Story by Diana Whittle
Two elementary schools in the Kyrene district
demonstrated an Olympic-like feat and grabbed
the gold as a “Beat the Odds” school.
Both Kyrene de los Manitas in Tempe and
Kyrene de las Lomas in Ahwatukee have principals
who participated in a mentoring and training
program sponsored by the Beat the Odds Institute,
an initiative of the Center for the Future of Arizona.
The center is a nonprofit whose mission is to
help Arizonans shape and define the future through
an action-oriented agenda focused on contemporary
issues and topics critical to the state.
Guided by former ASU president Lattie
Coor, the group focuses its research on student
“We were one of only two schools in the state
to achieve the gold level of performance, as rated
through the Beat the Odds program,” said Manitas
Principal Dan Langston.
To be eligible for the top rating, both schools
and principals must earn a “B” or better grade from
the Arizona Department of Education and show
improved AIMS scores over three years.
“Both Lomas and Manitas were asked and
agreed to participate by Gina Taylor (a Kyrene
assistant superintendent),” said Langston.
“One of the major reasons is because we have a
greater percentage of minority students than many
Kyrene schools, and this is the idea behind Beat the
Odds—that schools with Latino and low-income
families can be academically successful and meet the
needs of all children.”
Based upon methodology from best-selling
author Jim Collins, Beat the Odds is a rigorous,
multi-year school improvement
program that focuses on K-12
schools where at least 50
percent of the students are on
free or reduced lunch and at
least 50 percent are minority,
“At Manitas we had to
accept that our demographics
changed a great deal in the
past 10 years and that we had
not changed as the needs and
demands of our children had
changed,” explained Langston.
He says that most of the
big changes have taken place
over the last three years and include:
• Collaboration between teachers—“It is nonnegotiable
that all teachers collaborate with their
peers and grade-level teams. This includes weekly
team meetings with set agendas that are based on
student learning and teacher planning.”
• Use of Data Driven Assessments—-“All grade
level teams identify essential standards and create
formative assessments to track student learning and
• Support Career and College Readiness
Standards—“All of our collaboration and formative
assessments are centered on and follow career and
college guidelines.” A student’s response to the
changes is to be more actively engaged in learning,
says Langston, and that leads to more rigorous work.
Dr. Marjorie Kaplan, executive director of Beat
the Odds Institute, said:
“Our award winners demonstrate that
demography is not destiny. They have overcome
obstacles and improved academic performance
through their commitment to our Six Keys to
Based on research, the keys are:
• A strong and steady principal;
• A clear bottom line;
• Ongoing assessment;
• Collaborative solutions;
• A program built on individual student needs;
• A commitment to stick with the program.
“Successful schools do things differently and
don’t make excuses,” Kaplan said.
Participation in Beat the Odds, now in its
seventh year, is open to K-12 public, charter and
tribal schools throughout the state.
Additional information is available at www.