Office of Education

Disciplined Thought, Disciplined Action and Disciplined People Lead to Student Achievement

By Dr. Sybil Francis, Executive Director, Center for the Future of Arizona
Friday, Mar. 25, 2016

At the Center for the Future of Arizona, we believe successful schools do things differently.

So in 2006, we embarked on a study that asked one question -- What does it take to get great results in schools with mostly low income, mostly Latino students?

 With the active involvement of Jim Collins, researchers embarked upon a comprehensive study to answer that question. Applying Collins’ “Good to Great” business methodology, researchers identified six keys to success to drive change and overcome obstacles in predominantly Latino and low-income schools.

 We also discovered a critical link between a strong principal and student success. It became our goal to provide tools and resources that would help school leaders improve student performance and academic achievement, and drive equity and excellence in education.

 We set out to provide school leaders training, tools, and resources necessary to rapidly accelerate achievement for struggling students, while ensuring at the same time middle and high-achieving, low-income students and students of color continue to excel. 

Since 2007, Beat the Odds has been successfully delivering training and materials designed to help principals improve student achievement, developing peer groups with whom they share and learn, and mentors, all of which are focused on the six keys for success:

  • Clear bottom line - Beat the Odds schools emphasize the achievement of every student and take responsibility for performance. No excuses.
  • Ongoing assessment - They are willing to assess individual student performance early and often. What's working and what's not? How can we use data in the classroom to drive improvement?
  • Strong and steady principal - Leaders are focused on those things that truly improve student achievement and they keep pushing ahead no matter what the roadblocks.
  • Collaborative solutions - Problem solving is pushed through the ranks, not concentrated at the top.
  • Stick with the program - It’s not about any particular program. It's about selecting a good one, sticking with it, and making it better and better.
  • Built to suit - Schools that beat the odds find ways to customize instruction and interventions to fit the needs of each child. One size does not fit all.

Since the inception of the program, more than 200 schools have participated in the Beat the Odds program and experienced unprecedented success. As with any successful school venture, the results are best told through success stories.

Principal Michael Dunbar

 At Arizona Collegiate High School in Phoenix, Principal Michael Dunbar is driven by creativity -- from overcoming obstacles to celebrating student success. When he opened the high-poverty charter school in 2011, his high school students averaged a seventh grade reading level and fifth grade in math. Just getting students to come to school was a challenge.

 With innovation and a new approach, Dunbar and his team knocked down barriers with creativity. In the school’s first four years, it catapulted to outstanding achievement. 

Principal Alyssa Tarkington

At Coronado High School in Scottsdale, Principal Alyssa Tarkington has a clear vision to ensure that every student graduates with career and college readiness. It’s more than a mission statement gathering dust. It’s putting in-depth, well-thought collaborative solutions and creative ideas into real action and Tarkington and her team delved deep to define the true meaning and how to make the vision a reality at Coronado.

At Coronado, regardless of whether a student aspires to enter the workforce, pursue studies on a specific career path or go to college, each one is “linked” to his or her future after high school. “It is our responsibility to ensure that these links are made for each and every student,” Tarkington said.

Accelerated Learning Academy

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community's Accelerated Learning Academy provides at-risk students with an opportunity to earn a high school diploma and the resources to turn their lives around. Mary Ann Wood, the Academy's alternative sites administrator, has supervised the credit-recovery school – a main campus and an auxiliary campus in the Salt River Department of Corrections – since 2007.

"Since becoming a Beat the Odds partner, our school has transformed," Wood said. "When it seemed there was no way, my mentor Marty Hoeffel helped us figure it out and find a way to make it happen. Beat the Odds is very unique, and mentorship has been a big benefit."

Melissa Marze

After three years of participation in Beat the Odds, Sheely Farms Elementary in the Tolleson School District is one of only seven schools to achieve gold medal status and be conferred the title of Beat the Odds School in 2016. Melissa Marze became principal of Sheely Farms Elementary in 2012, and in the same year, she began participation in Beat the Odds, embracing the Six Keys to Success. “We modeled the principles to fit our school and modeled them for effectiveness across the board,” she said.

In her journey through the Beat the Odds program, Marze says she improved her ability to analyze data and formulate a formative plan based on that data. With Jeff Sprout as her mentor, she said, “Our instruction has become more intentional and has resulted in better academic performance based on data.”

We are very proud of the hard work that has taken place in the past several years and look forward to finding new and innovative ways to support school leaders and educate Arizona students. To learn more about CFA’s efforts to create the Arizona we want with the education we need, visit

Dr. Sybil Francis


Dr. Sybil Francis is helping to define and shape Arizona’s future through an action-oriented agenda focused on issues of critical importance to the state. Along with Dr. Lattie Coor, she was part of the founding team of CFA and serves as the organization’s Executive Director. She is engaged in all aspects of the center’s work.

More than a think tank, CFA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit “do tank” that combines research with collaborative partnerships and initiatives that serve the common good and drive the state’s economic prosperity, quality of life and civic health.

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