Last night, after seemingly months of debate on the topic, the Fairfax County School Board finally debated and voted on “options for revising the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) admissions process.” For some background on this issue, see:
- Audio: VA Secretary of Education Atif Qarni Argues for Changes in Admissions to Governor’s Schools to Increase Diversity; Says “It will only make these schools better”
- Video: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology Alumni Speak in Support of Merit Lottery Plan
- Loudoun County School Board Sends Letter to Fairfax County School Board Expressing Concerns Over Changes to “TJ” Admissions Process
- Thomas Jefferson High School Alumni Action Group Endorses Merit Lottery System for “TJ” Admissions
- Prince William County School Board Votes Unanimously In Support of Improving Diversity of “TJ” Admissions, Establishing Regional Governing Board
So the options last night were:
- Main Motion 1 (Hybrid Merit Lottery) – “Highest-evaluated 100 are offered admission regardless of pathway; Remaining 450 students are chosen by random lottery from highly evaluated applicants within pathways; Top 100 students will not be counted toward pathway caps”
- Main Motion 2 (Holistic Review) – the elements of the review being “GPA, Student portrait sheet, Problem solving essay, Experience Factors, Economically Disadvantaged, English Language Learner, Special Education, Underrepresented Schools”
- Also Main Motion 3 (Omeish) (“to require that the test (essay and SIS) be administered locally, at each middle school, to all eligible students (i.e. who meet the 3.5 GPA and Algebra 1 requirements), and to provide the opportunity to opt-out of taking the test should they so choose, by the admissions cycle for the class of 2026 (next year). To opt-out would be to eliminate oneself from consideration for TJ”)
As you can see below (click to enlarge), the Board was divided on the different options. First, the Hybrid Merit Lottery failed 4-8, with yes votes by Chair Ricardy J Andersonr, Karen A Keys-Gamarra, Abrar Omeish, Karl V Frisch; and no votes by Megan McLaughlin, Melanie K Meren, Rachna S Heizer, Elaine V Tholen, Tamara D Kaufax, Karen Corbett Sanders, Vice Chair Stella Pekarsky, and Laura Jane H Cohen.
Then, the Holistic Review passed 10-1-1, with yes votes by Melanie K Meren, Rachna S Heizer, Elaine V Tholen, Tamara D Kaufax, Karen Corbett Sanders, Karen A Keys-Gamarra, Vice Chair Stella Pekarsky, Abrar Omeish, Laura Jane H Cohen, Karl V Frisch; a no vote by Chair Ricardy J Anderson; and an abstention by Megan McLaughlin
And Abrar Omeish’s “opt-out” proposal passed 11-1, with only Melanie Meren voting no.
Here’s the Fairfax County School Board’s press release:
The Fairfax County School Board has voted to change the admissions policy for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) to a holistic review to improve diversity at the school. The new process will be used to select the class of 2025 at TJHSST. Established in 1985, TJHSST is a governor’s school offering a comprehensive college preparatory program emphasizing the sciences, mathematics, and technology.
“The Board sought to develop an admissions policy that recognized historical inequities and addressed racial and socioeconomic barriers to students while maintaining the high standards for which the school is known,” said School Board Chair Ricardy Anderson. “The process which resulted in several bold decisions by the Board—after very careful deliberation—included input from known experts and internal stakeholders, and examined the admissions policies of similar magnet schools and a review of the literature.”
A holistic review will be done of students whose applications demonstrate enhanced merit; 550 seats will then be offered to the highest-evaluated students. The top 1.5 percent of the eighth grade class at each public middle school meeting the minimum standards will be eligible for admission. Students will be evaluated on their grade point average (GPA); a portrait sheet where they will be asked to demonstrate Portrait of a Graduate attributes and 21st century skills; a problem-solving essay; and experience factors, including students who are economically disadvantaged, English language learners, special education students, or students who are currently attending underrepresented middle schools.
The new admissions policy also includes sending recruitment communications to all eligible students, targeted recruitment of underrepresented students, presentations to students and parents, and a virtual open house, all available in multiple languages.
And here’s a reaction by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax/Prince William), who has been a leader on this issue: “Pleased to see that the Fairfax County School Board has taken action to follow Ivy League Universities and other major colleges by creating a more holistic admissions process for Thomas Jefferson High School For Science and Technology. 36th District children will finally have a chance to get in.”