Loudoun School Leaders Consider Pulling Out Of TJ - Leesburg Today Online—Daily News Coverage of Loudoun County, Leesburg, Ashburn: Schools

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Loudoun School Leaders Consider Pulling Out Of TJ

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Posted: Friday, February 15, 2013 5:05 pm

For 27 years, Loudoun has exported hundreds of its brightest students across the county line to Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax, and with them goes its top test scores and more than $2.5 million a year.

County leaders have talked about eventually creating a similar program for Loudoun students, but unofficial word that the school district may get a portion of the bill for a $90 million renovation of the prestigious governor’s school has rushed that conversation.

This week, School Board members debated the possibility of no longer sending the county’s students to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, known as TJ, and whether an expanded version of Loudoun’s Academy of Science would fill the void for rigorous science, math and technology education.

The debate is framed by a long list of unanswered questions, and a tight deadline. The Loudoun School Board must decide whether to sign another two-year enrollment agreement with Fairfax this October, and board members have yet to receive any official communication from the Fairfax County School Board on what it may be charged for the renovation. Some board members have heard Loudoun may have to pay $8 million; others have heard $11 million.

“The payments would start in the 2014-2015 school year, so I think they’re thinking this is a year’s notice to all the school districts,” Sharon Ackerman, Loudoun County Public Schools assistant superintendent of instruction, told board members at their meeting Tuesday.

Loudoun will likely be asked to cover a large portion of the project’s bill because, just behind Fairfax, the county sends the most number of students to TJ—203 Loudoun students are enrolled this year. Prince William, Arlington and Alexandria school districts also send its students to the school.

School Board member Bill Fox (Leesburg) called the news of the capital expenditure the “$11 million straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“As is, [for every student we send to TJ] we’re stretched to a point that I think is difficult to justify,” he said of the nearly $15,000 per student it cost the school system annually—just less than $13,000 in tuition, plus $2,000 in transportation costs. The annual per student cost in Loudoun’s schools is $11,865.

“The only way could possibly justify that is if we knew for sure that it was providing a level of education that we could not provide here in Loudoun County,” Fox added, “and I don’t believe that’s the case.”

Fox is among other several board members who have voiced their support for ramping up the Academy of Science’s offerings when the program’s new campus opens in 2018. The facility, to be built along Sycolin Road south of Leesburg, will be combined with C.S. Monroe Technology Center under the name Advanced Technology Academy/Academy of Science.

At their meeting Tuesday, School Board members got a glimpse of just how high TJ has set the academic bar from a presentation by Ackerman. The two schools each have a special focus, she said. The Academy of Science, located on the Dominion High School campus in Sterling, focuses on scientific research and Thomas Jefferson High School’s curriculum spans across the fields of technology, computer science, mathematics and science, with courses such as artificial intelligence—one and two—and oceanography and geophysical systems research.

“Just looking at science, Thomas Jefferson offers 35 very specialized science courses, and the Academy of Science offers 11,” Ackerman told board members. “With more students we may be able to offer more courses.”

School Board member Thomas Reed (At Large) has doubts Loudoun can replicate a TJ, with its millions of dollars in donated equipment, including “high performance computers that we could only dream of.”

“It would be impossible to do what they do,” he said. “The business community is twice as large in Fairfax as it is here.”

No matter what the School Board decides, it’s made it clear students currently enrolled in TJ will be able to stay through graduation. But that still leaves some worried the transition between pulling out of TJ and expanding the Academy of Science could find a few class of students caught in the middle without a comprehensive, accelerated high school program.

Take Rebecca McFadden, a seventh grader at Blue Ridge Middle School, who is already talking about following in her mother’s footsteps and attending Thomas Jefferson High School.

Her mother Leslie McFadden, a 1993 TJ graduate, agrees that sending Loudoun students to Fairfax cost taxpayers a hefty sum. “But on the subside, if that opportunity is not available for my daughter, I would be disappointed. She would thrive in the TJ environment that I had,” McFadden said, noting that the magnet school in its early years offered rigorous curriculum in all course areas, including the arts and humanities. “If they could introduce more technology rather than just labs at the Academy of Science, it would be the best of both worlds for her.”

School board members who want to explore expanding the Academy of Science have talked about turning it into a program for just juniors and seniors during the transition years, and offering prep courses for those eyeing a spot at the academy at their home high schools. Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) asked Ackerman’s staff to work with the Curriculum and Instruction Committee to study how to expand the Academy of Science, even beyond what is planned for on the new campus.

He also suggested the School Board bring the county Board of Supervisors in on the discussion, “because this is a significant commitment for the county, regardless of what happens with TJ.”

Welcome to the discussion.


