Sustainable Energy in Public Education

I just came from a presentation in Cooperstown, NY by Sarah James of Sarah James & Associates. Ms. James’ city/town planning firm specializes in working with municipalities in the United States and abroad to develop and implement plans to reduce public and private dependence on fossil fuels, synthetic chemicals and, in general, all things unnatural and harmful. The firm describes their mission:

Sarah James & Associates is a consulting firm offering services in city/town planning and community development. We specialize in planning that is oriented toward the goal of sustainability, and community development that is also sustainable development. We also specialize in citizen-based participatory approaches to city and town planning, and planning for sustainability.

What’s this got to do with education? In the public sphere, one of the types of buildings over which local authorities exercise the most control is the public school. We may have less control over curricular issues due to state/national guidelines, but ADA/zoning/etc. guidelines notwithstanding, we can build our physical plants as we see fit – subject to the approval of the public.

Ms. James and the local residents focused primarily on the moral and social arguments for greening up our towns: revitalizing industry by creating green projects (therefore giving the jobless jobs and the purposeless purpose); providing for a cleaner indoor and outdoor environment that would increase both health and happiness, etc. It is a noble endeavor and one that may provide very real benefits to the community.

For the majority of those in attendance, these arguments were enough. The other 99% of the community who did not attend – as well as a few attendees like myself – require that one of three conditions must be met before giving approval:

  1. An accurate, demonstrated cost/benefit analysis that will decrease taxes;
  2. An accurate, demonstrated cost/benefit analysis that will deliver more utility for the money we’re already spending;
  3. A justification of a tax increase by urgency or societal benefit.

#3 is just about impossible to prove – witness the debate on global warming. The majority of citizens of Upstate New York share similar views as I hold: While the American carbon footprint isn’t nearly as small as that of the Bongo-Bongo tribe, they didn’t invent the microchip or put anyone on the Moon. So, we need to focus on #1 or #2.

The concept of “Green Building” has sprouted to meet the needs of the moral/social arguments as well as the fiscal. The US Green Building Council has taken the lead in developing environmentally-sound plans for communities, including public school buildings; many architects and planners in public service are increasingly paying attention to the ideas coming from the USGBC, including a few – though nearly non-existent and hardly significant – that are part of Cooperstown Central School’s proposed Capital Project. The EPA has a Green Building section on its website that provides information for small changes in planning that can save not just trees and toilet water, but also dollars and cents.

Locally, we have two schools that have made use of solar power to reduce their dependence, both politically and financially, on traditional fuels. The Voorheesville Central School District and Bethlehem Central School District have recently (the last 2-3 years, I believe) installed solar panels that generate power used directly by the building underneath. You can read a bit about how solar power is used in schools in the following newsletters from [click to view, pdf document will open in a new window; right click and 'save as' to save]:

Organizations that promote green building and environmentally-friendly policies are too-often heavy on lip service and light on data, especially financial. Even so, it is worth considering whether your school’s proposed building projects [current and future] could benefit from some of the ideas presented by the USGBC or A socially responsible and fiscally viable plan could go a long way to delivering value to your district’s residents.

For those interested in Sarah James’ book, co-authored with Torbjorn Lahti, you can take a look [or buy it] at Amazon: “The Natural Step for Communities: How Cities and Towns Can Change to Sustainable Practices.” New Society Publishers, 2004.

Have any of your schools considered or implemented any of these Green Building solutions? All details appreciated.

UPDATE at 4/28/07, 2.23pm:

The LA Times has a bit about LA Unified’s Maywood Academy High School:

L.A. Unified’s Maywood Academy High School (right) was named a semi-finalist in the 2007 Sustainable Leadership Awards for Design and Development. The campus is the first LAUSD high school to receive such a distinction, according to a district press release.

Maywood Academy’s sustainable features include: the “use of recycled content in its construction, improved storm water management, use of drought tolerant plants and shrubs, maximized use of daylighting to save energy costs and improve visual comfort and implementation of various energy efficiencies – including a cooling system which shuts off when windows are opened, and a ‘cool roof’ which insulates indoor temperature.”

