The Alexandria School Board voted last week to accept a standing invitation from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology,l in Fairfax County. On a seven-to-two vote, the board overturned last year’s decision not to accept the invitation. Founded in 1986, Thomas Jefferson offers a comprehensive college preparatory program emphasizing the sciences, mathematics and technology.
“I believe in freedom of choice, and in America we have choice,” said board member Ken Foran. “Why stop a student from carrying their learning to the next level?”
The program will fund admission for two students next year. The invitation applies to all students entering ninth grade who reside in the city of Alexandria, and students will apply directly to Thomas Jefferson with the top two applicants eligible for admission. Students who are currently in seventh grade can apply in Fall 2006 for the 2007-08 school year.
Superintendent Rebecca Perry said that she was concerned about capping the number of students who were allowed to enroll. She said that she didn’t want to send letters to the third or fourth student who was accepted but couldn’t attend because of the School Board’s imposed cap of two.
Another concern about accepting the invitation was the possibility that money from the public-school budget could be used to pay tuition for a private-school student to attend a Fairfax County school. Nevertheless, a majority of board members felt that it was important to allow two Alexandria students the opportunity to attend the school.
“This is really a decision about values,” said board member Mark Eaton, a longtime advocate of the division’s participation in the Fairfax school.
The decision was opposed by Sally Ann Baynard and Mark Wilkoff, who were concerned about the academic and financial consequences that this would have on T.C. Williams High School.
“To think that this is not about money is to create a straw-horse argument,” Baynard said. “Of course this is about money. Everything is about money, and we’ll be very lucky to get our full budget this year with raises for teachers.”
After the vote was announced, School Board candidate Peter Smeallie said that he opposed the decision.
“We are going to lose AP classes at T.C. Williams,” said Smeallie, who is running for a seat in the city’s central district. “I think this is the wrong decision.”