On October 5, 2020, the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) Executive Committee passed a resolution expressing concerns with a proposal by the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) that would significantly revise the admissions process for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) in order to admit a greater number of under-represented groups of students. (Please click link to see resolution: MCA Resolution on Revision of TJHSST Admissions Process.) Specifically, the MCA raised concerns about a proposal to revise the TJ admissions process that Superintendent Brabrand first introduced September 15, 2020 and a revised proposal that Superintendent Brabrand introduced on October 3, 2020.
Under the most recent proposal, standardized admissions tests would be discontinued. Instead, students with a grade point average of at least 3.5 would be admitted as follows: admission of 100 of the 500 students projected for admission to TJ would be based on a holistic review of their application, including a student-completed profile form and a problem-solving essay. The remaining 400 or so seats would be filled through a merit lottery. The students admitted from Fairfax County not selected through the holistic review would be allocated in nearly equal percentages from among five regions within the County. The latter proposal was developed for presentation at a Fairfax County School Board (the Board) work session on October 6, 2020, and FCPS has indicated that it plans to submit this new admissions plan to the Commonwealth of Virginia Secretary of Education on or before October 9, 2020 and intends to implement the new admissions process for students entering in 2021.
The MCA expressed its support for efforts to make the student body of TJ more ethnically diverse but noted that it had considerable concerns with the haste with which this significant revision of the school’s admissions process was being considered and the lack of any publicly available data or analysis provided to Board members and to the public to justify or provide a rationale for the proposals, other than two PowerPoint presentations made available by FCPS. MCA also expressed concern with the lack of public hearings and opportunities for the public to comment on this proposal other than a one-hour video “town hall” that took place on September 23, 2020 to discuss the FCPS’ first proposal.
The MCA urged FCPS to: (1) provide more transparency on this dramatic revision of the TJ admission process; (2) prepare and make publicly available a formal report with a sufficient level of data so that the public and the School Board understand the rationale, merits, and impacts of the proposed admissions system; and (3) provide more opportunities and time for public review, comment and participation in a public hearing or hearings regarding proposed changes to the TJ admissions policies and procedures. The MCA also urged that Fairfax County and other jurisdictions with students that attend TJ establish a multi-jurisdictional Governing Board in order to bring the governance of TJ into conformity with Virginia regulations.