Fairfax Co. tweaks options for admission to prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School

It’s clear that admission to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is prestigious and sought-after — what hasn’t been clear for years is how students should be admitted.

In September, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand proposed a radical overhaul of how it admits students to the elite magnet school, located on Braddock Road, in the Alexandria area of the Virginia county, in an effort to develop a more diverse student body.

The proposal spurred complaints from some that the change would lower academic standards and be unfair to high-achieving students.

Monday, Brabrand and school officials presented the School Board with two final options — a lottery system or a so-called “holistic review.”

In both scenarios, eighth-graders would need to have a 3.5 grade-point average, write a math or science problem-solving essay, and submit a “student portrait sheet,” which details extracurricular activities and the student’s achievements.

Previously, the board approved the decision to drop a school-specific admissions test and a $100 application fee.

School staff would consider a student’s “experience factors,” including whether they are low-income, learning English, special needs, or from a school that hasn’t historically sent many students to TJ.

Under the lottery option, the 100 “highest-evaluated” students would be admitted, while the remaining 450 students would be chosen by lottery.

Under the “holistic review” option, all 550 students would be chosen through the evaluation process.

During a Monday virtual meeting, the school system’s Chief Operating Officer Marty Smith said if the lottery system was chosen, students wouldn’t be made aware of how they got admitted.

“We wouldn’t let a student know ‘you were chosen in the first 100, and the others were chosen by lottery,'” Smith said. “Students would just get a letter of invitation to TJ.”

The school board is expected to vote on its choice later this month, with the new admissions policy beginning immediately for the upcoming TJHSST Class of 2025.

Watch the Fairfax County School Board Meeting discussion on TJHSST’s admission policies:

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of Fairfax County Public Schools’ chief operating officer.

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