CORDOVA — The volleyball team won its inaugural match. Discipline referrals have dropped. And the school has a “new to you” computer lab.
The Rohanen Rebels have become the Cordova Cavaliers, and along with the new name and campus has come a new attitude, administrators and students agree.
“It’s been a much more positive start (to the school year),” eighth-grader Elena Torres said Monday. “That’s the main thing. We’re just able to break through the mold people set for us” at Rohanen, a chunky brown school separated from the world by a forbidding chain-link fence.
“We used to be called the Rohanen Roaches,” said classmate Carolina Mendez.
To which Torres added: “We used to always talk ourselves down. After being in a school that had such low expectations (from the community) … It taught us a lot of humility. “
Now, though, said Torres, “there’s more school pride — a lot more.”
A new, prim neighborhood, a better building and a bright green sports field won’t amount to a panacea for all of the ills carried from Rohanen to the new Cordova Middle School.
For example, last year’s rankings for student achievement were low, except for bright spots in sixth- and eighth-grade language arts, and eighth-grade science.
The school as a whole moved from 48.1 percent overall competency to 52.04 percent, which is significant growth but still fell short of the school goal, earning a “D” from the state Department of Public Instruction in rankings released last month.
Principal Robert Ransom is beginning his second year with the school. Superintendent Cindy Goodman says she has “a lot of confidence in his leadership.”
“We need to be at 54.5 or 55” to become a “C”-rated school, Ransom said Monday. “We feel we’re on the right track.”
For the second year, students are recording their own development on their “benchmark” tests, given throughout the year to measure student progress toward competency. Each student has an individual index card for the purpose.
“Students are becoming owners of their data,” said Julie McCoy, the school’s academic coach. They use graphs to record their progress or its lack, and then they compete with their friends.
“There’s a kind of internal competition, too,” she said — “you don’t want to let your teacher down.”
But the emphasis isn’t totally on scores and grades. The school also honors “spotlight students” for their hard work and studious habits, even when their grades may not be stellar.
“You can’t control a whole lot of things during the day,” Ransom tells them. “But you can control the effort you bring” to studies.
The school also is in the second year of PBIS: Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support. Last year was a planning year; this is the first year of implementation.
During the first 10 days of school, homeroom teachers took their students to hot spots of student misbehavior — the gym, the bus line, the bathrooms — to model proper behavior at each.
And they handed out “coins” to those who had evidenced good behavior. Students who accumulate enough coins may buy something from the student store when it’s up and running. Or they may take part in FriYAY activities the last Friday of each month.
In September, FriYAY students spent 90 minutes eating popcorn and playing video games while their classmates attended “encore” enrichment classes or PE.
Every week, the top five PBIS winners in each class are announced on school news and over the public-address system. They win VIP seating at lunch and first-in-line privileges as they depart school for the day. Or they may choose tickets to high school sports events.
It’s not always the goody-goodies who win these privileges either, administrators said, but a variety of students.
Discipline slips also are down this year — only 20 in the first 24 days of school.
“Just to be under 20 in October, that’s remarkable,” said assistant principal Tina McNeill, especially considering that PBIS programs usually don’t display positive results for three to five years.
That means suspensions, in school and out, are dropping. Which means students are spending more time in class.
Ransom also hopes to turn around teacher turnover. Last year, midyear departures interrupted several classes.
He — and Superintendent Goodman — take it as a good omen that, for the first time ever, a new teacher coming to the district chose the Rohanen/Cordova school after touring the district.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673.