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Loudoun School Board renews contract for Thomas Jefferson program

This year's eighth graders applying to Thomas Jefferson School of Science and Technology can breathe a sigh of relief. Though applications were due Sept. 29, the Loudoun School Board decided on Oct. 10 whether to end the county's involvement with the magnet school and ultimately voted to continue the relationship.

After nearly an hour-long debate, the School Board voted 7-2 with Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Tom Marshall (Leesburg) opposed to signing the contract between Fairfax County Public Schools, TJ and Loudoun County Public Schools for the next school year.

“In the end what we're looking at is providing additional opportunity,” Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said. “A lot of our students have different needs, and I don't see the gifted children having any different priority over any other child in the county or any other program in the county, and I believe if they have a need we can fill, even if that need is in Fairfax County, we have that responsibility to at least consider that.”

The debate came down to whether the Academies of Loudoun, set to open in fall 2018, should replace the TJ program. Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) proposed amending the contract to say currently enrolled students would continue to attend the school, but the county would not allow new students to enroll.

“I think it's time we make a statement that we believe in what we're doing in the Academies of Loudoun through [Academy of Engineering and Technology] and [Academy of Science], which is why we've invested so heavily in them,” Hornberger said. “We need to invest not only our treasure, but our talent. We need to make sure our students – all our students – gain the benefits the few students we send to TJ every year and that they come and make our high schools stronger, our county of Loudoun stronger.”

Turgeon also said this conversation has been going on for years and in looking to create the Academies of Loudoun, previous school boards and LCPS staff were looking for a replacement program to better fit Loudoun's students. The county has spent years building up programs like Academy of Science and Academy of Engineering and Technology and though the joint academies will be new next year, the programming behind it has been active and established, she said.

“We are only in Fairfax right now because we didn't have anything here,” Turgeon said. “And it's always been sold, or it's always been presented as we are bringing gifted education back to Loudoun County. We are developing a gifted program in Loudoun so we can keep the gifted students in Loudoun.”

Marshall agreed with Hornberger and Turgeon, saying he's concerned that continuing Loudoun's participation in the TJ program sends the message that the Academies are second best to TJ.

Morse cautioned that in ending the relationship with TJ, the county would not be able to restart it later and the board should allow students and families to choose the education that meets their needs, not take options away and have them feeling the Academies is “all they're left with.”

“I know people who won't commute to Alexandria for pay. These are kids going there to do homework and choosing to do that,” Joy Maloney (Broad Run) said. “I'm going to support this as long as there's kids willing to do that.”

Debbie Rose (Algonkian) and Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) wanted more time to talk the issue over with constituents. Hornberger and Turgeon said one of the problems of the year-to-year contract is that it is on Fairfax's timetable. Applications to TJ were due by Sept. 29 and the school board got the letter about signing next year's contract on Sept. 13, Hornberger said.

Hornberger's proposed amendment failed 3-6 with Hornberger, Marshall and Turgeon in favor and the board approved signing the contract 7-2. Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) pointed out that Fairfax County requests in its letter that Loudoun let FCPS know by June 2018 if Loudoun plans to discontinue its participation so board members should speak to constituents as it will likely have the conversation again closer to that deadline.


How was it even a debate?  Not giving the TJ opportunity to our kids is a failure on the part of any School Board that declines to provide it.  To deny it would be equal to saying to your HS Senior that he/she can only go to an in-state university as opposed to any university that best allows him/her to succeed.

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