Two AHPS Schools Boast State’s Top Gains In SOL Pass Rates

Two AHPS Schools Boast State’s Top Gains In SOL Pass Rates
Posted on 09/16/2022
JWIS ReadingLOW MOOR — Sharon Elementary School and Edgemont Primary School (now Jeter-Watson Elementary School) are outperforming other schools in the state on Virginia’s Standard of Learning assessments in their gains relative to previous years.

From 2019-2022, Sharon and Edgemont led the state in showing gains in overall Standards of Learning pass rates. They were also the top two schools participating in
the Comprehensive Instructional Program. 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.

The SOLs are utilized by the state to see if students are meeting learning expectations for core subject areas taught in grades K-12 in public schools. CIP schools in the state
identify the most successful teachers, participate in curriculum alignment, and share ideas/best practices and materials to help students improve their SOL scores. 
Sharon Elementary, a school with approximately 200 students, saw its SOL pass rates jump by 13 points over the most recent three-year period. In fact, Sharon and Edgemont were among only 12 schools in the CIP consortium that saw test scores improve.

The improved test scores came despite the statewide shutdown of Virginia 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.  At Edgemont, Principal Cynthia Morgan and her staff were quick to address learning loss by revamping the way reading is taught.  “We did a complete overhaul of our curriculum. We made up our own curriculum,” said Jessica Fauber, a literacy coach for Alleghany Highlands Public Schools. “We went back to teaching quality literature. Our students are now reading real books. Our team has gone above and beyond in personal education in training themselves.”   

Sharon Principal Ty Dobbs said the key to the success at his school is parents, teachers, and students working together. Jeter-Watson Principal Cynthia Morgan concurs and says teamwork has brought her school together.  “I will brag about my teachers all day long, and I will brag about my students to anyone who will listen,” said Dobbs.  “Our staff is committed and highly motivated to help provide an academic environment that provides students with reading instruction based on their level of mastery,” Morgan said. She was named principal at Edgemont Primary School in 2016, and she is now serving as principal of Jeter-Watson Elementary School. Jeter-Watson Elementary currently
serves students in PK-7th grade. 

Dobbs, now in his fourth year as principal at Sharon, vividly remembers the day schools across the state were shut down under order from the governor in March 2020 as the
COVID-19 pandemic worsened. Schools were forced to switch to online instruction.  “The kids left school crying. The teachers were crying. I mean there is a real partnership
here,” he said. “Some of our students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and they come here and believe they can have it better if they work harder.”

Undaunted by the crisis they were facing, Dobbs and his staff quickly realized that if online learning was going to work, a partnership would be needed among teachers,
students, parents, and the community.  Sharon’s teachers evaluated learning platforms that would best meet students’ needs, and they maintained contact with students and their parents on a daily basis. Zoom sessions were conducted two to three times a day. A bus was parked at the school to
serve as a mobile hotspot to allow students without Internet in their homes to gain online access. A drive through at the school allowed parents to pick up packets of resources needed for online learning.  “It was just a total team effort between the administrators, the teachers, students, community members, librarians, businesses, and even the Virginia Department of Health,” Dobbs said. “The teachers kept open lines of communications with the kids.  The kids did their part. The parents did their part. Everybody just worked together throughout that time.”

With school days back to normal, teachers at Sharon continue to capitalize on opportunities to provide personalized instruction to students.  “There is no substitute for hard work, and COVID taught us that you can’t replace a
teacher in a classroom. The teachers and the students here have a special sense of belonging to this school,” Dobbs said.  “Our community really backs our school. It’s a small community, but it’s a proud community. We sometimes refer to our school as a ‘hidden gem’ because it’s out in the
middle of nowhere. We are able to do what we do because everybody here believes in each other. I consider myself lucky to be a part of this school,” he said.  

At Edgemont Primary, Morgan and her staff made the best of online instruction, and they spent a great deal of time preparing for when students would return for personal
instruction in the fall of 2020. Teachers took advantage of having students back in school for in-class instruction four days a week when schools reopened.

The Edgemont staff implemented a detailed Orton-Gillingham Scope and Sequence to align its reading instruction from PK to third grade. Orton-Gillingham focuses on teaching students to read at the word level. It uses phonics to help students to grasp the sound-symbol relationship that is necessary to develop reading and writing skills.  “We strive to provide a quality literature-enriched and non-fiction-based curriculum to students that is engaging and academically rigorous,” Morgan said.  “We have all
embraced the Orton-Gilligham scope and sequence for phonics and spelling; they integrated specific instruction on the phonics skills; they integrated explicit instruction of
the phonics skills; as well as adamantly using Elkonin boxes and sentence dictation to work with their students daily.”  Elkonin boxes build phonological awareness skills by segmenting words into individual sounds, or phonemes. Phonemes are sounds that distinguish one word from another. In using an Elkonin box, a student listens to a word and moves a token into a box for each sound.  “The teachers have been so impressed with the students’ growth, that they now say Word Study is their favorite part of the day. The literature and nonfiction enriched curriculum have continued to work on the necessary literature knowledge, as well as increase the students’ comprehension abilities. It is obvious their evidence-based instructional methods are working,” Morgan said.  

Dobbs and Morgan were recently interviewed in webcasts that were viewed by their cohorts in other CIP schools across Virginia. They told the stories from Edgemont and
Sharon, and shared the methods and strategies that have made their schools so successful.  “We are immeasurably proud of all the students and staff of Alleghany Highlands Public Schools, including those associated with these fantastic gains. We know our community works hard to support each other and believe in each other, and simply put, that good attitude matters,” said Superintendent Kim Halterman.  “The staff and students of the division continue to show that teamwork and supporting each other can provide positive outcomes for all! We are so grateful for all these endeavors that bring success,” said Melinda Snead-Johnson, the assistant superintendent.

Snead-Johnson was superintendent of Covington City Schools when the instructional program for reading at Edgemont Primary School was overhauled to better serve

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