MAY 3-5, 2023

The America’s Best Schools Symposium is coming soon! Join us on May 3-5, 2023 at the event many call the most powerful professional development experience of the year! The America’s Best Schools Symposium is an opportunity to learn from typical schools that achieve remarkable results for every demographic group they serve. While sessions at many conventional conferences address issues of race, ethnicity, and language background in superficial ways, every breakout session at the America’s Best Schools Symposium highlights public schools where children of color, English learners, and students who meet low-income criteria are exhibiting multiple indicators of educational success, often beyond statewide averages for all students. What a great opportunity to engage your entire school team in learning from schools that serve similar communities and achieve outstanding learning outcomes.


Pre-Symposium Site Visit Fee | Wednesday, May 3, 2023

$125.00 – High Performing Schools Site Visits

One-Day Symposium Registration Fee | Thursday, May 4, 2023 or Friday, May 5, 2023

$250.00 – Early OneDay Registration fee begins on January 6, 2023 through March 23, 2023

$275.00 – Late One Day Registration fee begins on March 24, 2023 through May 3, 2023

Symposium Registration Fee | Thursday, May 4, 2023 – Friday, May 5, 2023

$425.00 – Early Registration fee begins on January 6, 2023 through March 23, 2023

$500.00 – Late Registration fee begins on March 24, 2023 through May 3, 2023


San Diego Marriott Mission Valley


A block of rooms has been reserved with a special room rate of $195.00, single/double occupancy at the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley. Click below to make a reservation. If you are making your reservation by phone please mention you are attending the America’s Best Schools Symposium. 

The room reservation cut-off date is Friday, April 14, 2023. After this date, rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis at the prevailing hotel room rate.

If you have any questions, please contact Karen Jones at

Marriott Mission Valley
 8757 Rio San Diego Drive San Diego, CA 92108 
(619) 692-3800 / (800) 228-9290


Linda Darling-Hammond

Linda Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University and founding president of the Learning Policy Institute, created to provide high-quality research for policies that enable equitable and empowering education for each and every child. She is past president of the American Educational Research Association and author of more than 30 books and 600 other publications on educational quality and equity, including the award-winning book: The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. In 2006, she was named one of the nation’s ten most influential people affecting educational policy. She led the Obama education policy transition team in 2008 and the Biden education transition team in 2020. She was appointed President of the California State Board of Education in 2019. In 2022, Darling-Hammond received the Yidan Prize for Education Research in recognition of her work that has shaped education policy and practice around the most equitable and effective ways to teach and learn.

Patrick M. Shields

Patrick M. Shields is the Executive Director of the Learning Policy Institute. He is a member of LPI’s Early Childhood Learning team, and is one of the co-authors of The Road to High-Quality Early Learning: Lessons from the States. Shields also works on Educator Quality and co-authored LPI’s report, Addressing California’s Emerging Teacher Shortage.

Shields brings to LPI more than 25 years of experience managing large-scale social science research projects. Prior to joining LPI, he was the Executive Director of SRI Education, where he also served as Research Director for Teaching and California’s Future, a 15-year initiative to track the quality of the teacher workforce that contributed to legislation to ensure high-quality teaching for all of California’s students. Shields has also overseen many NSF- and foundation-supported studies of STEM opportunities for disadvantaged children, including serving as the co-principal investigator of the Science Activation Lab, a national research and design effort to dramatically strengthen learning.

Shields received a Ph.D. and an M.A. in Educational Policy from Stanford University, an M.A. in Educational Administration from Columbia University, and a B.A. in Romance Languages from Amherst College. He recently served on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Strengthening Science Education through a Teacher Learning Continuum.

Doug “Dr. Luff” Luffborough, III, Ph.D.

Dr. Luff is an educational leadership consultant with over 25 years of consultative sales, training, and implementation experience working directly with school districts, and for-profit and non-profit organizations throughout the United States.

Despite growing up in humble circumstances including homelessness, Dr. Luff received his bachelor’s degree in business administration and human resources management from Northeastern University; a master’s degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education; and his Ph.D. in leadership studies and educational consulting from the University of San Diego. As an inspirational educational advocate, Dr. Luff served as a former California school board president trustee and currently an adjunct professor in the Graduate School of Education at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.

Dr. Luff is also an educational partner with Higher Level Leadership – a first-in-class educational speaking, coaching, and consulting firm that provides innovative K-16 SEL, diversity, equity, and inclusion solutions. He resides in Chula Vista, CA with his wife and their four children. For more information, please visit


May 3 - May 5, 2023

All of these sessions are included in your ticket price. You are welcome to join a few sessions a day or carve some time to attend parts of each one. 
All times are Pacific Times.

