Loudoun Doesn’t Need Two to Tango, Must Decide between Academies and Jefferson

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Loudoun Doesn’t Need Two to Tango, Must Decide between Academies and Jefferson

A view of the new Academies of Loudoun campus. Photo courtesy of LoudounNow.

A view of the new Academies of Loudoun campus. Photo courtesy of LoudounNow.

Photo by Douglas Graham

A view of the new Academies of Loudoun campus. Photo courtesy of LoudounNow.

Photo by Douglas Graham

Photo by Douglas Graham

A view of the new Academies of Loudoun campus. Photo courtesy of LoudounNow.

Claire Wilson, Staff Writer

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On Aug. 28th, 270 Loudoun County high school students boarded buses bound for Jefferson. At the same time, hundreds of other students began their fourth day as part of the Academies of Loudoun (AOL), composed of three schools—the Academy of Science (AOS), the Academy of Engineering and Technology (AET), and the Monroe Advanced Technical Academy (MATA), formerly known as the Monroe Technology Center—operating in the same building after existing separately for over a decade.

Loudoun students have had to decide between Jefferson, AOS, AET, and MATA for several years. However, even though Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) has considered terminating its contract with Jefferson multiple times, they have continuously put off this decision. Initiating the AOL program while still sending students to Jefferson is a conflict of interest that needs to be resolved quickly.

LCPS has frequently thought about ending its contract with Jefferson. The cost for LCPS to send a student to Jefferson is $14,697, according to the LCPS fiscal year (FY) 2018 invoice. LCPS pays more to send students to Jefferson than some families spend on in-state college tuition for their child. Not only is LCPS shelling out this large sum of money, but it is also shelling out some of the county’s brightest minds. Loudoun sent 270 students to Jefferson this year, across all four grades. Though Loudoun County is the richest county in the United States by median income, it has spent millions of dollars of taxpayer money sending students to Jefferson, running each individual academy, and constructing the AOL building. From FY 2014 to FY 2018, Loudoun spent almost $16 million on Jefferson students, part of which covered Jefferson’s renovation costs. The FY 2019 operating budget of AOL is just over $10 million dollars; however, Loudoun has already spent $115.12 million on the construction of the AOL building alone.

Statistics from websites such as Niche showcase Jefferson’s excellent academics, including its average SAT score of 1510, the 73% of students enrolled in AP courses, and popular college destinations such as the University of Virginia. Since AOL just opened this fall, there aren’t statistics to compare it to Jefferson. For example, while Niche does provide its visitors with Jefferson’s statistics, it neither provides statistics for AOL, nor provides such for AOS, AET, or MATA. Students might not have the complete picture, so to speak, that they need to make a proper decision between the two schools. While both institutions offer admissions for sophomores and juniors, those seats are very limited.

In fall 2016, 475 Loudoun County eighth graders applied to Jefferson. Out of the 336 of these students named semifinalists, 330 applied to both Jefferson and either AOS, AET, or both. Ultimately, 102 semifinalists were offered admission to TJHSST. Some were accepted to accepted to both Jefferson and at least of these Academies, if not both. Despite the disappointment of not being accepted to one or a couple of these schools, those who are only accepted to one institution are somewhat lucky. They do not have to decide between two, or in some cases, three, unique educational opportunities, a process which can be stressful for some students. If they ultimately decide that they’d prefer to attend the other school, they can take advantage of the admissions for older students mentioned previously.

The formation of AOL has changed its component programs significantly for the better. These programs used to operate in different LCPS high schools, akin to the array of high school specialty programs offered by other counties participating in the Jefferson program. These schools existed prior to the existence of AOS, AET, or MATA, and LCPS did not specialize these school to accommodate these programs. With the construction of the new building, along with over 40 labs, AOL can properly serve its students, giving them the resources they need to obtain an advanced education. Essentially, AOL has done for gifted LCPS high school students what Jefferson has been doing for gifted Northern Virginia high school students since it was designated as a science and technology high school in 1985.

LCPS cannot accurately measure Jefferson against AOL as a whole before there are statistics to compare. Given how recently and frequently LCPS has considered pulling out of the Jefferson contract, the day when Loudoun County high school students have one option for gifted education may be in the near future. Once LCPS chooses to at last define a single path its students should take in pursuit of advanced education, these students will no longer have to make such a crucial decision at the expense of Loudoun County taxpayers’ wallets, as well as their own peace of mind.

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