Pimmit Hills School Threatened With Closure in Budget Crunch

At a time when American workers face dire job prospects and steady unemployment, Fairfax County’s looming fiscal crisis for the 2011 budget has its sights on one of the county’s few employment training-oriented alternative high schools in Falls Church’s Pimmit Hills.

Pimmit Hills Alternative High School, located on Lisle Avenue in Falls Church, serves a diverse array of adults and transfer students with its staff of 18, and a large number of volunteers from the Falls Church community.

Eighty percent of the school’s student body has limited English language proficiency, and speak 25 languages from 30 different countries. Many students are employed full-time and have families, as well.

The school’s closing, which would occur at the end of the current school year next summer, appeared on the Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) superintendent’s short list for recommended cuts this year as the school system faces a projected deficit of $176 million for 2011.

Pimmit Hills made it onto a straw man list for potential budget cuts in FY 2011, according to FCPS spokeswoman Mary Shaw.* The school, however, was not slated for closure.

Other programs saved from elimination at the time were foreign language programs at elementary schools in the FCPS system,* among others, that now also make it to the extensive list of possible cuts recommended by FCPS superintendent, Jake Dale.

Pimmit Hills, however, was the only alternative high school slated for closure that made it to the list. The school’s closing would cut all 18 staff positions and save the county approximately $1 million, according to the FCPS.

The school’s closure presents a stark choice for Falls Church area residents who depended on the service. Without Pimmit Hills, the largely immigrant and adult community would need to travel to one of the county’s two remaining alternative high schools: Mountain View High School in Centreville and the Bryant Center along Route 1 in Alexandria.

“We first received word about the potential closing in November,” Pimmit Hill’s librarian Yvon Jensen told the News-Press. “And then we heard about the superintendent’s recommendation earlier in December after a Pimmit Hills representative attended an advisory meeting with Dr. Dale.”

Word spread to the faculty and staff at Pimmit Hills a week later, Jensen said, during a meeting called by the school’s principal, Beverly Wilson.

“We’re very concerned for our students,” Jensen added. “Some of them come to this country with no formal education, but with an interest in learning.”

She continued, “Here at Pimmit Hills, we have volunteer tutors that provide additional after school service to them, like the Association of American University Women, who have 10 or 12 people working here alongside the students.”

The Falls Church location also put Pimmit Hills along major area bus routes, making the school accessible to students who did not have or could not afford cars.

Shaw said that as the closing is preliminary, the county has not accounted for any transportation concerns.

She cautioned, however, that the list “is only preliminary” and that no final decision would be reached until the superintendent’s presentation of the FY2011 budget to the county’s Board of Supervisors on Jan. 7.

The Pimmit Hills High School administration was unavailable for comment before press time.

*Corrections: The position title for Mary Shaw has been corrected. The Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) program had been saved by stimulus funds last budget year.