Wednesday, May 3rd

High-Performing Schools Site Visits 

Thursday, May 4th

8:00 AM – 8:30 AM


8:30 AM – 9:45 AM

Greetings: Dr. Francisco Escobedo, NCUST Executive Director

Welcome:  Dr. Paul Gothold, San Diego County Superintendent

Paul Gothold has made it his life’s work to improve equity in our educational systems to better support positive outcomes for students. His efforts have been instrumental, most recently having helped San Diego County reduce the number of criminalized youth and increase graduation rates. Paul Gothold has served as the San Diego County Superintendent of Schools since 2017. Prior to that, he served as Deputy Superintendent and then Superintendent of Lynwood Unified School District. Gothold has over 27 years of experience in K-12 education. He previously served the Montebello Unified School District and the Los Angeles County Office of Education. He is a member of the San Diego Taxpayers Association, the Association of California School Administrators, and the California County Superintendents, among other organizations.

Keynote SpeakerDr. Linda Darling-Hammond

How Community Schools can advance Equity and Learning for all Students

Community schools are an evidence-based strategy to advance equity and reduce barriers to learning by providing the services needed to support student and family well-being. Through trusting relationships and well-coordinated supports, community schools ensure that students receive the health, social service, and learning opportunities they need to be successful. The Learning Policy Institute conducts and translates critical research on community schools to support education policymakers and practitioners who are implementing this strategy. Research on community schools and the science of learning and development identifies key characteristics of high-quality community schools: (1) integrated systems of support, (2) empowering student and family engagement, (3) collaborative leadership with shared power and voice, (4) expanded and enriched learning opportunities, (5) rigorous, community-connected classroom instruction, and (6) a culture of belonging, safety, and care. Evidence shows that when community schools are implemented well, they can lead to improvements in student outcomes, including attendance, academic achievement, high school graduation rates, and reduced racial and economic achievement gaps.

11:45 AM – 1:30 pm


Ron Edmonds Award

Keynote Speaker: Patrick M. Shields

Research on Positive Outlier Schools

In California’s Positive Outliers: Districts Beating the Odds LPI researchers identified more than a hundred California school districts in which students across racial/ethnic groups are outperforming similar students in other districts on new math and reading assessments that measure higher order thinking and performance skills. Many of these districts also are closing the gap on a range of other outcomes, including graduation rates.

That first study used a quantitative analysis to identify factors that appear to distinguish these “positive outlier” school districts—those in which African American, Latino/a, and White students achieved at higher-than-predicted levels, controlling for their socioeconomic status. It found that, controlling for student and district characteristics, the most important in-school factors were the qualifications of teachers—in particular having fewer teachers on emergency permits and substandard credentials and more with greater years of experience.

A deeper probe of district strategies in seven “positive outlier” districts that vary by demographics and geography (Chula Vista Elementary School District, Clovis Unified School District, Gridley Unified School District, Hawthorne School District, Long Beach Unified School District, San Diego Unified School District, and Sanger Unified School District) reveals several commonalities:

  • a widely shared, well-enacted vision that prioritizes learning for every child;
  • continuous leadership from instructionally engaged leaders;
  • strategies for hiring, supporting, and retaining a strong, stable educator workforce;
  • collaborative professional learning that builds collective instructional capacity;
  • a deliberate, developmental approach to instructional change;
  • curriculum, instruction, and assessment focused on deeper learning for students and adults;
  • use of evidence to inform teaching and learning in a process of continuous improvement;
  • systemic supports for students’ academic, social, and emotional needs; and
  • engagement of families and communities.

1:45 PM – 3:00 PM

When Black Students Excel Panel

Our latest book, When Black Students Excel, offers real-life examples of outstanding schools that serve elementary, middle, and high school students where teachers and school leaders have rejected policies and practices built upon deficit perceptions about the capacity of Black students. Learn how school leaders and their teams are helping ensure that Black students excel.

Facilitator: Dr. Joseph Johnson


Alexa Sorden, Principal, Concourse Village Elementary School

Dr. Alexa Sorden has served as an educator in New York City Department of Education since February 2000. Throughout her tenure, she has served as a classroom teacher, Literacy Coach, Director of Achievement and for the past six years, she has served as principal. In 2013, Alexa founded Concourse Village Elementary School located in the South Bronx. The school serves 356 scholars in grades 3K-5th Grade. Alexa has a strong passion and commitment to education, in particular, her goal is to bring quality and rigorous education to all children regardless of their zip code. In 2017 Alexa was recognized nationally for being a transformational leader. The Ryan Award is the first national award honoring transformational school principals in the United States. The Ryan Award was established by Accelerate Institute and made possible by the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Foundation. Alexa is a graduate of Teachers College, Columbia University and she recently earned  a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership from St. John’s University.

Dimitres Pantelidis, Principal, Patrick Henry Preparatory

Dimitres Pantelidis, known as “Mr. P,” has been the school’s principal since 1999. Many of the parents of Patrick Henry students credit Mr. P for shaping the backbone of the school’s improvement efforts. In 2018, Patrick Henry Preparatory School (P.S./I.S. 171) earned NCUST’s America’s Best Urban School Gold Award. In referring to Mr. P’s role in the school’s success, one parent explained, “He believes in our kids. Regardless of race. Regardless of family income. He knows our kids can succeed, so he does whatever it takes to make sure they succeed!” Unlike some educational leaders who become enamored with every educational reform or innovation, Mr. P has consistently kept Patrick Henry focused on a few core ideas popularized by Bill Daggett over two decades ago: rigor, relevance, and relationships.