  • norges55 posted at 7:43 am on Fri, Feb 22, 2013.

    norges55 Posts: 1042

    After 5 years the costs of a artifical turf field versus a grass field equals out. Years 6 through 10 you save money and the number of uses is basically unlimited. I agree the loads of cash brought in by outside groups was just a smoke screen Bergels Baloney I call it. After 10 years or so when you have to replace the turf the base is still there so you save even more. There is no downtime with AT fields and there is no resoding costs every 3 years. Injuries to players it has been proven are less on artifical turf. So you get more usage, it's cheaper and it's safer what's not to like?

  • hubba bubba posted at 8:42 pm on Thu, Feb 21, 2013.

    hubba bubba Posts: 440

    Oh darn....$8million....wasn't that the cost of the turf fields? Those turf fields that no one gets to use except the high schools? The turf fields that the School Board claims will bring in loads of cash but when outside athletic groups approach the district, they get sent away? TJ is a great option for the kids, but I agree with loudoun parent....the difference between the cost of attending a LoCo school and TJ should come from the parents. As for the renovation costs.....that dollar amount is about the price we pay for a brand new school....the School Board should ask for a complete accounting of that number and just see what's all included.

  • loudoun parent posted at 8:25 am on Thu, Feb 21, 2013.

    loudoun parent Posts: 153

    The article refers to TJ as an all or nothing question. It would seem to me that if the costto the county is a factor, keeping TJ an option to parents willing to pay the difference is much better than taking the option off the table altogether. Parents who are economically challenged by this concept can use the same resources as parents do for college: scholarships, grants, and loans.

  • bavarian19 posted at 9:10 pm on Wed, Feb 20, 2013.

    bavarian19 Posts: 89

    If Bill Fox is your shining hero for fixing education, why don't you ask him about his history as a teacher in LCPS? Not such a shining hero anymore...

  • norges55 posted at 9:47 am on Wed, Feb 20, 2013.

    norges55 Posts: 1042

    @ bavarian
    healthcare costs have gone up 97% since 2002 and it's time the teachers paid the fair share of it like other employees in other jobs. Contrary to what you have been told teachers ain't special and do not deserve any more benefits then the private sector employee. The reason the take home pay is being eroded is because people like Bill Fox have seen the light and releaized that the teachers are getting a sweetheart deal at taxpayer expense.
    One thing Fox got wrong is that a school employee who works less than 33 hours should be paying a much larger share of their benefit coverage.
    Another questionable practice why does the Loudoun County taxpayer pay so students in the wealthiest county in the USA can ride the bus for free, let the parents pony up for transportation costs.
    My house is bought and paid for thank you.

  • bavarian19 posted at 7:37 pm on Tue, Feb 19, 2013.

    bavarian19 Posts: 89


    If you are all about averages, then why don't you sell your house today based on the national average per square foot?

    I'm sure you'll get a great deal.

  • gconrow posted at 4:34 pm on Tue, Feb 19, 2013.

    gconrow Posts: 1

    to loudoun parent: the problem with the parents footing the bill is that only the very well off will be able to afford a top tear education. Although Loudoun might boast the highest income in the nation, it doesn't mean that everyone that lives here earns a 100k salary.

    You also write "It should not cost tax payers any more for a student to attend TJHS, that a LCPS school." Why shouldn't it? There are many social obligations that extend outside of our own immediate interests. The benefits of students gaining a premier education doesn't just benefit those attending, it can benefit us all.

  • norges55 posted at 4:05 pm on Tue, Feb 19, 2013.

    norges55 Posts: 1042

    @bavarian the average person pays for 27% of their healthcare costs plus their retirement costs. Do you have any numbers on how much a teacher in Loudoun County pays for heathcare and retirement or are you just spouting the company line?

  • bavarian19 posted at 11:42 am on Tue, Feb 19, 2013.

    bavarian19 Posts: 89

    Bill Fox is showing how incompetent he is. Does he really believe that Loudoun can offer something equivalent to TJ? How can Loudoun create any sort of in house magnet school to compete with the consistently top ranked high school in the nation when all our school board does is go for bottom dollar?

    Congratulations to all those who elected officials that preached cutting down on education costs. Teachers are being demoralized year after year with no increase in take home pay (any 'increase' in the past years have been to offset rising health care and retirement costs), we will offer no significant incentive for our top students to excel and attend TJ, and then people are only going to complain that are schools are not doing enough for our kids.

  • loudoun parent posted at 11:27 am on Tue, Feb 19, 2013.

    loudoun parent Posts: 153

    I think there is a reasonable place in the middle. The county should foot the biil only up to what it spends on students at their home schools. This can be assessed to the "tuition" and transportation. The additional cost per student and improvement costs should be paid by the parents of the students benefitting from this education. It should not cost tax payers any more for a student to attend TJHS, that a LCPS school.

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