Since 2011, the New Jersey School Boards Association has been expanding its sustainability initiatives to include new collaborative partners, resources and training, so all schools have the necessary tools to go green.
Instituting sustainability measures isn’t just a matter of doing the right thing. Districts that implement these programs see the benefits in reduced operating costs; in their own environment (a healthier learning environment for students and staff), and in education (savings can be redirected to the classroom, and sustainability initiatives often teach students valuable lessons). Sustainability initiatives are the foundation for a holistic strategy that can benefit everyone.
Here is an update on some of NJSBA’s projects and programs over the past year.
In 2013, for the second year, a designated area was provided on the Workshop exhibit floor to demonstrate and showcase sustainability best practices from organizations that have a proven track record.
There were more than 20 sustainability presentations ranging from energy savings to sustainability curriculum to environmental issues and code compliance. In 2013, school facility personnel who attended the sustainability presentations received continuing education credits from the New Jersey School Buildings and Grounds Association. LEED professionals earned credential maintenance credits from the U.S. Green Building Council for attending sustainability-related presentations. This was the first time NJSBA offered these opportunities in an effort to promote a green team approach so the leadership of a school district can learn together at Workshop.
In addition, the convention was a carbon-neutral event, which means that sponsoring organizations, in an effort to help the environment and fight global warming, made a donation to pay for reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere elsewhere – such as a renewable energy or reforestration project – to balance out the emissions created.
Sustainable Jersey for Schools
NJSBA, along with Sustainable Jersey, a nonprofit that provides tools, training and financial incentives for municipalities in the state to pursue sustainability initiatives, are working together to create a sustainability certification program called “Sustainable Jersey for Schools” designed specifically for New Jersey public school districts and charter schools. It is modeled on the successful Sustainable Jersey certification program for municipalities (72 percent of New Jersey municipalities participate). Sustainable Jersey for Schools will provide specific guidance and resources to schools on developing comprehensive sustainability programs.
Participating schools will earn points for certain actions, such as performing energy audits, establishing sustainability curriculum and boosting recycling efforts. The program will help schools improve efficiency, cut waste and contribute to students’ education in the key areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, often referred to as “STEM education.”
On July 22 the public announcement of the program took place at The College of New Jersey, and Sustainable Jersey for Schools began recruiting task force members to design the certification checklist for schools. Since then, task force committees have been meeting to identify the most important topics that will be included in the checklist. These committees will continue to meet and the results will be distilled into the highest and most important priorities for schools to address.
Once the task force groups complete their task, Sustainable Jersey for Schools will provide a roadmap for sustainability, and offer a comprehensive portfolio of tools, guidance materials, training and financial incentives to support and reward progress. Each school wishing to become certified will be required to complete a balanced package of sustainability actions. The program is currently scheduled to be introduced in September 2014. NJSBA continues to support and work directly with the Sustainable Jersey for Schools team to assist with the development of the program.
Over the past 10 years, the Alliance for Competitive Energy Services (ACES) has helped more than 400 New Jersey school districts save more than $200 million in energy costs. ACES has helped schools achieve these savings by aggregating purchases of electricity and natural gas, and then passing along the discounted prices to its member districts.
At the October 2013 Workshop conference, ACES Plus was introduced. This program will focus on the next generation in energy savings through renewable sources of energy and energy-efficiency measures. Schools have tremendous opportunities to save money using renewable energy and efficiency measures, however it can be complicated to research the various options, and costly to make a mistake. ACES Plus will provide districts with the necessary help in a number of implementation strategies, including planning, financing and contracts; solar and other renewable energy systems; district-wide energy efficiency; electric demand response; and security.
In addition, ACES Plus will be to connect these services to education curricula and classroom activities that will provide students, staff, and local residents an opportunity to participate in sustainability efforts that enhance facility management and educational goals.
NJ Sustainable Schools Project (NJSSP)
An important project that is occurring with 11 pilot schools throughout the state is the NJSSP. Managed by NJSBA, this three-year research project has set out to determine and document the various steps that schools can take to become sustainable. Most of the research for schools related to sustainability has been on new construction. This project will focus on the greening of existing schools where methods may vary and little data is available. For the past 18 months, the 11 pilot schools have established measurable objectives, and will pursue and track these objectives. Supported with professional development by the sustainability team at NJSBA and various subject matter experts, the schools will share their results with each other and eventually through a Sustainability Guidebook for School Board Members that will be compiled from the results of the project and disseminated statewide. The guidebook will include information on planning strategies, policy examples, the physical changes to building operations and maintenance, as well as other elements that are significant for decision makers to understand in order to become a sustainable school.
Alternative Funding – Sustainable Schools Academy Programs
Introduced for the first time in November 2013 and sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council New Jersey chapter, the Alternative Funding – Sustainable Schools Academy Workshop is focused on providing a roadmap to a sustainable school. The workshop presents sustainable practices as a means to create alternative revenue streams that can be diverted for school improvement and student achievement. It touches upon subjects such as energy audits and incentives for schools, resources from the Center for Green Schools, sustainability policy and certification programs such as Sustainable Jersey for Schools, Green Ribbon Schools and the LEED rating system. It provides examples of schools that have saved money, curriculum to support green initiatives and the opportunity to network with other school officials to discuss green initiatives.
Workshops continue through May. There is a workshop scheduled in April at the Burlington County College’s Center for Sustainability and one program scheduled in May at Stockton College.
NJ Green Program of Study (NJGPOS)
In July 2009, New Jersey was selected by the U.S. Department of Education to participate along with four other states in a Technical Assistance Academy to develop a green program of study for career and technical education.
The New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) had applied for the federal program to advance their efforts to create a statewide program of study for emerging green careers.
In December 2013 NJSBA took over the management of the fourth year of the pilot program and will work with the six original pilot schools and the new schools that will be recruited to participate in the program.
NJSBA will work closely with the Office of Career and Technical Education at the NJDOE to help meet the objectives for the fourth and final year of the grant.
The NJSBA sustainability team will assist schools with the implementation of the program, provide professional development and webinars, and work with sustainability partners to align industry standards to the curriculum pathways. There are three pathways for the NJGPOS: Sustainable Design, Sustainable Energy and Sustainable Construction. All the curriculum units and lessons can be found on the website. In addition, Stockton and Burlington County College (BCC) have created an Introduction to Sustainability course that is being delivered to a handful of teachers in the NJGPOS so they can teach the course to 12th-graders who can then receive college credit toward sustainability at BCC and Stockton.
Sister School Program with Taiwan
Sustainability is not just a statewide initiative but one that is being practiced by schools all over the world. The Sister School program with Taiwan is being run though Eco-Schools USA, a free program brought to you in New Jersey by the National Wildlife Federation and New Jersey Audubon. It is part of the international Eco-Schools program now in 58 nations, reaching over 18 million students in 48,000 K-12 schools.
This sister school program is supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Environmental Protection Administration Taiwan, and the New Jersey School Boards Association. NJSBA helped identify and enlist seven of the ten schools that will be partnering with schools in Taiwan to share their projects and best practices involving sustainability, climate change and related areas.
The whole NJSBA team has been working to bring these new initiatives to New Jersey schools. However, a critical factor in developing the programs has been the addition of two staff members at the Association, John Henry and Kara Angotti. Henry is a fulltime STEM and sustainability specialist and Angotti is a Green Schools Fellow from the U.S. Green Building Council Center for Green Schools whose three-year fellowship is funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb.