The Fairfax County School Board plans to meet Thursday evening to discuss why one-third of freshmen at the elite Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology have been recommended for remedial help in math, science or both by their teachers.
"I know 90 minutes is not going to be enough -- even two hours is not going to be enough. I consider this the first step," said Ilryong Moon, chairman of the school board.
The Washington Examiner first reported in May that a significant number of students at TJ had been identified as struggling by their teachers. Admissions Director Tanisha Holland told The Examiner that she was starting an investigation into the school's admissions process, while Principal Evan Glazer created summer programs and help sessions for students.
The Alexandria magnet school was recently named the second-best public high school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, and previously has been ranked No. 1.
Thursday marks the first time that the school board has formally met to discuss the issue, but Moon and other board members said they expect a drawn-out process in the absence of clear answers.
"Is it an admissions problem?" said Jane Strauss, who represents the Dranesville District and was the chairwoman of the board before Moon. "Is it a little bit of an admissions problem? Is it a big admissions problem? Are there issues going on unrelated to admissions?"
In a letter obtained by The Examiner, seven math teachers at TJ said the math admissions test is too easy, with most questions at the sixth-grade level. Teacher recommendations, middle-school grades and personal essays also factor into the magnet's decisions.
Strauss said she doesn't have the sense that there's an appetite for dramatic change. But with six members new to the school board, both she and Moon are expecting to hear a variety of ideas Thursday.
First-term at-large board member Ryan McElveen said he's interested in creating another magnet school with the sterling reputation of TJ but with a focus on the humanities.
"Students more humanities-focused are going for TJ just because it's the No. 1 school in the nation," McElveen said. "It's critical our students have the ability to communicate, but the math test over time has been dumbed down."
Terri Breeden, the assistant superintendent for professional learning and accountability, is slated to brief the school board on the number of tweaks done to the admissions process since 2004.