FCPS School Board passes holistic review system for Jefferson admissions


Courtesy of TJ SGA page

With the sweeping changes to Jefferson’s admissions process, the school could soon look very different

Anuj Khemka and Elliott Lee

The FCPS School Board voted on Dec. 17 to pass Action Item 4.02, Motion 2, regarding TJHSST Admissions changes.  

The motion dictates that the top 1.5% of eligible 8th-graders from each public middle school in Fairfax County will be offered admission, with the remaining applicants chosen through holistic review from another pool until a class size of 550 is reached. The holistic review process takes into account GPA, a student portrait sheet, and a problem-solving essay. The new admissions process will go into effect this year for the Class of 2025. 

The action from the board comes after months of deliberation over how to best create a diverse community at Jefferson following outrage over the number of underrepresented minority students accepted into the Class of 2024. Superintendent Scott Braband initially proposed a controversial merit lottery system, but fierce opposition by parent groups and students forced Braband to revise the measure. In place of the merit lottery system, Braband introduced two options for the Jefferson admissions—a hybrid lottery system and a holistic review system—both of which the board voted on today. The first motion to implement the aforementioned hybrid lottery system failed 4-8. However, the board passed a modified version of the holistic review proposal on a 10-1-1 voting line. 

The board’s decision to pass the motion drew concern from parents, students, and board members alike. School Board member Megan McLaughlin in particular said that the agenda had not been released until a few hours before the meeting and noted that as a result, board members did not have sufficient time to review the motion that they would be voting on. McLaughlin also requested that Braband and Chief Operating Officer Marty Smith provide more clarification on certain aspects, such as how applicants outside of the top 1.5% would be admitted, but the pair did not disclose further details. The board nonetheless moved forward with the vote, and McLaughin chose to abstain. 

“Motion 2 was presented for the first time this evening and the public did not have time to review and study it,” Jefferson parent Harry Jackson said. 

Student opinions on the passed-measure remain mixed. Junior Leon Jia is worried that the move would lead to students less prepared for Jefferson’s rigor being admitted. 

“I think it’s interesting that they removed all three tests and teacher recommendations and added ‘experience factors’ and then claim the current system is more holistic for whatever reason,” Jia said. “While I think the old tests had problems, removing teacher recommendations removes a critical aspect of reviewing the student’s genuine STEM passion, which is otherwise hard to screen for. I also think that the institution of the middle school quota of 1.5% is a really poor solution as it could cause a lot of unprepared students to be admitted and is a really exploitable system.”

However, senior Gurleen Kaur expressed support for the newly-passed holistic review system. 

“I think it’s amazing that the admissions process is finally incorporating the ways in which students might be disadvantaged,” Kaur said. “A student who is struggling to learn English and is from a low-income household cannot be compared to a student from an upper-middle-class, well-educated family. If the former has excelled academically, then that is way more impressive than the same academic achievements from the latter because the low-income ELL student had to overcome so many obstacles.”