Kate Olson-Flynn

There are huge issues of equity and equality in our schools in Prince William County. It is the job of the school administration, school board and board of county supervisors to work to remedy this situation for all students by allocating our tax money in the school budget and capital improvement plan to begin correcting these differences now.  

According to the Center for Public Education, “Equality in education is achieved when students are all treated the same and have access to similar resources.  Equity is achieved when all students receive the resources they need so they graduate prepared for success after high school.” This means schools need to provide disadvantaged students with more resources in order to help all students thrive. 

By these definitions, Prince William County’s school division is not accomplishing equity or equality for all students at the high school level. In particular, the students at Woodbridge Senior, Gar-Field and Stonewall Jackson high schools are not being given equitable opportunities to succeed because students are not getting access to the same quality of facilities as the students from any of the newer high schools in the county.  

While the school board has planned two new turf fields at both Woodbridge Senior and Stonewall Jackson high schools, fundamental problems continue to exist with the infrastructure and the lack of resources, impeding students’ achievement in school, on the field and beyond. 

Furthermore, these issues are exacerbated when looking at the demographics of the students who attend the newer high schools compared to those at the older ones.  There are by far many more English-language learners and economically-disadvantaged students as well as students of color attending older schools with dilapidated, outdated buildings and classrooms, which worsens issues of equity in the county.  

Instead, these students should be provided with the equal resources and facilities at a minimum so they are provided the same chances to achieve in their studies and extracurricular activities as students at the county’s newer high schools. 

For example, the school board removed the specialty program from Woodbridge Senior High School without the community’s consent in 2016 and has not replaced it with another program for students to enrich their studies. This decision by the school administration and the school board has limited the students’ and the communities’ choices in curriculum at their neighborhood school.  

The building structures at Woodbridge Senior, Gar Field and Stonewall Jackson high schools have no windows for natural light.  This, per se, is not an equity issue unless you take into consideration that all the newer high schools were built deliberately with an overabundance of windows.  In fact, Prince William school division officials cited research to support and promote the decision to have excess windows at Colgan High School, touting that natural light is best for student learning. If we want optimal learning environments for all students, then the older high school buildings need to have windows that provide natural light as well.

Woodbridge Senior and Gar Field high schools both have only one full court in their gymnasiums to practice and play indoor sports, as compared to the three full courts that all other high schools have in the county.  While the Woodbridge community is grateful that there is money in the budget for a proposed auxiliary gym, the addition of one full court does not make the schools’ facilities equitable unless there are three full courts built for use.

These are just some examples of both inequity and inequality between the schools that have to be resolved in the school budget and capital improvement plan.  And it must start in this new budget year. The time is now for the school administration, school board and board of supervisors to act to rebuild educational fairness and opportunities for all in Prince William County. 

Lake Ridge resident Kate Olson-Flynn, Ph.D., has spent more than two decades working in public education, first as an elementary school teacher and as a professor at various universities across the country. She is an adjunct professor and university supervisor in George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development. She has dedicated most of her work to issues of equity and access in education and improving teaching practices for culturally and linguistically diverse students. 

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(2) comments


I commend the Dr. on her acknowledgment of the physical and factual differences in the school environments for low income, disadvantaged students who attend the old schools in comparison to the middle income, advantaged students who attend the newer, more modern schools. These facts cannot be ignored, however the problem goes much deeper than that. The "separate but equal" laws from Jim Crow days caused the disadvantaged schools of the time to "make due" with whatever they had to work with in the dilapidated schools. As a result of the lack of exposure to modern technology in these old schools, the students historically fell behind the advantaged students in the newer schools where the modern technology was installed. Clearly, there has been a lack of exposure for students in the dilapidated schools to modern technology, the arts, sciences and math when compared to the advantaged students in the newer schools with the latest technology . This has adversely impacted the disadvantaged students, causing them to score lower on technology, science, and math exams. Their lack of exposure to modern technology and over crowed classes adversely impact the performance of many disadvantaged students who attend the old schools.

The new schools were built because the old ones were recognized for their inadequacies and inefficiencies. My husband and I are educators with more then 70 years of experience between the two of us. We have taught and have been exposed to students of various income levels and we have experienced the differences in the schools and the behavior of the students. There is definitely a difference. Generally speaking, students at the newer, more modern schools are better behaved and more interested in school because there are more opportunities for exposure to modern technology and culture. They feel safer and more comfortable in the newer schools.

Consequently the parents (who also WERE NOT exposed to modern technology in their own schools during their educations) cannot expose their children to modern technology. They generally do not qualify for the higher paying technology jobs, causing the spiral effect of lack of exposure at home and in school to modern technology causing disadvantaged students to score lower on technology, math, science and the arts exams.


Ms. Olson-Flynn, Just where would you like the money, (millions of dollars), to come from to update some schools. Tax payers in this county are sick and tired of paying taxes for schools to have swimming pools and many other things they do NOT need. Our schools need to go back to the basics, and let our teachers do the job they were hired to do. Teach our children. Teachers have their hands tied behind their backs when they can not get the support the need to teach our children. No amount of new taxes will fix that. New people moving into our county should be paying their share of taxes, not just home owners. So, if you want to fix something, stop raising taxes on home owners, and let parents pay for what it cost to educate their children.

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