HEAD-ROYCE SCHOOL'S NEW GREEN MISSION
Students at Head-Royce School, a K-12 independent school in Oakland, California, helped to inspire a new school-wide mission to reduce its environmental impacts. Embraced by the Head of School, teachers, the Board, parents and alumni, learn how leadership from the bottom-up and from the top-down can make for dramatic changes in a short amount of time...
The Green Council, whose majority members are students, together with teachers, facilities staff, and Head of School, are leading efforts to integrate sustainability into all aspects of the school.
A desire to “do something” about the environment had been pondered off and on over the last couple of years by various people at Head-Royce School, a K-12 independent school of about 770 students in Oakland, California. Students met with teachers in the Upper School’s Environmental Club. Recycling was happening in a half-hearted way. Some Board members and Administrators discussed energy use and conservation. But the conversations remained separate and the efforts didn’t coalesce. Over the last eight months, however, a series of events have brought the disparate pieces together, uniting and energizing the whole school community behind the goal of sustainability.
According to Paul Chapman, the Head of School, the school’s greening initiative came about from “students taking positive action for change.” In May 2006, then-sophomore Alejo Kraus-Polk, Co-president of the Environmental Club, invited Deborah Moore of the Green Schools Initiative to speak at one of their lunchtime meetings. “Her slideshow inspired us all to organize the school's efforts to make Head-Royce more sustainable and environmentally friendly,” said Chapman. Around this time, then-junior Yaeir Heber was elected as the new President of the Student Council on a platform that included taking environmental action at school. A few weeks later, the screening of “An Inconvenient Truth” – Al Gore’s alarming and widely-seen documentary about global warming – “galvanized our entire community,” Chapman continued.
“Watching the film, I was struck by two reactions: we must expand our education about the climate and the environment, and we must - as a community - take positive action. Thinking about the legacy we leave to the generation of students we are now educating, I wondered, what could we at Head-Royce do to become a model ‘Green School’?” said Chapman. The greening of the school became his top personal goal for the year. Concerted efforts of the students, Board, and staff began in earnest in the Fall of 2006, resulting in an ambitious program, operating at many levels and integrating many parts of the school.
With the help of the National Association of Independent Schools and the Green Schools Initiative (GSI), the school adopted a green mission statement in October 2006 based loosely around the four principles that GSI uses to define a healthy and sustainable school: use resources sustainably, create a healthy, green space through nutrition and the outdoors, strive to be toxics-free, and teach stewardship through environmental education. The Green Council was formed, comprised of 12 members of faculty, administrators, and importantly a majority of students, to start making the crucial decisions about how to proceed with the greening of the school in the key areas of the mission statement.
Students ran a trash audit and the results were shocking: an estimated 50,000 pounds a year of garbage, over half of which was compostable! They addressed the full faculty to educate them about the “do’s and don’ts” of recycling and have made real headway with their garbage reduction efforts already. The audit has prompted Head-Royce to contract for separating and removing compostable waste and is leading the way to a new program linked with the emerging healthy food initiative.
In November the Board approved a budget that will enable Head-Royce to take several major steps towards its goal, including an additional $500,000 to “green” the Master Plan, which involves the construction of a new building, renovation of existing buildings, and seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. As part of this effort, the Board also approved the installation of photovoltaic cells on the gymnasium roof. This solar project will generate 15% of the School’s annual energy needs!
The wider Head-Royce community of parents, alumni, and board members has provided a wealth of expertise to help the school evaluate its options. Parents and Board members Peter Smith ’78 and Scott Verges are leading efforts for incorporating “green” building practices into the Master Plan. Parent Tom King and past-parent Peter Darbee, who also work at Pacific Gas and Electric, are helping to conduct a school-wide energy audit. And parent Dan Kammen, UC Berkeley Professor of Energy and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL), is leading a study of ways to make the school “net energy zero” through the use of solar and wind power. In addition, an anonymous donor has stepped forward to cover half of the additional costs for “greening” the Master Plan.
Lastly, the Curriculum Committee adopted a set of Principles for Ecological Literacy , with support from the Center for Eco-Literacy. In December the full faculty used the principles to audit the current K-12 program, examining ways to strengthen the curriculum to highlight these themes and recognizing opportunities to incorporate Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory, including the “naturalist intelligence.”
When asked how the school is overcoming barriers to change such as cost and time, Headmaster Chapman remarked, “Naturally we are concerned about any added costs, especially in connection with LEED certification. In the end, however, a consensus emerged that this was simply the right thing to do. Those of us working most closely with the project are simply making time. I believe this is the single most important curricular initiative in the 21st century for our school.”
Some may perceive that changes like this can happen more easily at an independent school, where financial pressures may be less, both within the school’s budget and within the budgets of school families. And Head-Royce clearly has many active parents with expertise and resources to offer. However, public school communities should not despair! Public schools have access to a host of other public and private financial resources that can support major greening efforts if there is the will, especially in light of California’s passage of Proposition 1D, the $10.4 billion school facilities bond measure that sets aside $100 million for construction of “high performance” schools. And many agencies and organizations work specifically with public schools on these issues, including the Green Schools Initiative. (See “Greenbacks for Green Schools” for a compilation of funding resources to support greening efforts in California schools.)
It is rare to see change like this occur in such a fluid and collaborative way, especially as bureaucratic and financial obstacles, or just communal apathy and displacement of responsibility, tend to block swift action. But environmental spirit is in the air at Head-Royce and positive change is happening from the bottom up. As an indication of the widespread community support, Paul Chapman related “twice when I addressed large groups at the school – at Back-To-School Night and at the Holiday Program just last Friday – I received spontaneous applause after mentioning the school’s greening efforts.”
Accomplishments worth applauding. Bravo to all involved – especially the students in Head-Royce’s Environmental Club for getting things started!
For more information about Head-Royce School, visit www.headroyce.org.
Profile 2/December 2006