They also link to some photos of Maywood; it looks pretty chic and modern. I know from Analytics that there’s a mass of visitors to this site from the LA-metro area – is anyone familiar with this case?

Three Candidates Run for Cooperstown School Board

With current Board members Betsy Del Giacco Jay and Kelly Branigan having decided to vacate their seats on the Cooperstown Central School District Board of Education, the Cooperstown Crier reports that three candidates have stepped into the ring:

The Cooperstown Central School Board will welcome two new members after the election May 15, as both of the current board members whose terms are ending have decided not to run for reelection. Kelly Branigan will step down after 12 years on the board and Betsy Del Giacco Jay after six years.

District clerk Darlene Bennett said three people submitted petitions for the two open spots.

They are Paula Greene, Mary Leonard and Matthew Tabor.

From what I hear, that last one’s a pretty handsome guy.

I’d like to thank Mrs. Branigan and Ms. Jay for their service to the Board over the years. Few people are willing to devote so much time without the promise of remuneration or recognition.

In “Change Will Be Good for Board,” The Crier’s editorial staff weighed in today with some thoughts on what this election really means:

We were glad last week to learn that three new candidates are running for two open seats on the Cooperstown Central School Board of Education.

That’s not to imply we had problems with the two outgoing members, Kelly Branigan and Betsy Del Giacco Jay. Branigan put in 12 years of dedicated service and Jay spent six years on the board.

We thank both for the time and energy they spent helping to improve our children’s educational experience and hope they’ll continue to contribute.

No, we’re glad to see the new candidates because of what it says about the community.

The editorial continues by recalling a tumultuous year in which residents – and, as the editors admit, even the local media – have questioned some of the District’s decisions.

They’ve missed a key point, though. The remarkable aspect of the three candidates is not just that we stepped forward to contend for a difficult job, but that we’ve done so out of a genuine desire to serve the District. Usually when there is a period of contention in public education, angst-ridden residents trumpet their gripes and groom their pet issues for an assault on the system. From what I can tell, there are no such vendettas or personal agendas in this race – and that is refreshing.

Other local Districts, like Charlotte Valley Central School and Unatego Central School, are overflowing with challengers. In contrast, the Oneonta City School District’s incumbents appear to keep their seats safe.

As the election nears – it is May 15th – I will give attention to issues relevant to the Cooperstown Central School District, including analysis of the proposed Capital Project and the 2007-2008 Budget. In a few days I will have a tab on the site on which all of this information will be aggregated and readily available. Readers who aren’t from the District or Upstate New York will still find the analysis both interesting and informative; most all issues facing public schools are highly relevant to all districts.

The mailing list for this site has grown over the last two months – if you haven’t added your e-mail address to the list, you can do so in the box at the top left of the site [or, if you're reading this post's individual page, you'll also see a box at the end of the post]. I will send news and updates with greater frequency over the next few weeks.

As always, District residents can e-mail me at with any questions about the May 15th election or my views on the school budget or the Capital Project and I will respond promptly. You can also call my office phone at 607.547.1968 or my cell phone at 607.435.8354. Accountability and accessibility are key elements in public education.

I would like to wish all candidates in school board elections near and far the best throughout the process. I look forward to hearing from as many residents as possible and networking with school board candidates in different parts of the country.

A Few EduBlogs on Nonsense in Education

Each weekday I spend a few hours reading 150-200 education articles from RSS feeds in Google Reader (well, I throw in FireJoeMorgan, Curt Schilling’s 38Pitches and Mark Cuban, too). I tag some of the better articles to my and bookmark others I’d like to write about. There are currently 100+ bookmarked articles that may or may not see attention; there’s an ebb and flow, but I just can’t seem to pare down the list quickly enough.

