The New Jersey School Boards Association announced Monday that it is supporting a shaping $300,000 three-year study designed to determine if retrofitting existing school buildings with clean energy technology can help student achievement.
The so-called New Jersey Sustainable Schools Project also will attempt to determine if green energy can reduce operating costs, decrease dependency on property taxes for funding and provide more money to directly support classroom learning
The study will be conducted by the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC), a public non-profit service agency, and underwritten by a grant from the NJSBA’s Alliance for Competitive Energy Services (ACES), a statewide energy-buying cooperative for public schools.
“The New Jersey Sustainable Schools Project will assess the financial benefit of converting older schools to green energy, the contribution of a healthier physical environment to student achievement and the opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education that a green school can provide students,” NJSBA Director Marie S. Bilik said.
Bilik, the potential educational benefits are factors in the NJSBA Board of Directors’ vote to fund the study through money available from its ACES program.
Cost savings for school districts also played a pivotal role. The ACES program has saved New Jersey taxpayers more than $62 million in electricity costs over the past three years, Bilik said. The Sustainable Schools Project grant, which will equal approximately $100,000 a year for three years, will fund a study that is consistent with ACES’ mission to contain energy costs for public school districts and taxpayers, she added.
“The project will be of significant interest in New Jersey, where the average age of public school buildings exceeds 50 years,” Bilik said. “While green energy has been a component of new schools and the focus of building renovation in some districts, most schools have not been able to pursue the concept.
“For local boards of education, an important project outcome will be guidance in developing policies, pursuing alternative funding and public-private partnerships, and reinvesting savings in the instructional program.”
EIRC Director Charles Ivory said the study will provide a cost-benefit analysis of the installation of green energy technology in existing schools.
“Existing studies demonstrate that newly constructed green schools improve student achievement and lower costs, but there is no research that can be found about the impact of the process of greening an older school building while at the same time greening the curriculum,” Ivory said. “That’s at the heart of the project. With the goal of making the green school a learning laboratory, the project is in direct alignment with U.S. and New Jersey Department of Education initiatives to expand STEM education and make it more relevant to students through real-world learning.”
The study will focus on a group of New Jersey schools that have yet to be selected but mirror the state’s geography, demographics, grade levels and programming. Each school will produce a “green strategic plan,” action steps, lesson plans and resources.
Teams from the project districts will participate in training coordinated by the Educational Leadership Foundation of New Jersey, an NJSBA affiliate, and provided by the Green Schools Leadership Institute.
—TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM