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The Greening of Head-Royce School

The Greening of Head-Royce:  One School’s Journey Toward Sustainability

The Challenge We Face

On a warm, spring day in Berkeley in 2006, my wife Helen and I arranged an early viewing of the just-released film, “An Inconvenient Truth.”  For a long time I had felt a growing concern about the state of our environment and the rapid, significant change in the climate that was both observable over my lifetime and well-documented by scientists.  Having read Al Gore’s 1992 analysis of the environmental issue, Earth in the Balance, when it first came out, I felt I already knew something about the topic.  But I was unprepared for my strong, emotional reaction. As I said to Helen on the walk home from the theater, “that was a profoundly depressing movie.”  “Well,” she observed, “you could have that reaction, or you could do something about it.  The last time I checked, you were a school principal, and you have a bully pulpit.  Why don’t you use it?”  That was exactly the kind of practical advice I needed.  Then in my twenty-second year as the Head of Head-Royce School, a K-12, coeducational private independent school with 800 students in Oakland, California, I decided to make working on environmental sustainability my top personal and professional priority.  And this is the story of how we changed Head-Royce, in a systemic way, to become a model green school.<--break->

Green California Schools Summit

Green California Schools Summit, “Green Schools: More Important Than Ever!

Pasadena, CA, December 9, 2010

 

The fourth annual Green California Schools Summit in Pasadena brought together 250 people from all over the state that is leading the nation in greening its school facilities.  The workshops focused on how to build, finance and operate environmentally sustainable schools. The California education system is the largest in the country—6.2 million students, 9324 schools, 1000 districts—and offers a model for other states to emulate in strategies to green schools.   The progress reported in energy efficiency in California public schools was breathtaking, despite the impact of the recession.  At the conference, educators also described the changing curriculum and student culture in green schools, a vital component in environmental sustainability.

Twenty-First Century Skills

Skills for 21st Century Learning

Not long ago, at the end of the 20th century, our nation’s educators were gripped in culture wars, debating the relative merits of curricular programs based on the Western canon versus those with a multicultural and global perspective.  And at the same time, the character education movement focused on how schools can and should shape our children’s values.  With the new century unfolding, the National Association of Independent Schools has embarked on the task of describing what the “schools of the future” will look like in our rapidly changing, interdependent world.  The focus can be summed up in a single word: skills.

Green Schools: Northern California

From my home base in Berkeley I am systematically visiting green schools in Northern California to document best practices.  Here are the schools I have visited thus far, in order of appearance: 1. Marin Country Day School, 2. Prospect Sierra School, 3. Castilleja School, 4. Marin Academy.

 

1. Marin Country Day School: An Inspirational Environmental Community

 Nearly a decade ago I served on the Board of Trustees of the Marin Country Day School, and I was eager to return and see how the school had grown.  Arriving on a brisk December morning to a warm and enthusiastic welcome from Head of School Lucinda Lee Katz and Board member Adam Willner, my former student at University High School in San Francisco, I was quickly reminded that MCDS is a remarkable school.   It is full of 550 engaged K-8 students, and teachers and parents who live the School’s mission that “inspires children to love learning…..nurtures a deep senses of respect and responsibility….and challenges them to envision and work toward a better world.”  In the course of my morning, it also became clear that since my time on the Board, MCDS has embraced and implemented a vision of environmental sustainability that is inspirational.

Attuned to Nature

Attuned to Nature:  My Reverence for the Environment

My first memory of the natural world comes from a crisp, spring day when I, as a three year old, discovered the pussy willow buds bursting on long stems in the side yard of our home on Lincoln Street in a suburb of Chicago.   Sometime later a front blew in and toppled a tall pole supporting a large vine.  And in early summer while riding my tricycle in the neighborhood, I felt the vacuum blast of a tornado that ripped through the town, uprooting trees and sending my family into the basement for shelter.  These were the first moments in my life’s journey becoming attuned to nature.

Green Schools: The South

Green School Visits—The South

My visits to schools in the "south" includes several in Washington DC.  Here they are in order visited: 1. St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School, 2. Sidwell Friends School, 3. Charlotte Country Day School

1.  St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School:  Environmental Awakening

Just days before I visited St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School (SSSAS), an Episcopal co-ed day school of 1100 students in Alexandria, Virginia, in mid-November, the school had finished hosting its third annual Students for Sustainability conference, or S4S, which the Washington Post called an “environmental awakening.”  The gathering, which drew students from all over Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia, featured presentations on topics from the importance of beekeeping to solar power and from composting to electric cars.  The event symbolizes the key critical role of students can play in the greening of a school.

Green Schools National Conference Report, Minneapolis, MN, October 24-25, 2010

“Growing Green Schools Across America”: Green Schools National Conference Report, Minneapolis, MN, October 24-25, 2010

 The 1st Annual Green Schools National Conference attracted some 800 environmentalists from across the country in four different categories: formal school-based educators, environmental educators from the non-profit world, corporate representatives, and higher education.   As a result of my attendance, I gained a better sense of the “big picture” in the emerging green school national movement; here are some of the leadership organizations I have identified: 

New England Environmental Education Alliance, October 21-22, 2010

“Create, Cultivate, Coordinate:  Designing our Shared Future”: New England Environmental Education Alliance Annual Meeting (NEEEA),  Fairlee, Vermont, October 21-22, 2010

The 44th annual meeting of the New England Environmental Education Alliance (NEEEA) brought together over 250 educators, practitioners and environmental activists in a beautiful retreat center at Lake Morey in Fairlee, Vermont for three days of inspiring keynote addresses, informative workshops, and constructive networking.  This is one of the longest running environmental regional groups in the country, and their successful affiliation has been a result of several key factors: New England has had a long reverence for the land, expressed in art, literature, and many outdoor clubs and organizations; the area has developed an unusually large number of non-profit groups devoted to nurturing the environment; the land itself has regained its natural, forested canopy that paints the hills in stunning fall colors and beautiful greens; there are several local universities—University of Vermont, University of New Hampshire, and Antioch University New England--that have developed programs to train environmental educators; and the area has given us national leaders in the environmental movement.

Green Schools: New England

The Green School Express: New England                           October 18-21, 2010

As part of my effort to learn about the national movement to promote environmental sustainability in schools, I spent a beautiful week amidst the spectacular fall colors in New England visiting ten remarkable schools.  Here are the individual school reports from that week.

The Green Schools Express

The Green Schools Express                                    October 2010

This year as part of my effort to learn about the environmental movement in our nation’s schools, I will be visiting roughly fifty schools and a number of local, regional and national conferences across the country. Encouraged by my friends at the National Association of Independent Schools, especially Vice President Jefferson Burnett,  the Center for Ecoliteracy and the Green Schools Initiative in Berkeley, Sustainable Schools in Massachusetts, and colleagues in schools nationwide, I have identified some of the leading schools in an effort to document best practices in environmental sustainability programs.

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