Thomas Jefferson High School admissions process will be altered to be more equitable, but school board officials are still not decided on with which of three different options it will proceed.
One option is a merit lottery, which was recommended by the Superintendent back in September. According to a press release from FCPS, “Lottery pathways based on geographic location will be developed, while the core class GPA will be raised from 3.0 to 3.5. Selection to TJHSST will be made by merit lottery. Pathways have been designed to ensure equitable access for students across all regions in FCPS and participating jurisdictions: Arlington County, Falls Church City, Loudoun County, and Prince William County.”
The merit lottery proposal has been met with opposition from many TJ families, some of whom have formed Coalition for TJ.
Coalition for TJ is a group that formed when the Superintendent first announced plans for a merit lottery admissions system. They’ve argued that by eliminating the application fee, the entrance exam, and the teacher recommendations, the school’s elite status will suffer. The group held a protest last Sunday, which they called a ‘Vigil for TJ’, where they encouraged those opposed to the merit lottery system to “Show our grief! Show our pain! Show our love! Show our pride!” Their complete list of requests can be found:
The proposal was submitted to the board by Superintendent Scott Braband in response to a mandate from the Governor’s office that every district would have to come up with a plan to increase diversity in education.
“I had the option to make these changes as bold or as [adherent to the] status quo as I wanted them to be. But I have to speak from the heart. The events of this country in the last few months have changed my heart. And I’ve checked my own conscience as an educator. It is time to do something other than the status quo.”
Another option being considered is a hybrid model, which would combine the merit lottery system with a more traditional approach. Under this system, the top one hundred scorers on a problem-solving essay would be guaranteed admission, and the remaining 400 spots would be subject to the merit lottery.
A third option being considered is to implement a holistic review. This would involve applicants completing a problem-solving essay, and admissions officials taking into account several ‘experience factors’, which would include socioeconomic background, English Language Learning history, and Special Education history.
No matter which admissions system the board chooses a consensus has been reached that the admissions test and application fee will be eliminated. These changes will be in place for the next admissions cycle.
“We believe that the student body of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology should be representative of all of our students in Fairfax County,” explained Brabrand. “My office will continue to collaborate closely with the School Board to ensure that the proposed changes will help all students have access to TJ based on the merit of their application and not based on test scores and unequal access to preparation programs,” Braband said in a news release from FCPS news on October 9, the day after the board voted to enact these changes.
In a virtual town hall held on Thursday, October 9th, Superintendent Braband fielded questions from FCPS parents and students who were able to call in. Dr. Braband was joined by Dr. Leona Smith-Vance, Director of Equity and Family Services, and Dr. Zuluaga, the regional assistant superintendent.
One theme that continually surfaced throughout the one-hour town hall was putting “Equity at the Center”.
Community members called in and sent emails voicing their support for or opposition to the changes.
One caller, Asra Normani who identified herself as a journalist and an FCPS mother, expressed frustration towards the superintendent’s efforts at increasing diversity in the schools.
“You have betrayed our families and our school and I cannot even understand how you can sit there and talk these talking points about our community when we have a mostly minority, mostly immigrant population that now feels under siege, and unwelcome.”
Normani has been a vocal advocate for the current admissions process at TJ. Her comments reflect a common notion among parents at TJ -- that because the school is mostly Asian American students (73 percent), a change in the admissions process would diminish opportunities for Asian American students.
Said Smith-Vance, “This is not taking away, this is giving to. We need to not make this about who is winning and who is losing. We recognize that all children at FCPS matter and count. When we have a process that shows us patterns of inequities, we have a moral responsibility to check that process. I’m proud of our efforts. We’re lowering barriers, not expectations.”
“Maybe for some, this feels like a bold move, this is been an over twenty-year conversation multiple boards and superintendents have tried and have not been successful at bringing more of the talent that already exists in our system into the admitted class of TJ. What happened the last few months is frankly the urgency of NOW. To do something different. The state also asked for a plan for every governor’s school and I believed in my own heart and soul that it was time to bring forward a change to the status quo.