School History: Pimmit Hills School
Remembering Our Past
The building which housed Pimmit Hills Elementary School, and later the Pimmit Hills Adult Education Center and Pimmit Hills Alternative High School, has a deeply layered history. Its story begins in the 1950s when the Pimmit Hills residential neighborhood was constructed.
Members of the Board of Supervisors, the School Board, and other officials visited seven schools to show supervisors what’s being done with the $10.5 million construction program underway for two years, and more importantly, why another multi-million dollar school construction bond issue is being planned. The school bus carrying the officials passed the 1,100 home Pimmit Hills subdivision. Robert Walker, school board statistician and moving force behind the bond issue, told the officials a survey showed 750 children from only 473 homes there would enter county schools by 1958. ~ The Washington Post, December 12, 1952
In April 1954, the Fairfax County School Board awarded the contract for the construction of a 14-classroom school at Pimmit Hills. Built at a cost of $320,796 by the Culpeper Building and Supply Company, Pimmit Hills Elementary School opened its doors to students for the first time on September 6, 1955. The first principal was Zella C. Keys.
A list of Pimmit Hills Elementary School’s first staff members was found in the meeting minutes of the Fairfax County School Board.
|Mrs. Geraldine Clingenpeel||$3,600|
|Mrs. Patricia A. Covington||$3,600|
|Mrs. Helen V. Dick||$4,000|
|Mrs. Thelma V. Everhart||$4,400|
|Mrs. Geraldine T. Goad||$3,400|
|Miss F. Louise Griffin||$4,100|
|Mrs. Margaret P. Horne, Librarian||$1,700, Part-time|
|Mrs. Zella C. Keys, Principal||$6,290, 10 months|
|Mrs. Maryan McCrohan||$5,400|
|Miss Sally G. McGuire||$4,100|
|Mrs. Mildred M. Meier||$3,300|
|Mr. Nelson R. Montague, Custodian Helper||$2,200, 12 months|
|Mrs. Margaret R. Robinson||$3,500|
|Mr. Nevin Earl Sarver, Head Custodian||$2,700, 12 months|
|Miss Kate W. Thomas||$4,200|
|Miss Annette P. Webster||$4,500|
|Mrs. Syble A. Wirth||$3,600|
Growth and Change
From 1954 to 1957, the number of children enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools grew from 28,700 to 44,000. Built for a capacity of 420 students, Pimmit Hills was overcrowded the day it opened. As a result, first and second-grade students at Pimmit Hills attended school on half-day shifts from 1955 to 1958. In 1958, construction began on an eight-classroom addition to Pimmit Hills. Built at a cost of $75,000, the “Annex,” as it was called, increased the capacity of the school to 630 students.
The decade of the 1960s brought significant change to Pimmit Hills Elementary School. In 1960, Fairfax County opened its first intermediate schools and Pimmit Hills lost its seventh-grade classes. Pimmit Hills operated with grades 1-6 from 1960 until 1968, when Fairfax County established its first kindergarten classes. The 1960s also saw the racial desegregation of Fairfax County’s public schools. The desegregation process was carried out gradually over a six-year period, from 1960 to 1966. Originally an all-white school, Pimmit Hills admitted its first Black students around 1964.
Tragically, in December 1967, after children had been dismissed for winter break, Principal Zella Keys died. She was succeeded in January 1968 by John G. Earman. By 1968, Pimmit Hills had an enrollment of almost 1,000 students, which was far above the building’s capacity. Relief came in September 1968 with the opening of nearby Westgate Elementary School.
Westgate Elementary School
Located 1,000 feet north of Pimmit Hills Elementary School on the opposite side of Magarity Road, Westgate Elementary School brought immediate relief to the overcrowding at Pimmit Hills. Because the schools were so close to one another, and to keep the Pimmit Hills community united, the School Board permitted Pimmit Hills and Westgate to operate as “paired” schools. Except for a few years when overcrowding led to the splitting of third grade classes between both schools, Westgate Elementary School educated children in grades K-3, and Pimmit Hills Elementary School educated children in grades 4-6.
From 1968 to 1970, John Earman served as principal of both Pimmit Hills and Westgate elementary schools simultaneously. Each building had an assistant principal as well. Beginning with the 1970-71 school year, the assistant principal positions were discontinued, and separate principals were appointed to each school. John Earman continued to serve as the principal of Pimmit Hills until 1975.
The week of April 28 to May 2, 1969, was designated PHOOEE Week at Pimmit Hills Elementary School. Pimmit Hills Opportunity for Optional Educational Experience, or PHOOEE, was the brainchild of Principal John G. Earman and Assistant Principal Barbara Smith, who wanted to break the monotony of the school year, refresh the students, and create new interests. During PHOOEE Week, the regular curriculum was set aside and instead Pimmit Hills’ 486 students were able to choose from about 100 different courses, many of which were proposed by the students themselves. Taught by Pimmit Hills teachers, parents, and community members, the courses included such varied topics as glass blowing, tumbling, piano, singing, sewing, painting, photography, speed reading, shorthand, embroidery, first aid, bricklaying, and real estate. In one classroom, students learned judo holds from Ralph Effner, a Fairfax County policeman. Students in the musical theatre course staged a production of “The Music Man.”
