Beat the Odds

Edison Elementary Schools Principal Alex Macdonald, Beat the Odds Institute Director Dr. Marjorie Kaplan and Center for the Future of Arizona CEO Dr. Lattie Coor present the Beat the Odds silver award. [Courtesy Beat the Odds]

Courtesy Beat the Odds

A good education can make all the difference for students in lower-income areas, which is why some schools are turning to Beat the Odds — a kind of principal support group that is raising the bar on underperforming schools.

Four Mesa Public Schools elementary schools — Emerson, Edison, Hawthorne and Webster — were labeled silver-level schools by the Beat the Odds program, which teaches principals how to make their schools successful through mentoring and colleague interaction.

Beat the Odds pairs principals with other principals so they can help each other with their issues. It also gives each participating school a mentor that is, or was, a principal. The program targets schools with 50 percent of students who participate in the National School Lunch Program and have a 50 percent minority population.

“These are people who are in the trenches everyday,” Beat the Odds Director Marjorie Kaplan said. “They come from a field based experience, and they are in a position to really help the principals.”

“What we are really trying to do is improve achievement in our target demographic school by improving the principal,” she added. “We help the principal work with the teachers, and the teachers deliver it to the students.”

The Beat the Odds program was founded in 2007 as part of the Center for the Future of Arizona. A member of the center suggested the organization help schools improve through the application of tips from the book “Good to Great,” by business writer Jim Collins.

Initial studies showed of the 300 schools within the organization’s target criteria, only 12 were deemed successful. Across these schools there were six consistent factors aiding in their success: a strong principal, clear bottom line, ongoing assessment, collaborations, meeting individual students’ needs and consistency.

Mark Norris, principal of Emerson Elementary School, has participated in the Beat the Odds program for three years. He said the program has helped him and his staff create a better school for their students.

“Anything you can do or be apart of that will help institute a collaborative school (that) is going to be good for your school is not something you can pass up on,” he said. “(Your students) will be happy you did.”

Norris decided to get involved with the program because he knew other principals that were involved and administrators suggested the program.

“These (tools the program teaches) were things I knew were important, but the Beat the Odds program has taken it to another level,” he said. “It really keeps your focus where it needs to be, which is student success.”

• Shelby Slade is a sophomore at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is an intern with the Tribune this semester. Reach her at

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