Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/centralphoenix/articles/1024cordova1024Z4.html

Cordova's philosophy to build on success
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 24, 2003
by Nora Fascenelli

Success builds success. That philosophy is in force at Cordova Primary School.

Arizona Learns released another set of labels last week, bringing out the tears, fears and cheers of educators statewide.

Cordova Primary School in the Alhambra district was among a handful of Valley schools ranked as "excelling," a label shared with fewer than a dozen schools in the Phoenix area.

It made the leap to the top of the heap, despite haggling with obstacles and challenges every day, and former Principal Elizabeth Hargrove credits a strong staff and creative teaching methods with the school's consistent success.

Of the 740 students enrolled in the school, nearly 90 percent come from low-income backgrounds qualifying them for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program. More than half the students are English language learners, struggling to master reading, writing and math skills wrapped in unfamiliar words.

Hargrove credits Cordova Primary's rank of "excelling" - the highest a school can have - to a strong, involved and sensitive staff.

Hargrove, now principal at Carol G. Peck Elementary, spent five years as principal at Cordova Elementary through June 2003. During that time, she saw students and teachers finding ways to improve their chances for success.

"Success builds success," Hargrove said. "Every teacher in that school believes students can do what's needed. That philosophy is at the forefront of everything we do."

Four years ago, Hargrove helped introduce the "Success for All" reading program, providing students with 90 minutes uninterrupted reading time every day. Much of that time is spent reading grade-level stories, but part of the day involves tackling material above the children's grade levels.

"We challenge them with tougher material than they're accustomed to," Hargrove said. "We push them, but not to the point of frustration."

Knowing your students well enough to sense when a child is dangerously close to being hopelessly discouraged is essential.

"Our methods allow teachers to spend time assessing each student, one-on-one, for word recognition, fluency and comprehension," she said. "Knowing where the kids are at any given time is key to giving them what they need."

Parent involvement is critical, so the school offers events and activities for families to take part in together, Hargrove said.

Although many parents in the district don't speak English, as many as 50 adults showed up for these monthly activities with their children. Interpreters were usually present, and the entire staff made every effort to provide a welcoming environment right from the start.

For the most part, kids want to please and they want to be successful, Hargrove said.

"But when a child makes bad decisions, it's important to let them know you're disappointed, and that can be more effective than any other kind of punishment or consequence," she said.

Hargrove's secrets to success include:

 Always focus on the kids. If it's good for kids, do it.

 Have a focused, purposeful mission that everyone is a part of.

 Work as a team. Deal with issues together instead of facing issues alone.

 Try to dovetail everything when setting goals.

 Know your staff, professionally and personally.

 Highlight the strengths of your staff and help them share ideas with others.

 Encourage teachers to get to know their students as well as possible.

Hargrove said celebrating opportunity and recognizing what is positive is far more important than dwelling on the negative.

Reach the reporter at nora.fascenelli@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-6930.