FAIRFAX, VA --Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is known for its scholastic excellence, but not its diversity.
Of the 480 students admitted to the magnet school for the 2009-10 school year, only four were black and 13 Hispanic.
However, blacks and Hispanics represent 29 percent of the county's student population. Whites and Asians -- who represent 64.1 percent of the county's students -- made up 92.1 percent of those accepted to the school last year. The remaining 7 percent are of American Indian, Alaskan, Hawaiian-Pacific Islander or multiracial decent.
TJ Admissions Director Tanisha Holland said overall blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented throughout the admissions process, including applications to the school.
Holland and others at the school are leading an effort to increase minority representation at the school by seeking out talent at an earlier age.
"We have to plant the seeds ... and for us planting the seeds means starting early," said Holland, adding blacks and Hispanics are applying to the school at a disproportionately lower rate than their white and Asian counterparts.
Developing a "pipeline" program -- possibly through a grant-funded afterschool enrichment program in science and math -- is one possibility. Making Algebra available to all eighth graders and improving access to Honors and other advanced classes were among the suggestions for improving black and Hispanic turnout made to the county School Board during a work session Monday night.
Additionally, county schools staff said Fairfax County Public Schools needs to do more to reach out to the parents of students whose schools are in areas of the county underrepresented at Thomas Jefferson.
"I really think this is the way to go, and it is an ambitious program," said Deputy Division Superintendent Richard Moniuszko, who also presented recommendations to the school board.
"Promoting greater diversity at Thomas Jefferson has been a county goal for years," he said. In 2004, the School Board created a Blue Ribbon Committee to create a plan for diversification. However, Hispanic and black representation among those admitted has since declined -- from 5.54 percent during the 2005-06 school year to 3.5 percent in 2009-10.
Additionally, the school has seen a slight decrease in its female representation, school staff said.
"The top high school in the county should reflect the diversity of its community," said school board member Tina Hone.
"I don't care what flavor you are, there are no poor kids at TJ," she said, adding that diversity issues at the school were an ongoing problem that is not likely to be solved quickly.
Fellow School Board member Jane Strauss (Dranesville District) said she was not convinced extending advanced classes to younger students would help solve the achievement gap at the magnet school.
"I know some children have been set [to achieve academic excellence] since they were three or four, and that's a family tradition," she said. "We can't fix that with a geometry class. That's set at three years old."
The School Board's student representative, Keegan Cotton, a senior at Thomas Jefferson, weighed in on the staff's recommendation, saying, "What's the equation to get into TJ? Let parents know what that is at all schools."