Brian Rainey, Principal, O’Farrell Charter School

Principal Brian Rainey is quick to commend his team of outstanding teachers and support staff and he never misses an opportunity to brag about O’Farrell’s amazing students. Additionally, however, Principal Rainey has been a true equity champion, leading, supporting, guiding, encouraging, and persistently pursuing whatever is necessary to ensure the success of each O’Farrell student. Since the school opened, Principal Rainey has shaped programs, practices, and policies in ways that have promoted the success of all demographic groups of students in this urban high school.

3:15 PM – 4:30 PM


Friday, May 5th

8:00 AM – 8:30 AM


8:30 AM – 9:45 AM

Greetings: Dr. Francisco Escobedo, NCUST Executive Director

Welcome: State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, California State Superintendent

Tony Thurmond was sworn in as the twenty-eighth California State Superintendent of Public Instruction on January 7, 2019.

Superintendent Thurmond is an educator, social worker, and public school parent who has served Californians for more than 15 years in elected office. Previously, he served on the Richmond City Council, the West Contra Costa Unified School Board, and in the California State Assembly representing District 15.

Much of Superintendent Thurmond’s social service work has focused on improving the services provided to foster youth and directing programs that provide job training to at-risk youth. He also led programs that provide help for individuals with developmental disabilities. He has 12 years of direct experience in education, teaching life skills classes, after school programs, and career training.

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Douglas Luffborough III

Watch Me Rise: My Journey From Homeless to Harvard

Doug “Dr. Luff” Luffborough, III, Ph.D., has gone from homelessness to the White House to receive his doctorate degree. Known throughout the nation as a powerful Keynote Speaker, some of Dr. Luff’s greatest moments include performing or speaking before Sugar Ray Leonard, Rosa Parks, Former President Bill Clinton, Pastor Wintley Phipps, Dr. Maya Angelou, and Dr. Robert Schuller’s “Hour of Power” television broadcast just to mention a few.

11:45 AM-12:30 PM

EL Panel: “Reimagining Education for ELLs”

Learn how three leaders and their teams have modified and reimagined their existing organizational structures to accelerate ELL achievement.

Facilitator: Francisco Escobedo


Dr. Jorge Ramirez Delgado is the Executive Director of the Chula Vista Learning Community Charter School, a TK -12 Dual Language School that integrates language instruction through the lens of global perspectives, social justice themes and community engagement. The school opened its doors in 1998 to a population of 230 students and currently serves over 1500 students. The school has received local, national and international recognition as a progressive educational system.  Dr. Jorge Ramirez Delgado started his career in education as a migrant education instructional assistant, which led him to seek a career in teaching and learning. He became a bilingual teacher in the early 90’s and has advocated for the advancement of biliteracy programs to support social awareness and equity for all students. He earned his Masters in Leadership at the University of San Diego and his Doctorate in International Multicultural Education at the University of San Francisco.

Dr. Matthew Tessier has been serving the educational community for the past 25 years in a variety of roles. Dr. Tessier now serves the San Diego County Office of Education as the Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and is an active Board member for Junior Achievement San Diego, and the Classroom of the Future Foundation.  His administrative career has been marked by dramatic improvements in student achievement at each site he led. While a Principal in Chula Vista, turned around two of the lowest achieving schools out of Program Improvement Year 2 and Year 5.  These schools earned the California Distinguished School recognition and continued success after his departure.   Dr. Tessier was the Director of Technology and Student Assessment in the National School District before returning to Chula Vista as the Executive Director of Technology and Instruction, and then becoming the Assistant Superintendent of Innovation and Instruction. He received his Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees from San Diego State University.

Dr. Deborah Costa-Hernandez has over 30 years of service in education, having held roles as a bilingual teacher, language arts specialist, and a school and district administrator. Throughout her career, she has been an advocate for underserved students and their families. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the California Reading & Literature Project at UC San Diego, a professional development organization that provides professional development for teachers in reading, literacy, and language development throughout the state. She holds an Ed.D. from San Diego State University.

12:30 PM

America’s Best Schools Awards Ceremony

2:00 PM-2:50 PM

Douglas Luffborough

“Do You See Me, Can You Teach Me?”

Great educators are culturally responsive. This workshop will explore the 8 most effective culturally responsive teaching practices every educator must implement to reach ALL of their students.

Target River…”Inclusion in School District Marketing, Messaging, and Positive Brand Awareness.”

An important element of diversity, equity, and inclusion is community engagement. Learn from Target River, the recipient of the business diversity award from Governor Spencer J. Cox of Utah, how to effectively craft messaging and deliver it to relevant audiences with an inclusive look, feel, touch, and impact. This presentation will include important data and provide key takeaways to ensure no population is missed, ignored, or neglected.


“From the Classroom to the Boardroom: How Building Cultural Competence Can Prepare Students for Success” 

Join us for a workshop on Building Cultural Competence for Students and discover how to prepare the next generation for success in today’s global and diverse workforce. Our workshop will explore the importance of cultural competence, how to embed multicultural education into academic subjects, and how to give students a competitive edge through career readiness. 



Concourse Village Elementary School
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