The point of this post? In addition to some great stuff, I read a ton of garbage-writing about education. Sometimes it’s badly flawed in terms of logic or facts; other times the language used is utter nonsense. I wish this tripe confined itself to the internet, but last night an educational architect told me that new windows in a classroom are “scientifically proven to give a double-digit increase in education.” I forgot to give him my e-mail address so he could send me a message as soon as he could explain what a “double-digit increase in education” was (and link me to the research).

But at least I’m not alone. I found solace in two recent posts that lamented jargon, gobbledygook and nonsense in academics.

  • Mark Montgomery of Textbook Evaluator – a blog I increasingly pay attention to, as readers of this blog have noticed – challenges the meaning of the phrase “critical thinking.” We see it in grading rubrics, syllabi, lesson plans, everywhere in education – and you’d get a blank stare from 99 out of 100 educators if you asked them what it meant. Then you’d get 100 different answers. Mr. Montgomery says:

To me, the phrase “critical thinking” is empty. Let’s give it some shape or toss it in the lexical garbage can.

Read his pithy treatment to find out why. Sometimes all it takes is a few sentences.

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

Judith Butler, a gender theorist at UC Berkeley, is proud to own that one. What’s the reason for all this?

Today’s intellectual elite — the stars of Harvard and Berkeley — speak in such gibberish precisely because if they spoke plainly, clearing the smoke from their ideas, we’d learn that their views cover the spectrum from boringly unoriginal to sand-poundingly stupid.

Goldberg might be on to something. But be careful, Jonah; they might appear crazy, but like Cosmo Kramer, maybe they’re so sane that they blow our minds.

  • And finally, there’s ScienceGeek’s Educational Jargon Generator. I love this one – all you have to do is click “Generate Jargon” and you’ll see a verb/adjective/noun combination reminiscent of what you see and hear… well, everywhere in education. Here are my first three tries:
  1. “engage metacognitive functionalities”
  2. “morph thematic processes”
  3. “benchmark site-based styles”

What are your favorite/most deeply-rued pseudo-edu-witticisms? Your gripes on nonsense? Those overused terms that just don’t seem to mean anything?

C’mon, don’t be shy.

Highlights from the 116th Carnival of Education

The Carnival is back at The Education Wonks this week. There are posts about everything from technology in schools to Virginia Tech, so come and get it – you’ll most certainly find something that interests you.

This week’s All-Star Team:

  • Dangerously Irrelevant addresses two of the most salient issues in education: leadership and technology. The Carnival linked to one of his posts, but after reading for an hour, I’ve got to recommend his entire site.
  • Textbook Evaluator makes consecutive All-Star Teams with a thoughtful post on curriculum and how we think about education. We’re distrustful, we can’t back it up with much, anything goes, and the textbook companies will put things in order if we don’t. Eeep.
  • Education in Texas details the war of attrition between a motivated, effective teacher and her administration. Guess who won?
  • Polski3 makes the best of that undesirable end-of-year curricular panic.
  • Three Standard Deviations to the Left tells us why administration talks to us like we’re idiots. He means teachers, but “us” suffices for students, parents, teachers, and the community.
  • Right on the Left Coast endorses his opponent for all the right reasons.
  • The Education Wonks tell us about James Calderwood, the Eagle Scout who earned every possible merit badge – 122 in total. Are there any teachers who have passed every single PRAXIS?

You can read the entire Carnival, including my submission about the Texas teacher fired for maintaining grading standards.

A note about next week’s Carnival, hosted by Dr. Homeslice:

Next Week’s Carnival midway will be hosted by Dr. Homeslice. Contributors are invited to send submissions to: drhomeslice [at] hotmail [dot] com , or use this handy submission form. Entries should be received no later than 9:00 PM (Eastern) Tuesday, May 1, 2007. Please include the title of your post, and its URL, if possible. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the midway should open next Wednesday morning.

If you’re interested in some other good stuff [not just education], you can see the best of what I’ve read this week by going to my

Give Him a Kick, He Likes It!

Sometimes I wonder exactly what goes on in the Weapons of Math Destruction’s school district. We all know the feeling, buddy.

weapons of math destruction


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