Going Green as a School Improvement Strategy

December 2012, Volume 36, Issue 4

As a former principal, and someone who continues to be involved with K-12 education, I understand the challenges facing today’s school administrators.

Improving academic achievement, safeguarding student health and well-being, saving money and resources, updating and maintaining facilities, and identifying public and private resources and support add up to a formidable to-do list for today’s principals.

The welcome news is that the “greening” of our schools—a growing national movement that now includes thousands of K-12 private, public, and charter schools across the country—can provide solutions to many of these challenges.

Green Solutions

Concerned about improving student achievement? A recent survey by the University of Colorado-Denver of 100 “green” schools in 28 states found a positive correlation between student achievement in science and green school practices. These green practices, based on our Green Schools National Network GreenPrint core practices, included curriculum that advances environmental literacy and sustainability, opportunities for stewardship and service learning, sustainable facilities design and management, and an emphasis on student health and well-being.

Student achievement can also increase with building improvements alone. Students moving from a conventional school to a new green elementary school in Pennsylvania experienced substantial improvements in health and test scores, including a 19 percent increase in oral reading fluency scores. Students at Third Creek Elementary in Statesville, North Carolina, improved from less than 60 percent of students on grade level in reading and math to 80 percent of students on grade level in reading and math after moving into a new green school.

What about the financial impacts of a green school building? Studies have found that the benefits of building green appear quickly in the form of energy savings and decreased human resource costs related to staff turnover and employee absenteeism. Fossil Ridge High School, a LEED Certified school in Fort Collins, Colorado, saves $100,000 a year—enough to hire two new teachers, buy 150 new computers, or purchase 5,000 new textbooks. 

(Note: When principals tell me they can’t afford the costs associated with green buildings, I point out that the cost is an investment that pays dividends far into the future!)

Roadmap to Go Green

Proof that green schools can positively impact academics, student health, and a school’s financial health continue to mount as we approach the Green Schools National Network’s third annual Green Schools National Conference, set for Feb. 22-24, 2013, in West Palm Beach, Florida (www.greenschoolsnationalconference.org).

This conference will be more than merely a feel-good gathering of green-minded administrators, teachers, and students. Whether the topic is curriculum that advances environmental literacy and sustainability, recycling programs and organic foods on the cafeteria line, or improving indoor air quality, the “greening” of the nation’s schools points the way toward saving money, improving student health and achievement—and saving the planet in the process.

This movement that began as individual educators advocating the “greening” of our schools, now includes school boards that want initiatives to save energy costs, teachers who want curricula focused on environmental science and sustainability, and principals who desire students who are engaged, active learners. The green school movement has broad appeal.The movement has attracted wider attention and more mainstream acceptance in the past year, thanks to the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Schools Program. Schools earning the designation have become role models and mentors for other schools.

Our February conference program will attract leaders of the movement as well as schools who have yet to commit to a green path. Whether your school is already green or just getting started, the conference will offer practical strategies and solutions, as we provide a “road map” for our conferees. The conference is only the first step for many.

In today’s K-12 environment, green surely is the way to go.

Jim McGrath, longtime NAESP member, is director of Green Schools National Network.


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