Editor: Your recent article, “School Board Split on Thomas Jefferson Extension,” makes it sound like we’d be saving millions of dollars by getting rid of the option. People have opinions on both sides of this issue; I support keeping the TJ option for a number of reasons, but the cost savings implied by the article are simply not reality.
We send around 250-300 students to TJ in total every year, at a cost of roughly $17,500 per student. So yes, that’s $4-5 million dollars. But if you took any arbitrary 300 students at a Loudoun County high school and multiplied it by the per-pupil average (currently around $14,500), you would get nearly as much that we’re spending to educate them here.
If those kids weren’t going to TJ, it’s not like the cost to educate them is $0. You’re not saving those $5 million by keeping them in Loudoun. You’re going to spend very nearly that much, based on the LCPS per-pupil averages, to educate them at a LCPS high school. And, if those students go to one of our specialized programs such as the Academy of Science (AOS) or the Academy of Engineering & Technology (AET), those costs are even higher. So, there might be some nominal cost savings, but it’s a fraction of that $5 million at most.
I said last year to the School Board that if they really were determined to cut ties with TJ, to “make the Academies of Loudoun, and our gifted programs in general, so competitive and robust that no one from Loudoun applies to TJ. When that happens, you’ll know that we have succeeded.”
But that’s not happening. In fact, 30 more Loudoun rising ninth graders were offered admission to TJ in fall 2019 as compared to fall 2018 (83 vs. 53). So clearly, there is still very much a demand.
Instead of taking options away, what we should do is significantly expand our STEM and gifted options, both in breadth (seats, curricula, opportunities) and depth (quality).
Let’s expand and enhance AOS and AET as cutting-edge programs to compete with TJ, with enough seats for all qualified applicants. We’ll need to listen to a wide variety of perspectives—including the students in those programs—to figure out exactly what that should look like. At a high level, I think we should at least consider merging AOS and AET and provide students more flexibility in the courses within them that they take, to offer the “best of both worlds” in the research and engineering paths.
Let’s also bolster STEM programs at all of our high schools. Demand is clearly outstripping supply. Just because a student might not be accepted at or even desire to attend TJ, AOS, or AET, they should still be able to find a challenging, enriching curriculum at ALL of our Loudoun high schools.
Ian Serotkin, Purcellville
Note: The writer is a candidate for the Blue Ridge District School Board seat.