Effort Renewed to Increase Diversity at TJ

Effort Renewed to Increase Diversity at TJ

Proposal Could Open Door for New Admissions Policy

As one of his final acts as a Fairfax County School Board member, Robert Frye (At large) is advocating for changes to the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology's admission policy, which would increase the diversity of the school.

At the current board's final meeting next week, Frye will be requesting support for the appointment of a blue-ribbon panel to develop admissions criteria that increases diversity, while maintaining the focus on math, science and technology. In addition, the resolution directs schools staff to study the impacts of using a minimum cut score to determine the applicant pool rather than the current method of massing an applicant pool of the top 800 students.

"We need to make sure we provide the best, well-rounded high-school experience to our students," said Frye of his effort to increase the diversity.

FOR YEARS, the School Board has struggled with ways to attract more minority students to the school — which focuses on an education in math, science and technology.

"Within the community there is so much talk about TJ being one of the best public high schools in the nation. And it's the only Governor's School in Northern Virginia, but there is also talk about its becoming less reflective of the diversity in Northern Virginia," said School Board member Ernestine Heastie (Providence). "The students at TJ need to be exposed to diversity. The diversity we have in our other schools."

Since the school was created in 1985, diversity has been a problem, in some cases with minority populations totaling in the single digits. In the past, the School Board has tried increasing the enrollment and providing preparatory admission tests. Yet the most recent freshman class, the class of 2007, admitted to the school in May included 269 whites, three blacks, 13 Hispanics, 136 Asians, 25 students identified as multiracial and four students who listed their ethnicity as "other."

The number of blacks and Hispanics accepted this year decreased compared to last year, when 10 black students and 20 Hispanics were invited to be a part of the class of 2006. A total of 2,618 students applied for admission to the class of 2007. Each year 450 students are accepted.

As a Governor's School, Jefferson accepts students from both public and private schools in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince Williams counties, and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, who meet the entrance requirements.

BRAD DRAEGER, the interim chief academic officer, said the school system has already been contacted by several professors and other professionals interested in serving on the panel, many of whom have been studying the diversity issue at Jefferson in relation to their own collegiate work.

"We've tried to pick up where Nancy Sprague [the pervious chief academic officer who died unexpectedly in October] left off. … It was clear she was looking at a couple of different things," Draeger said.

Nicholas Fischer, the assistant superintendent for instructional services, said there are two issues to overcome before any changes in the admission policy can be made: first, the school's admission policy does not include language promoting diversity; and second, deciding what approach should be taken to develop a new policy and its implementation.

Draeger said Frye's proposed resolution can be used as a road map for the staff to develop a new policy.

"I propose we take Mr. Frye's resolution and come back to the board [with a proposed policy change.] The admissions policy really hasn't changed much over the years."

The board's final meeting of the year is slated for Thursday, Dec. 18, beginning at 7:30 p.m., at Luther Jackson Middle School. The board will need to approve Frye's resolution before staff can begin work on drafting a potential new admissions policy.