Jeter-Watson Reading Initiative Draws Statewide Attention

Jeter-Watson Reading Initiative Draws Statewide Attention
Posted on 07/12/2023

LOW MOOR — An innovative reading initiative at Jeter-Watson Elementary School has gained statewide notoriety by being listed on the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2023 Showcases for Success directory. The directory highlights successful K-12 programs in Virginia public schools.

Thanks to the reading initiative supported by Principal Cynthia Morgan and her staff, Jeter-Watson recently outperformed other schools in the state on Virginia’s Standard of Learning assessments in gains relative to previous years. Many foundational reading skills are taught in the early elementary grades.

“In addition to highlighting some of the best practices taking place in Virginia’s schools, the VSBA Showcases for Success directory can serve as a starting point to develop similar programs in other school divisions,” said Gina G. Patterson, VSBA Executive Director. “It is important to highlight the innovative and top of the line programs that Virginia Public Schools have to offer, and the VSBA Showcases for Success directory illustrates that there are excellent programs and initiatives taking place in Virginia’s public schools.”

Prior to the 2022-2023 school year, Jeter-Watson Elementary was known in part as Edgemont Primary School. Edgemont Primary School was part of Covington City Public School and served grades PreK-3. In July 2022, Covington City Public Schools, Alleghany County Public Schools, and Jackson River Technical Center merged to create Alleghany Highlands Public Schools. In the fall of 2022, Edgemont Primary School and Jeter-Watson Intermediate School were combined to form Jeter-Watson Elementary School. 

From 2019-2022, Edgemont led the state as one of the top schools in showing gains in overall Standards of Learning pass rates. It was one of the top schools participating in the Comprehensive Instructional Program as well. The CIP is a consortium of approximately 300 public schools (40-plus divisions and growing) in Virginia working together to improve student achievement as measured by the SOLs. AHPS’ Sharon Elementary School achieved similar test score results.  

The state uses SOL assessments to measure if students are meeting learning expectations for core subject areas taught in grades K-12.  Edgemont and Sharon were among only 12 schools in the CIP consortium that achieved higher test scores in the selected time period. The improved test scores came despite the statewide shutdown of public schools in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students were forced to rely upon virtual learning platforms, and the after effects continued when in-person instruction resumed in 2021.

Staff at Jeter-Watson Elementary School, then known in part as Edgemont Primary School, worked together to identify new methods and techniques school-wide that could propel reading success.  Morgan and her staff were quick to address learning loss by revamping the way reading is taught. Teachers began using the Orton-Gilligham method to teach reading under the direction of their Literacy Coach, Jessica Fauber. Orton-Gilligham breaks reading and spelling down into smaller skills using letters and sounds. Teachers then work with students to build on those skills over a period of time. 

“We did a complete overhaul of our curriculum. We made our own curriculum to meet our students’ needs and align with the VDOE Standards,” said Jessica Fauber, a literacy coach for Alleghany Highlands Public Schools. 

“We went back to teaching quality literature and phonics. Our students are now reading real books, and they are reading on grade level. Students are taught to encode and decode effectively, and we know that every child deserves the right to learn to read.  Our team has gone above and beyond in personal education in training themselves. We are almost at 100 percent of our K through fourth grade teachers trained in LETRS and Orton Gillingham,” she said. 

LETRS is a professional learning course for teachers who work with students on reading, spelling, and related language skills. It provides teachers with science of reading training that can be used in any reading program.

Morgan, who has been principal of the school since 2016, said the changes wouldn't have been successful without the cooperation of parents, teachers, staff, and students. Prior to the merger in 2022, the Edgemont staff implemented a detailed Orton-Gillingham scope and sequence to align its language arts instruction from PK to third grade.      

“Our staff is committed and highly motivated to help provide an academic environment that provides students with reading instruction based on the fundamentals of the science of reading,” Morgan said. “We strive to provide a quality literature-enriched and non-fiction-based curriculum to students that is engaging and academically rigorous.” 

Sixty-four education programs from 30 school divisions across Virginia are featured in the VSBA’s 27th annual Showcases for Success. The directory is available on the VSBA web site at

“We are always excited to see the wonderful work of the Alleghany Highlands Public Schools staff recognized and are delighted that Jeter-Watson has been recognized in VSBA’s Showcases for Success,” said Kim Halterman and Melinda Snead-Johnson, leaders of AHPS. “We know great things are happening in the Alleghany Highlands, and it is wonderful to know others may recognize this across Virginia.”

The Alleghany Highlands Public Schools division is jointly funded by Alleghany County and the City of Covington. The school division serves approximately 2,700 students.

School division news and events are regularly updated on Facebook at AHPublicSchools, and on the AHPS website
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