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Saturday, November 15, 2014

New research wing opens at Thomas Jefferson High School

The oceanography and geosystems lab.
Fairfax County government leaders, school board members, state legislators, donors, and parents gathered at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) Nov. 14 to celebrate the opening of the school’s new research wing.

The research wing is part of a $65 million renovation project funded by a school construction bond passed by voters in 2011. The TJ Partnership Fund raised $3 million to provide an enhanced technology infrastructure and  scientific equipment.

Seniors Maddie Zug (left) and Anna Tursi, both from McLean, are working on a project for a robotics competition.
The largest donors – Cisco Systems, Lockheed Martin Corp., the Northrup Grumman Foundation, and Tsingua University High School – each contributed $250,000 or more.

Following a ribbon cutting, TJHSST students took the guests on a tour of the new facilities, which include 13 research labs in such areas as robotics, biotechnology, nanochemistry, computer systems, energy systems, microelectronics, mobile and web application development, neuroscience, oceanography, quantum physics and optics, and prototyping and engineering materials. An astronomy and astrophysics lab isn’t completed yet.

Senior Sharen Arkalgud (right), from Herndon is working with his classmates on developing mobile apps.
The research wing also has a “jump lab” with computers and collaborative space where students can work on research projects on whatever inspires them and can use a videoconferencing system provided by Cisco to interact remotely with professional scientists.  

While extolling the high-tech features of TJ, FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza said, “We are committed to supporting the unique needs of every single school.”

TJHSST Principal Evan Glazer said the improvements are intended to support the school’s mission to promote joy at the prospect of discovery and a culture of innovation. Instead of long narrow hallways, there are collaborative learning spaces, and lockers are being replaced with cubbyholes for backpacks.

The school's entrance is a work in progress.
Much work still needs to be done, including the entrance to the school, which features a Jeffersonian dome in recognition of the school’s namesake. The renovation is expected to be completed at the end of 2016.

In about a month, work will begin on redoing the central area of the school, which includes the library and classrooms in math, humanities, and other subjects. Classes are temporarily housed in portable units.

In the microelectronics lab, senior Jacob Holton from Ashburn is working on near-field communications technology, which is used to power the new Apple Pay system.
Assistant Principal Scott Campbell said the renovation will not lead to increased enrollment, which is currently at 1,920.

TJHSST is a Regional Governor’s School for Science and Technology, which means it receives additional state funding and accepts students from Arlington, Loudoun, and Prince Williams counties and the City of Falls Church, as well as Fairfax County.

New equipment still needs to be installed in the nanochemistry lab.
While the school is located in Mason District, very few students are from the Annandale/Mason area. African-American and Hispanic students are significantly underrepresented, as well. Many of the students who are admitted to TJHSST have ambitious, high-achieving parents who can afford high-priced tutors and prep courses.

The Coalition of the Silence, an organization that advocates for educational equity for minorities, filed a  formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education in 2012 alleging discrimination in the process used by FCPS for identifying students as eligible for advanced academic programs, which is a key pipeline for TJ admissions. Those charges are being investigated by the the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights.


  1. Great upgrade for those students. Now, what about the other high school labs that are still in use without upgrades since the l990's!

    1. Relax, pal. The nation needs ditch diggers too.

    2. There are plenty of students in the county who are still taking classes in trailers, too. It's clear to see where the county's priorities lie.

  2. Threat comments! I second all of them!

  3. As a school originally built in the mid-1960s, TJ was right where it belonged in the FCPS renovation queue, so it's hard to understand why people would complain about its renovation. On the other hand, the notion that TJ is getting an expensive faux-Rotunda as part of its renovation is just bad taste and poor planning, given nearby schools in the Stuart pyramid are overcrowded, Falls Church HS is falling apart, and our teachers are underpaid. Would it have really been too much to scale back a bit on the grandeur of the TJ renovations under the circumstances?

  4. Not sure, but think a large amount of the money being spent at TJ is not from local funds, but elsewhere since it's a magnet school. Be interested in any updated info about this.

    1. As the article explains, the vast majority of the money for TJ's renovation is coming from Fairfax County taxpayers, through a bond referendum. The TJ Partnership Fund wants to raise an additional $ 8 million to assist "the next generation of leaders and problem-solvers" (not much modesty on display there), but has only raised $3 million to date, which pales in comparison with the $65 million coming from taxpayers. Even with direct or indirect subsidies from other participating jurisdictions that send kids to TJ, Fairfax County is footing most of the bill.

  5. The fact is that we have either zero, one or two (at most) students admitted from Mason District public schools each year.. There are some public junior highs that admit more than 50 students to TJ each year.
    The school board member from Mason Sandy Evans is well aware of this for years and is not at all curious about why that is nor has she taken any action.
    It has to do with faculty expectations of students from our area, I think.
    Prep for Mason students, encouragement even for those who think about TJ on their own is not given.
    This is a rich kid's is almost a special college.
    TJ was not like this when it started and everyone has a shot.
    The county needs STEM academies connected to either each school or 2 or 3 schools combined.
    The students have nonacademic activities with the rest of the school population. That is what is new.
    I believe TJSST is now influenced by the Economic Developemnt of Fairfax County.
    Prince William is gradually dropping out...they actually promoted all incomes, classes and races according to merit to TJ and now are devloping their own resources.

  6. Maybe it's time for other TJ-type schools funded by business & industry as well as taxpayers in various other jurisdictions. One with minority & local student quotas until they're not needed and based on aptitude not income. Each school could have a different focus (nanotechnology, earth science, robotics, etc) so as not to break the bank completely.