This September Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology will potentially be welcoming its largest freshman class, 440 to 450 students. The class of 2006 will also be one of the most diverse in recent years represented by an increase in black and Hispanic students.
It is also the first class since the Fairfax County School Board revamped the admissions process in an attempt to attract students from middle schools that have traditionally been underrepresented at the magnet school.
"We have admitted 449 students which is significantly higher than what we have admitted in the past," said Christel Payne, admissions coordinator at Jefferson. "We only five FCPS base schools with less than 10 students admitted. We accomplished the objective."
THE OBJECTIVE as set by the School Board in December was to increase the enrollment by as much as 30 students, with those students coming from school-attendance areas with fewer than 10 students admitted to Jefferson, and consideration given to those receiving free or reduced-priced meals.
All of the publicity generated by the admissions debate helped raise awareness about Jefferson, which resulted in more minorities applying to the school, said schools superintendent Daniel Domenech.
"Minorities were accepted without the additional seats. The changes did not affect the number of minorities accepted," Domenech said. "The minority students who get in, got in on their own accord. The additional seats did what they were supposed to do, to increase the underrepresented schools."
Domenech said that while 449 acceptance letters went out to students, the exact size of the freshman class will not be known until the summer. The school typically accepts an additional 10 students over the summer and not everyone who has been accepted elects to attend the school.
A POOL OF 800 qualified students was selected from 2,884 applicants. Eight different committees, consisting of a teacher, a counselor, an administrator, a human relations expert and an out-of-county educator, spent four days reviewing the applications. Each application is read by three committees and the members vote individually on each candidate. Four hundred and twenty students were selected from the pool of 800. A special oversight committee then reviewed a pool of 39 students from eight of the middle schools considered underrepresented to fill the remaining slots.
The initial pool of 800 resulted in nine of 11 black students, 20 of 34 Hispanic students, zero out of three Native American students, 232 of 507 whites students, 123 of 183 Asian students and 10 of 15 undesignated students being accepted.
The second round, which gave consideration to the underrepresented schools, saw 29 additional students accepted including one black, three multiracial, seven Asian, 17 white and one undesignated.
THE POLICY change left only Whitman in Mount Vernon, Twain in Alexandria, Holmes in Alexandria, Poe in Annandale and Key in Springfield with fewer then 10 students admitted. Last year, 14 middle schools saw fewer than 10 students admitted to Jefferson.
Even so, five middle schools, Thoreau in Vienna, Franklin in Chantilly, Frost in Fairfax, Longfellow in Falls Church and Cooper in McLean accounted for 134 of 355 county's public school students accepted.
"I do think we need ethnic diversity at Jefferson and we don't need the geographic areas represented," said Matthew Wansley, the student representative to the School Board and a junior at Jefferson. "I don't see the advantage in it, but it didn't hurt anyone."
Wansley has continuously objected to trying to increase racial diversity at Jefferson by focusing on the geographic location of the middle schools the students attend. He has instead favored making Jefferson accessible to all students by offering test preparation courses to prepare them for the admissions test.