Letter: Ian Serotkin, Purcellville

Editor: Your recent article, “School Board Split on Thomas Jefferson Extension,” makes it sound like we’d be saving millions of dollars by getting rid of the option. People have opinions on both sides of this issue; I support keeping the TJ option for a number of reasons, but the cost savings implied by the article are simply not reality.

We send around 250-300 students to TJ in total every year, at a cost of roughly $17,500 per student. So yes, that’s $4-5 million dollars. But if you took any arbitrary 300 students at a Loudoun County high school and multiplied it by the per-pupil average (currently around $14,500), you would get nearly as much that we’re spending to educate them here.

If those kids weren’t going to TJ, it’s not like the cost to educate them is $0. You’re not saving those $5 million by keeping them in Loudoun. You’re going to spend very nearly that much, based on the LCPS per-pupil averages, to educate them at a LCPS high school. And, if those students go to one of our specialized programs such as the Academy of Science (AOS) or the Academy of Engineering & Technology (AET), those costs are even higher. So, there might be some nominal cost savings, but it’s a fraction of that $5 million at most.

I said last year to the School Board that if they really were determined to cut ties with TJ, to “make the Academies of Loudoun, and our gifted programs in general, so competitive and robust that no one from Loudoun applies to TJ. When that happens, you’ll know that we have succeeded.”

But that’s not happening. In fact, 30 more Loudoun rising ninth graders were offered admission to TJ in fall 2019 as compared to fall 2018 (83 vs. 53). So clearly, there is still very much a demand.

Instead of taking options away, what we should do is significantly expand our STEM and gifted options, both in breadth (seats, curricula, opportunities) and depth (quality).

Let’s expand and enhance AOS and AET as cutting-edge programs to compete with TJ, with enough seats for all qualified applicants. We’ll need to listen to a wide variety of perspectives—including the students in those programs—to figure out exactly what that should look like. At a high level, I think we should at least consider merging AOS and AET and provide students more flexibility in the courses within them that they take, to offer the “best of both worlds” in the research and engineering paths.

Let’s also bolster STEM programs at all of our high schools. Demand is clearly outstripping supply. Just because a student might not be accepted at or even desire to attend TJ, AOS, or AET, they should still be able to find a challenging, enriching curriculum at ALL of our Loudoun high schools.

Ian Serotkin, Purcellville

Note: The writer is a candidate for the Blue Ridge District School Board seat.


5 thoughts on “Letter: Ian Serotkin, Purcellville

  • 2019-05-03 at 1:46 pm

    Ian, BRAVO – Isn’t it hard to believe that after 4 years not one of the current school board members was willing to say from the dais what you just said above in your letter. ALL HIGH SCHOOLS DESERVE TO BE UPGRADED TO HAVE AOS (at least the first two years of the program which is a numbered transcript course) AND Monroe Monroe type programs! I hope all candidates for school board proclaim what they really stand for and will fight for.

    • 2019-05-03 at 5:17 pm

      I just want an aerospace engineering program at the Academies of Loudoun. On that entails building a Vans Aircraft RV-12is like Tango Flight is doing (tangoflight.org). This would be helpful for AET and MATA students.

  • 2019-05-03 at 4:56 pm

    Upgraded??? Bob – not all schools need these programs – that is absurd. The Academies approach, which consolidates the offerings is the right way – As a candidate for the BOS, I would hope you would be more fiscally aware of reality

  • 2019-05-04 at 6:47 am

    “yourneighbor” When a high school offers a transcript numbered course such as I suggested above it still is conditioned on having sufficient student demand to fill the class. This is precisely how Mandarin was offered which if you remember I motioned to include in the LCPS curriculum and it passed. The first two years of the AOS program is an integrated math and science program that uses current facilities already existing in the high schools. It is the inquiry based approach that was the unique and quite successful aspect of this transcript numbered course. I appreciate your input but the implication that is cost more is wrong. The excess demand unmet by the AOS program now is unfair to students who can qualify for such a course. Consider that LCPS does not offer a minimum class size but only refers to target class sizes. That is where the inefficiency lies if you want to go after something. Can you imagine what the cost per student is for advanced physical education when it is only the quarterback and the football coach? I am sorry if my term upgraded was misunderstood but I view optional course offerings like Mandarin and the AOS (first two years) as great differentiators which will help students willing to accept greater challenges better futures at no added cost to LCPS. I hope that helps quell your concern.

  • 2019-05-06 at 4:18 pm

    does not quell anything bob – the excess demand among qualified students is not enough to add these courses at all schools, just as there is not demand for all non-AOS classes. The STEM offering such as those from CTE departments do a great job of helping students explore interests and preparing them for college. You approach would eliminate non-stem electives to make room – not all students are bound for STEM jobs and all students needs a well-rounded education that includes arts, literature, etc. = not all schools should offer everything, STEM is not more important that everything else, and AOS must stand out as a unique school for unique students.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: