Thomas Jefferson School Dome

The Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is a regional magnet school on Braddock Road in Fairfax County. 

One of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s newest appointees to the Virginia Board of Education formed a group to fight admissions changes at one of the state’s most prestigious high schools.

Suparna Dutta, co-founder of the Coalition for TJ, was named to the board Thursday along with four other picks, including the executive director of the Virginia Council for Private Education. 

Dutta — an outspoken opponent of recently enacted eligibility criteria at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology — is likely to deepen already bitter partisan debate over Virginia’s public education system.

The Coalition for TJ launched months after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, a catalyzing event that spurred Fairfax County to revise the admissions process at a governor’s school long criticized for its low acceptance of Black and Latino students.

The group successfully challenged a new “holistic review” policy that eliminated the school’s $100 admission fee and two-part acceptance exam in favor of a broader GPA-based process. Staffers were not informed of a student’s race or ethnicity, but “experience factors” such as income level or special educational needs could be taken into consideration.

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Fairfax County to maintain the new admissions policy as legal challenges continue in lower courts. But Thomas Jefferson has remained a nexus of Virginia’s school culture wars, with Youngkin pledging to reverse the changes on the campaign trail. 

Dutta was also featured in one of the governor’s campaign videos. In a Thursday statement, Youngkin listed her among his group of “proven leaders” chosen to helm Virginia’s public education system.

“I have tasked these innovators to bring their expertise as parents, industry leaders, educators, and policymakers to ensure our classrooms and our campuses prepare students for success in life,” Youngkin stated.

“This includes providing equal access to educational opportunities regardless of background or zip code, protecting and promoting free speech, restoring the ability to have civil discourse, keeping tuition affordable, and ensuring that all Virginians have access to in-demand career pathways,” his statement continues. “Together, we will make Virginia the best place to learn across a lifetime.” 

Another board appointment is Grace Turner Creasey, executive director of the Virginia Council for Private Education, an accreditation and advocacy group for the state’s for-profit K-12 schools.

The governor also named Bill Hansen, who served as a deputy secretary of education under former President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003. Hansen is currently CEO of Building Hope, a national nonprofit dedicated to financing, constructing and providing operating assistance to charter schools.

Youngkin’s final appointments were Andrew Rotherham, a former board member and co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, a research nonprofit focused on improving outcomes for marginalized children, and Alan Seibert, the former superintendent of Salem City Schools.

Thursday’s appointments will give Youngkin a majority on the state’s Board of Education less than six months after his inauguration, a largely unprecedented accomplishment that could fundamentally change the trajectory of the state’s public education system.

While some state boards do not have supervisory authority over their corresponding agencies, that’s not the case for the Board of Education. Virginia’s constitution gives members broad power to review and revise the standards of accreditation for the state’s K-12 schools along with the Standards of Learning, which spell out minimum expectations for what students should know at every grade level.

Members can also approve textbooks and other instructional materials, certify lists of approved superintendents for every school district and initiate new education-related regulations. 

Some lawmakers and advocates have warned for months that a board majority could give Youngkin more leeway in circumventing the Virginia General Assembly, where his push for more charter schools, an attempted legislative ban on “divisive concepts” and legislation that would prohibit transgender student athletes have been blocked by Senate Democrats.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

(11) comments

Brad London

Excellent appointments by our duly elected governor. He's doing a great job.

John Deca

Gas prices and inflation have skyrocketed in Virginia ever since Youngkin became governor!

Ron Hilton

Thank you Governor Yongkin. Expect this kind of thing to become contagious across the commonwealth. People have seen the disasters democrats bring to everything they touch. Takes about a generation or so for people to forget the abject failure and bankrupt policies of leftist ideology. The cavalry is finally coming.

John Dutko

Trickle-down economics is a Republican golden shower.

Lynne June

Good. Discrimination using racial demographics is just wrong, and you don’t need a prep course to score well on admissions tests. I’ve stated this before and I’ll state it, again. My immigrant Vietnamese neighbors raised two hard-working, dedicated children, and supported them without any prep courses. Both were admitted to TJ. I also know of two children from a Caucasian family who were both accepted into TJ without prep courses. They both decided to stay at their neighborhood high school for the athletic opportunities. Admission on merit only. If there are children who do not have supportive homes or lack background information, start early with mentorship and small tutoring, assist parents with supportive strategies, and provide access to free prep.

Paul Benedict

More good news!

Kermit Robat

I will note that this article was authored by Kate Masters at the Virginia Mercury and not the InsideNova staff as I previously asserted.

Sacagawea Lax

Thank you Kermit, honesty is the best policy.

Right Larry?

[lol][lol][lol]

Kermit Robat

Excellent appointments by Governor Youngkin. You can feel the disdain the InsideNova staff has for these appointees, but they are excellent choices and will help to ensure that Virginia schools are serving the interests of students and families, not leftists.

Mike Hunt

Love it. Keep up the great work Governor! Need to end the ridiculous race discrimination and admit students on merit.

John Dutko

Wait till you find out about private schools and their policies.

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