The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

On behalf of the Loudoun County School Board, Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) penned a letter Saturday to the Fairfax County School Board expressing concern with potential changes to the admissions process at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

During a digital FCSB work session Sept. 15, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand proposed the following: that the number of Loudoun County Public Schools students be capped at 62 for the coming school year; that students be accepted via a "Merit Lottery;" and that the required grade point average for application be raised to 3.5, while skills testing and cognitive testing be eliminated from the application process.

According to FCSB documents, the proposed changes are intended to make the school's population "reflect the diversity of FCPS, the community and Northern Virginia," as well as "enhance diversity and inclusion at TJHSST."

While the current Thomas Jefferson freshman class is 73 percent Asian, 18 percent white and 5 percent or less other races, FCPS officials estimate the "Merit Lottery" system would alter those percentages to more equitably represent Fairfax County, resulting in a student body that is 54 percent Asian, 25 percent white, 8 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Black and 6 percent two or more races.

Per Brabrand's presentation, the "Merit Lottery" would entail applicants being placed into "lottery pathways" based on their base schools' regions, after which students are "randomly selected within their pathways" and allowed a certain timeframe to accept, followed by a rolling admissions process to "keep a class of 500."

In her letter, Sheridan said she and other LCSB representatives were "particularly concerned" with the "Merit Lottery" proposal and the fact that Brabrand's presentation did not include "specific information … regarding the format, rules, and consequences of such a lottery."

She said the board was "most concerned," however, by the proposed limit of 62 LCPS students admitted to TJ, compared to the 98 students who received offers in this year's freshman class. She further highlighted that Brabrand proposed 350 seats be allocated to FCPS students next year.

"[The cap] would limit Loudoun's students to 17% of the number of seats allocated to FCPS," Sheridan wrote. "As the Governor's School for Science and Technology in Northern Virginia, TJHSST receives significant state funding from the Virginia Department of Education. It is supposed to serve all of Northern Virginia's students, and it should do so in a manner that does not benefit some Northern Virginia school divisions more than others."

Regarding the proposed GPA requirement — which in the current process is only 3.0 — and the elimination of skills and cognitive testing, Sheridan said "increased pressure on teachers to inflate grades for students to meet the GPA qualification" may result, as well as increased difficulty for "students who don't have equitable support systems already in place to meet that qualification bar."

Finally, the chairwoman noted Thomas Jefferson does not have a regional governing board responsible for developing policies for the school, even though the VDOE states Governor's Schools are to have such bodies. She thus suggested FCPS, LCPS and other participating school systems discuss the creation of a governing board.

"Revising the admissions process to reflect the diversity of students in Northern Virginia is a laudable goal," Sheridan wrote. "However, we urge the FCPS School Board to make changes to [the] admissions process for TJHSST cautiously, and with an amount of deliberation commensurate with the scope of the changes."

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