Pimmit Hills Closes
In 1972, the Virginia Department of Education provided a $10,000 grant to study a proposal to make Pimmit Hills and Westgate year-round schools. Under the tentative proposal, the school year would entail four nine-week grading periods, separated by vacation periods lasting three weeks in duration. Residents of the Pimmit Hills community voiced their opposition to the proposal and the idea was scrapped.
In 1975, John Earman was appointed principal of Franconia Elementary School. He was succeeded by Paul R. Romig, who served as the principal of Pimmit Hills Elementary School until 1980. Paul Romig became principal at a time when student enrollment in Fairfax County Public Schools was on the decline. From 1975 to 1980, enrollment at Pimmit Hills dropped from 316 to 231. A similar decline was taking place at Westgate Elementary School. The following enrollment data for Pimmit Hills Elementary School was taken from a report prepared by FCPS staff in 1980.
In 1980, the enrollment decline at Pimmit Hills was described by FCPS administrators as “severe.” Faced with an abundance of empty classrooms in eastern Fairfax County, the School Board directed FCPS administrators to identify schools for possible closure. Three “trigger” conditions were used to determine whether a school should be closed. They were:
- Enrollment had dropped below 300
- The school had an abnormally high direct operating cost
- The building needed renovation
Pimmit Hills Elementary School met all three of these criteria. In 1980, Frank E. Mehm was appointed principal of Pimmit Hills Elementary School. He would be its last. In November of that year, with the possible closure of Pimmit Hills looming, the combined Pimmit Hills/Westgate Parent Teacher Association presented the School Board with a proposal to close Pimmit Hills Elementary School and consolidate the students at Westgate.
The reason we are here tonight is to request that Pimmit Hills and Westgate Elementary Schools be consolidated into one school. This would be accomplished by closing the Pimmit Hills School through a one-year phase-in program, beginning with the 1981-82 school year. The rising fourth-graders would remain at Westgate School and the fifth and sixth-grade classes would continue at Pimmit Hills Elementary School for the 1981-82 school year. This phase-in would be completed at the beginning of the 1982-83 school year, with the rising sixth-graders returning to Westgate School to complete the kindergarten through sixth grade organization. ~ Pimmit Hills/Westgate PTA Special Committee Report to the School Board, November 20, 1980
The School Board agreed to the PTA’s proposal and Pimmit Hills Elementary School closed permanently in June 1982.
Did You Know?
- From 1955 to 1961, the congregation of Garfield Memorial Christian Church held services at Pimmit Hills Elementary School. The church was named in honor of James A. Garfield, the only minister to become President of the United States.
- Like many public schools in Fairfax County that were constructed in the 1950s, Pimmit Hills Elementary School was outfitted with a Civil Defense siren. The siren was tested weekly, mid-week, in the middle of the school day, and its blaring sound brought instruction to a halt.
- During the last week of school in June 1974, the school lunch menu consisted of a hot dog with bun, catsup and mustard, oven-fried potatoes, pizza, tossed salad, Coleslaw, pudding, a peanut butter cookie, orange juice, and milk.
Pimmit Hills Adult Education Center
During its final year of operation, Pimmit Hills Elementary School had two fifth-grade classrooms, one combined class of fifth and sixth graders, and two sixth-grade classes. One classroom was used for music, band, and strings, and two classrooms were used for physical education. Additionally, two classrooms were utilized for the Head Start program, and four classrooms were allocated for adult education classes. The adult education classrooms were a preview of things to come.
The following year, after the elementary students had vacated the building, a senior center opened in the cafeteria and ten classrooms were set aside for use by the FCPS Adult and Community Education (ACE) program. In September 1983, Pimmit Hills began operating full-time as an ACE center. The center offered day and evening classes for adults in basic education, high school completion, parenting, homemaking skills, foreign languages, art, shorthand, and typewriting skills. The program grew rapidly, and, in October 1985, ACE program director Ken Plum reported to the School Board that approximately 5,000 people had taken adult and community education classes at Pimmit Hills.
Pimmit Hills Alternative High School
In addition to adult education courses, an alternative high school was established at Pimmit Hills. Pimmit Hills High School served students who had been referred to the program from area high schools. Because the Pimmit Hills cafeteria had been converted into a senior center, the high school students had their lunchtime meals delivered daily from Marshall High School and ate in their classrooms.
Beginning in 1999, Pimmit Hills underwent a $3.6 million renovation, which was completed by the winter of 2001. In October 2000, Pimmit Hills Alternative High School held its first-ever homecoming. In February 2010, the School Board voted to close Pimmit Hills Alternative High School at the end of the school year in June. The students were reassigned to Bryant High School, Mountain View High School, and Woodson Adult High School. As of 2021, Pimmit Hills continues to operate as an adult education facility and senior center.