West Contra Costa Teachers at UnboundEd Standards Institute - Chamberlin Education Foundation
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WCCUSD educators explore equity-focused instruction at Standards Institute

‘Transformative’ experience: Teaching teams refine practice, strengthen bonds at educator conference

In 2020, during his seventh year as a teacher, Jesus Galindo knew there was more he could do to support his fourth grade students’ learning. But what more, exactly, felt unclear. 

“I had goals I was not meeting. My students were not gaining on the SBAC. My metrics weren’t progressing in the way I wanted,” he said. 

Despite countless hours of credentialing, professional development, and even formal leadership training, Galindo believed his practice as a dual language immersion teacher at Lincoln Elementary had not yet reached its full potential. 

That year, Galindo found renewed clarity and camaraderie at UnboundEd’s Standards Institute, an immersive learning experience for educators and academic leaders. He now calls the conference a “powerful” catalyst for his continued growth as an educator, and for the instructional improvements he has made with his team at Lincoln. 

“It’s some of the best professional learning that I’ve been a part of,” Galindo said.

This week, four of Galindo’s Lincoln Elementary School colleagues will attend the Standards Institute for the first time. In all, a total of 40 West Contra Costa teachers, coaches, principals, vice principals and central office leaders will attend the conference with full sponsorship from Chamberlin Education Foundation.

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Above: Nystrom Elementary Principal Jamie Allardice discusses instruction with Lake Elementary Principal Kenneth Bonner and Vice Principal Jeannie Williams at Standards Institute in 2020. Top: West Contra Costa educators express their mindset about education equity at Standards Institute 2022.

“It was transformative to have a significant amount of time to collaborate and socialize with my colleagues,” Galindo explained. “It strengthened our bond, and our commitment to one another.”

The national conference brings together hundreds of K-12 educators and instructional leaders to examine how education equity is driven by the delivery of high-quality curriculum and instruction.

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WCCUSD educators Terresa Wright, Maria Cottani and Hope Cooper at UnbounED's Standards Institute this week.

A year before Galindo attended his first Standards Institute, Michelle Obama Elementary School principal Claudia Velez participated as part of the first WCCUSD cohort that attended with foundation support. 

In 2019, Velez was leading her school through a series of curriculum adoptions, and preparing to relocate to a newly-constructed school site. For herself and her teaching team, she said, the exposure to new, standards-aligned curricula and a network of educators using them to ensure grade-level instruction could not have come at a more crucial time. 

“It was a really amazing experience,” Velez remembered. “I honestly did not expect it to be so valuable. The keynote speakers were incredibly inspirational.” 

Beyond inspiration, she explained, the central question at the heart of the conference itself led her and her team to a “new mindset.”

“Why is standards-based instruction,” she recalls thinking, “an equitable and necessary move in schools?”

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Michelle Obama Elementary School Principal Claudia Velez welcomes a student to an assembly in 2019.

Through the four-day conference, she said, the facilitators helped her team recognize the fundamental need to adhere to rigorous academic standards in order to achieve stronger learning outcomes for her students. 

“If you’re just giving [students] watered down text,” she explained, “and you’re asking them surface level questions, then they’re never really going to get to the rigor of the standard.”

Ensuring that its students reach grade-level proficiency — particularly Black and Latinx students — has been a chronic challenge for the West Contra Costa Unified School District. 

Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Hurst has called the academic data “dismal,” describing that in mathematics Black and Latinx students are “ten percent are proficient, which means 90% are not.” 

In his first year leading the district, Hurst recently presented an equity audit to the WCCUSD Board of Trustees that detailed the academic achievement gap, and described his vision for reducing it. While Hurst has named education equity as a top priority, the district’s current financial strain has limited the extent to which additional curriculum resources and professional development can help educators to ensure that more Black and Latinx students achieve grade-level proficiency. 

“As a partner to the district, our foundation’s goal is to increase access to high-quality professional development that can help principals and teachers deliver excellent instruction,” said Dr. Stefanie Phillips, Chief Executive Officer at Chamberlin Education Foundation.

"If you give kids the right resources, if you provide them with the right opportunities, they will meet your expectations."

Jesus Galindo, 4th Grade Teacher, Lincoln Elementary School Tweet

This year, the foundation provided over $160,000 for Standards Institute registration fees and travel expenses for 40 WCCUSD participants. Since 2018, CEF has fully sponsored more than 160 WCCUSD educators to attend Standards Institute. 

The conference promotes critical analysis and practitioner skill-building in areas that Phillips calls “central” to CEF’s overall mission. 

“Two of our foundation’s key focus areas — equity-focused leadership and high-quality curriculum and instruction — are fully aligned with the core learning goals that the Standards Institute promotes,” Phillips said.

“We’re thrilled that so many of our partners in WCCUSD have chosen to deepen their engagement about equity-focused practices in such a collaborative and interconnected way,” Phillips said. 

Principal Jamie Allardice and his team at Nystrom Elementary are among the school partners committed to education equity. 

In 2021, Nystrom issued a proclamation stating that “literacy — the ability to read, write, and understand — is a civil right.” Echoing the Standards Institute’s core philosophy, the statement acknowledges the impediments caused by “systemic racism,” and calls early literacy the “gatekeeper to academic success.”

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Principal Jamie Allardice guides students through a lesson at Nystrom Elementary School. Photo courtesy of Nystrom Elementary School.

His team’s commitment to early literacy as an equity driver, Allardice said, was strongly affirmed by participating in the institute in 2019, and in the years since. 

“I really appreciated the sort of convergence of equity, curriculum, and instruction all in one conversation,” he said of the content offered by conference presenters and facilitators.

“I have not seen anyone else able to bring those [ideas] together as well as they did,” Allardice said. 

After adopting a new English Language Arts curriculum and developing “differentiated reading groups” that meet daily, he and the Nystrom teachers are measuring learning growth across all student demographics, he said. 

“It’s a long process to get reading instruction right,” Allardice said. 

“But if we get it right in kindergarten, how much easier does that make first grade? And then first grade pays it forward to second grade,” he explained.

“The idea is that if all of our kids can learn to read, the doors that are open for them, whether it’s here, or after they leave Nystrom, are significant,” Allardice said. “If we don’t do that, their options are so much more limited.”

Six blocks away at Lincoln Elementary, Jesus Galindo employs instructional skills he refined at Standards Institute to help open doors of opportunity for his fourth grade learners.

“If you give kids the right resources, if you provide them with the right opportunities, they will meet your expectations,” he explained.

“What the Standards Institute did for me is it provided me with clarity about the levers and the systems that I need to rethink or recreate in my classroom,” Galindo said. 

“Sometimes,” he said, “the biggest motivator is clarity.” 

About the Chamberlin Education Foundation

The Chamberlin Education Foundation supports initiatives that advance education equity and academic excellence in West Contra Costa public schools. CEF’s grants and programs support effective education leadership, high-quality curriculum and instruction, restorative student interventions, and help create and sustain a student-centered public education ecosystem.

Click here for more about our team, our vision, and our foundation’s guiding principles.