Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology was denied Virginia's top educational honor despite being ranked as the top public school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for four years in a row. Fellow Fairfax County high schools Oakton and Woodson received the Governor's Award for Educational Excellence alongside 22 county elementary and middle schools, while Thomas Jefferson and 56 more county schools were given the "second tier honor" from the state board of education.

"The governor's award goes to schools that have met all of the accountability requirements for at least two years, but also have achieved the excellence goals identified by the state board," spokesman Charles Pyle said.

The goals can relate to elementary reading, eighth-grade algebra enrollment, graduation rates, enrollment in college-level courses, career and industry certification increases, and involvement in the Governor's Nutrition and Physical Activity scorecard.

Pyle said the main difference between the governor's and board's awards were an assessment of how well-rounded the school was, but conceded there was a "disconnect" between the judging criteria and the programming at Thomas Jefferson: specifically, the vocational certifications.

"That disconnect accounts for why Thomas Jefferson didn't receive a top-tier award, but that shouldn't be interpreted as somehow suggesting Thomas Jefferson isn't an excellent school," he said.

Louise Epstein, president of the school's Parent-Teacher-Student Association, said she was "very delighted" over the board's award, but contended that Thomas Jefferson's Advanced Placement computer science courses and computer systems labs consist of "its own version of career and technical education."

"It's comparable and analogous," Epstein said.

As a school division, Fairfax County won a Board of Education Excellence Award; no districts have qualified for the governor's award since its inception in 2007.

Individual schools that won the governor's award will receive a banner, and Gov. Bob McDonnell said he plans to make some house calls. "I look forward to meeting some of the students and educators behind these success stories and congratulating them in person for their accomplishments," he said.

Oakton High School Principal John Banbury thanked his "tremendous faculty" for the award. "They're very conscientious about making sure every student in our school is getting the best experience possible," he said.

Arlington County snared the governor's award for three of its elementary schools and the board's award for six, while a 10th elementary school won the state board's third-tier "Competence to Excellence Award."

Three Alexandria elementary schools received the state board's award, while two received the competence award.