve the district’s image by making herself readily available and visible in the community. She has worked vigorously to establish and formalize partnerships with local, state and national organizations and businesses to support students. She has actively realigned employee responsibilities to improve campus services and district operations.

Previously, Esperanza Zendejas served as the Brownsville ISD Superintendent of Schools from 1992- 1995. She left to assume leadership of the Indianapolis Public Schools in Indiana. She has over 35 years of experience at all levels of education having held positions as a teacher, counselor, principal, central office administrator, and superintendent in districts across the United States. Dr. Zendejas holds a doctorate from Stanford University in administration and policy analysis and a Master’s degree from the University of San Diego. She is the author of several books. She and her husband of 20 years, also an experienced educator, have three children, two daughters and a son, and six grandchildren. One daughter is a BISD elementary teacher and four of her grandchildren currently attend Brownsville ISD schools.

2018 ABUS Symposium Sponsors

Pre-Conference Site Visits

Monday, October 8, 2018

On October 8, 2018, NCUST Executive Coaches will lead guided visits to high-performing urban schools in the San Diego area. Buses leave from the San Diego Marriott La Jolla in the morning and return by 3:30 PM.

Participants will choose either elementary, middle, dual language or high schools to visit. The day-long excursion for each of four groups (one elementary group, one middle school group, one dual language school group, and one high school group) will involve two school visits, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Each visit will start with an overview from the school’s principal and/or leadership team and then continue with small group observations in individual classrooms. At the end of the visit, the group will meet again with the school leadership to ask questions. During lunch, the facilitators will lead a discussion with each group about lessons learned and how they can be applied at the participants’ schools.

Space is limited, so this opportunity is open to the first 200 participants that register. The fee for the full day event is $100 and includes bus transportation, light breakfast, box lunch, and school expenses.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

7:00 AM – 8:00 AM  Registration 
8:00 AM – 9:35 AM  Keynote Speaker
 9:45 AM – 10:55 AM  Featured School and District Sessions 1* 
11:10 AM – 12:20 PM  Featured School and District Sessions 2* 
 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM  Awards and Lunch
 2:10 PM – 3:20 PM  Featured School and District Sessions 3* 
 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM  Hosted Reception

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

 7:00 AM – 8:15 AM  Registration 
 8:15 AM – 9:35 AM  Keynote Speaker
 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM  Featured School and District Sessions 4*
 11:10 AM – 12:20 PM  Special Topic Sessions and Hosted Panel Discussions
 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM  Keynote Speaker and Lunch
 2:00 PM – 2:15 PM  Prize Drawing!
 2:15 PM – 3:00 PM
  Book Signing

*Featured sessions include past and present ABUS award winners from diverse schools and contexts across the country.

Stay tuned for our full schedule of events and plenary speakers.


“This has been the most beneficial symposium I have ever attended. Meeting other educators doing the same work and sharing ideas has been food for the soul!”

“Be prepared to go back wanting to do so much more for your school. You will learn a lot!”

“It’s simply amazing to witness the commitment and “buy-in” from these award-winning schools.”

“Outstanding work by the NCUST staff! An incredibly inspiring Symposium.”

“A very rare opportunity was provided for Administrators to learn and share ideas. This doesn’t happen enough”

“I walked away knowing that consistency and having a clarity of focus are keys to my school’s success”

Registration Fees

$100.00 – High Performing Schools Site Visits: Monday, October 8, 2018
$225.00 – One-Day Registration Fee: Tuesday, October 9, 2018, or Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Team Registration Fee (per person for 3 or more)
$395.00 – Early Registration fee: October 9, 2017, through August 8, 2018
$425.00 – Late Registration fee: August 9, 2018, through October 9, 2018

Individual Registration Fee

$375.00 – NCUST Member Registration Fee (Click the link for more information on how to become a member
$395.00 – Early registration fee: October 9, 2017, through July 9, 2018
$425.00 – Registration fee: July 10, 2018, through October 9, 2018

Hotel Reservations

Map of La Jolla Marriott-2018 America's Best Urban Schools Symposium

A block of rooms has been reserved with a special room rate of $159.00, single/double occupancy at the San Diego Marriott La Jolla, 4240 La Jolla Village Dr., La Jolla, CA 92037 (888) 236-2427. When making your reservation by phone please mention you are attending the America’s Best Urban Schools Symposium.

The room reservation cut-off date is Sunday, September 16, 2018.
After this date, rooms will be available on a first come, first served basis at the prevailing hotel room rate.

Hotel Parking

Self-parking for overnight guests is $15.00 per day and daily parking for the Symposium Only is $10.00  per day.

Ground Transportation

The San Diego Marriott La Jolla is approximately 25 minutes from the San Diego International Airport (SAN). Ground transportation is available through Uber, Lyft or SuperShuttle from the San Diego International Airport. To make your reservation with SuperShuttle, please call (800) 258-3826 or you can make your reservation online at


Please contact Karen Jones at or (619) 594-7905.

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5500 Campanile Dr, EBA 332 San Diego, CA 92182-1165