In many ways, Betty D. Covington has seen history turn a full revolution in Prince William County.
As a teacher, administrator and School Board member over the past five decades, it would be easy to say that Covington, who has represented the Dumfries area on the School Board since 2003, has the long view in mind when she approaches issues. Covington is being honored, along with other educators, Thursday at Hylton High School for 50 years of service to the school system.
She was one of the county’s few female administrators years ago, back when, she said, it was considered a man’s job.
“My goodness, the 50 years have gone by so quickly,” said Covington, who declined to give her age, instead saying that particular number is really a “frame of mind” anyway. She continues to serve, she said, because she loves education and wants to pay back Prince William.
“I have folks say, ‘Why would you want to be on the School Board to hear angry people and get bashed sometimes?’ ” she said. “Education has been in my heart since I was a little girl.”
Covington has always loved school, partly out of necessity and partly out of the values instilled by her father, she said. She grew up in a small town near Lumberton, N.C., on a tobacco farm. Her family was poor by conventional standards, she said. But she tries to follow her father’s advice on those kinds of issues — never be envious of others and be grateful for what you have.
She was sent to work on the farm at the age of 6, tending to tobacco and cotton plants. The work was arduous, and she saw others at her school going home to relax and play outside. She would ask her father: “Where’s this equity in life I keep hearing about?”
Being rich had nothing to do with material things, she was taught, among other values that have kept her humble and working hard, she said. She was taught another thing, too: education was the way off the farm.
“I did not miss a day of school for nine straight years,” she said. “I loved school. It was better to be at school than to be on that farm working.”
She brought the same attitude to her first teaching job in Prince William in 1961, after graduating from East Carolina University. She taught at Dumfries Elementary School and later moved into administration at other schools, including as principal of Kilby Elementary School, where she was principal for 19 years. Her three children all attended Prince William schools, and her son, Mike, is a teacher and coach at Potomac High School.
And although Prince William schools grapple with today’s issues, she is constantly reminded of those of yesterday, she said. One example: During her first years teaching in the county, Covington taught in a mobile classroom — trailers that have long served as “learning cottages,” as Covington describes them — in 1962. Then and now, the school system often has a hard time keeping up with the constant influx of residents and new students.
Covington said it would take five new schools to replace the more than 200 portable classrooms that are in the county. Additionally, schools in Dumfries tend to be older and in need of upgrades, she said, although newer schools are built in the quickly-growing western end.
That’s a challenge, she said. “The economy is such that there’s not the money to do everything people want done,” Covington said.
One of the things schools must do, she said, is pay teachers appropriately. She has been vocal in recent weeks in supporting that position.
“I feel a raise is a need, and remember that I am a teacher at heart,” she said. “I’m not a politician, I’m an educator.”
Covington has few regrets, but at times, she said, she focused on work at the expense of spending time with her children. She said, however, that as a female, she had been told early on by a colleague that “you’re going to have to work twice as hard for equal recognition.”
She has no plans to retire, she said. She wants to continue to serve on the School Board and feels grateful for all the opportunities Prince William has given her.
“I’ve got 50 years,” she said. “But I’m not done yet.”