Students from Arlington’s public-school system will represent about 5 percent of the incoming freshman class at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology.
A total of 25 APS students have been offered admission to the regional magnet school. Theirs were among 485 admissions slots offered to rising ninth-graders from the jurisdictions that make up the Jefferson catchment area: Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties and the city of Falls Church.
Fairfax students represented the largest contingent to be offered admission, about 72 percent. Eighth-graders who apply for admission take an examination, but also are judged based on grades, an essay, teacher recommendations and “student-authored information sheet.”
Arlington school leaders have long had what might be described as a complicated relationship with Thomas Jefferson.
When the school opened in 1985, Arlington was among jurisdictions that declined to allow students to compete for spots – fearing a “brain drain” from the county’s high schools. To this day, and for much the same reason, Alexandria school officials do not participate.
Arlington school leaders in the 1990s relented, but with a twist: They required parents of students winning admission to “TJ” to pay tuition costs. That stopped after the school system received a sternly worded warning from the Virginia Department of Education.
Several Arlington School Board members in recent years have criticized participation, saying the admissions process is riddled with problems and that Fairfax officials are not collaborative with other school districts in management of the school.
(Two of the most vocal in this regard – Emma Violand-Sanchez and James Lander – have since left the board, and more recent arrivals on the dais have been better disposed toward ongoing participation in the regional school.)
Arlington school officials for a time mulled the idea of trying to replicate a Thomas Jefferson-type program exclusively for Arlington students, but the concept never got very far – the small (albeit growing) size of the school district would have made such a program an impractical luxury.
Arlington school officials, however, did authorize development of Arlington Tech, which combines academics with STEM-related workforce training.