Four Black women and one white woman pose smiling in a conference room. Three are wearing gold shirts that say "Education equity is" with a self-completed phrase written after.
Curriculum, Instruction
Curriculum, Professional Development

WCCUSD educators ‘ready to be challenged’ at Standards Institute

Teachers, leaders attend national professional development conference that will ‘push your mindset’ says district’s Chief Academic Officer

LaResha Huffman knows the excitement and the challenges that await dozens of West Contra Costa educators as they begin this week at UnboundEd’s Standards Institute. 

She experienced them herself last year — her first as WCCUSD’s Chief Academic Officer — and vividly recalls how the national conference for educators urged her to ensure that all students encounter high-quality instruction in every classroom. 

“It’s actually going to push your thinking, and push your mindset,” Huffman said.

“The most important thing you can do as an educator,” Huffman said, “is ensure that your students are getting grade-level standards that are engaging, affirming, and meaningful.”

Remembering a moment from the last year’s conference, Huffman (née Martin) reflected on her role in ensuring that lessons match grade-level standards, and supporting teachers to avoid materials that don’t.

In one learning session, Huffman shared with other educators that she had recently observed a 7th-grade text used for instruction in a 10th-grade lesson. 

“The presenter really challenged me to think about how I would interrupt that as a CAO,” Huffman recalled. 

“The most important thing you can do as an educator is ensure that your students are getting grade-level standards that are engaging, affirming, and meaningful.”

“That’s going to be hard for people, I know,” Huffman said, adding that after attending Standards Institute “you’re going to think twice about the curriculum that you’re putting in front of students.”

This week, over 40 WCCUSD educators will attend Standards Institute, a national conference presented by UnboundEd. The five-day event draws hundreds of educators together to explore how “justice is found in the details of teaching and learning,” according to the organization’s website.

In 2018, the Chamberlin Education Foundation began underwriting WCCUSD educators’ costs to participate in the professional learning experience. Since then, nearly 200 WCCUSD educators have attended the conference with CEF support.

A Black woman with long braids and glasses sits at a conference room table reviewing printed materials about curriculum and instruction. Others at nearby tables behind her are doing the same.
Above: LaResha Huffman, WCCUSD Chief Academic Officer, reviews materials at last year’s Standards Institute. Top (from left): WCCUSD's Keisha Joyner and LaResha Huffman with UnboundEd’s President and CEO, Lacey Robinson, alongside CEF’s CEO Dr. Stefanie Phillips and Caroline Damon, VP, Academics, at the 2022 Standards Institute.

UnboundEd hosts the Standards Institute three times a year in order to “empower teachers, instructional coaches, and leaders to meet the challenges set by higher standards, unfinished instruction, and institutional racism,” according to the organization’s website.

“When we can support educators to improve their instructional practice, inspire their colleagues, and connect them to a national learning network,” said Dr. Stefanie Phillips, Chief Executive Officer at CEF, “we believe it will ultimately lead to an improved learning experience for West Contra Costa students.” 

CEF’s work to advance student success in West Contra Costa public schools includes support for equity-focused leadership and high-quality, standards-aligned curriculum and instruction as critical focus areas that drive academic achievement while combating racial inequities in student mastery. 

“Our foundation is excited to support instructional practices and encourage policy change that can combat systemic bias and structural inequities in our public schools,” Phillips said. 

“Encouraging educators to experience the Standards Institute aligns strongly to those goals,” she said. 

WCCUSD Assistant Principal Tyler Hester attended Standards Institute for the first time in 2022. An experienced educator, Hester earned a Doctoral Degree in Education Leadership from Harvard, and joined the faculty at Michelle Obama School in 2021.

“Standards Institute oriented all of us around a shared way of thinking about a high instructional bar for students, and what we can do to reach that,” Hester said.

“It’s an outstanding opportunity for people to connect with their colleagues who are doing similar work at different sites across WCCUSD,” Hester said, “and to think about how we might engage in collaboration across school sites.”

Three smiling women (one masked) are in front of a wall pointing to poster paper with ideas and practices about culturally affirming school curricula.
WCCUSD participants Terresa Wright, Maria Cottani, and Hope Cooper document affirming instructional techniques at the 2022 Standards Institute.

Like many WCCUSD schools, Obama serves predominantly Latinx and Black students, 60% of whom qualify as socioeconomically disadvantaged according to the California School Dashboard.

Hester recognizes the importance of providing standards-aligned instruction as part of a continued effort to close the opportunity gap for Black and Latinx students in West Contra Costa. 

“As an education system more broadly,” Hester said, “I think we systematically deny opportunities for young people of color and young people who are low income the chance to grapple with rigorous, grade-level content.”

“It’s absolutely essential that we do the work that we need to do as educators to make sure we’re presenting students the opportunity to engage in the curriculum that they should be engaging in,” Hester said.

Hester’s approach mirrors Huffman’s belief that aligning instruction to the Common Core standards provides “a roadmap to what your students need to accomplish.”

Although Huffman is not attending this week’s conference, she offered some advice for the teachers and leaders who are. 

“Be open, be ready to be challenged, and really think about how you can actually bring this back to your school site,” she said. 

“I think it’s important to be honest,” Huffman added.

“That’s how you learn best,” she explained, “when you’re open, and honest, and very reflective on your practices as an instructor.”

“Even for me, I had to do that,” Huffman said. “I think that is something that anybody going should be willing and ready to do.”

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.