We support funding for a Director of Planning and Sustainability at NPS

Letter sent to the School Committee on March 30, 2020, for the Public Hearing for the School Budget. 


Dear School Committee Members, Superintendent Fleishman, Mayor Fuller, 

We are pleased to know that the Superintendent’s Proposed Budget for the Fiscal Year 2021 includes “funding for a Director of Planning and Sustainability who will both support our building projects and work in collaboration with the city and other partners to improve sustainable practices in the areas of transportation, energy, recycling, and food services.”

In 2018, we wrote this Committee to ask for a Sustainability Coordinator for the district, because “NPS needs a person dedicated to district-wide sustainability efforts so that waste, recycling and energy issues in schools are more coordinated and sustained.” (More here.)

We applaud the district’s commitment to sustainability and your decision to focus on sustainable infrastructure and on the impact of Newton’s buildings on the environment and on the climate. We hope that the new Director of Planning and Sustainability will be able to address operational issues, especially regarding waste management, and work collaboratively with the School Sustainability Working Group (SSWG), as well as with Green Teams at schools. We are excited about the opportunities offered by this new position, and believe that we can help support the new director, as we have worked closely with Liam Hurley, Stephen Marshall, Waneta Trabert, Ann Berwick, and others from NPS, School Committee and the City. 

Furthermore, as we have seen great energy in Green Newton’s School Connections initiative (schools.greennewton.org), we hope that you’ll remember what you’ve heard from the NPS students, parents and educators that have spoken to you about the urgency of environmental literacy, particularly in regards to climate change. (Examples here and here). 

As the city implements its Climate Action Plan (CAP) and the school district works to improve school facilities, we urge the School Committee to consider the benefits of teaching our community why and how to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet the city’s goal of a carbon-neutral Newton by 2050. With the CAP, the City seeks to “equip our residents and businesses with the tools and support needed to make climate-conscious choices that reduce the community’s GHG emissions while also leading by example.” This engagement and education of Newton’s citizens will be even more effective if the schools offered tools to all of our teachers and students.

Please support the goals of Newton’s CAP and the needs of the next generation by offering instructional opportunities for students and staff aiming to infuse more environmental education into existing curricula. Towards that end, Green Newton’s School Connections group has been collecting data from teachers about their current curricula and their expectations regarding climate education, and we will be happy to share our findings after a few more teachers have responded. 

Thanks again for committing to a Sustainability Coordinator and for  your dedication to this critical issue. Please contact us with further questions at [email protected].

Student Voice: “How the Climate Crisis has Affected NPS Students”

Public comment by Coral Lin (NNHS Class of 2021) –
School Committee Meeting, Jan 13, 2020

Hi, my name is Coral Lin and I’m a junior at Newton North. First of all, I would like to thank the effort and support from the School Committee and the School Sustainability Work Group to create sustainable standards for our schools. These are important steps that must be taken to tackle the climate crisis here in Newton and set an example for other school systems in the state and country.

Speaking of the climate crisis, I’d like to talk about how this emergency has affected Newton Public Schools students. For an English paper I wrote this fall, I asked my friends how hearing about the “climate crisis” makes them feel, and they told me that it made them feel hopeless, small, scared, overwhelmed, and “like death is upon me.” The other day, my friend at Newton South told me that she overheard a classmate saying, “It doesn’t matter anyways because we’re all going to die because of climate change”. 

My generation is increasingly anxious about the world’s future, but many feel paralyzed into inaction. Can we even blame young people for not wanting to take action against something they feel powerless to solve? Yet, we both have the solutions to solve climate change and also depend on young people to lead help this challenge. This problem could be solved if students were educated not only on the causes and effects of climate change, but how we can work together to find and implement solutions. I urge you to go home and think about how much you and your children, your nieces and nephews, and our Newton students truly know about climate change. Does it make you feel empowered to act, or discouraged? Please contemplate deeply while considering implementing comprehensive K-12 climate education in our schools. Thank you.

Climate Education: “NPS Needs Funds for Curriculum Development and Teacher Training”

Public comment by Christina Perez (4th and 7th grade parent) –
School Committee Meeting, Jan 13, 2020
 
Current events show quite clearly that the natural world is under attack.  Indeed, you can hardly listen to the news for ten minutes without encountering a story impacted by climate change. Many children possess a general understanding that human activity contributes to our warming planet, but only a small segment understand the science behind this or the specific mechanisms that have caused this crisis.  Unfortunately Newton Public Schools devotes very little attention to this topic.

Looking at the State frameworks for science (which is the subject area with the most obvious entry point for discussions about climate change), it’s not until 8th grade that teachers are expected to explicitly cover climate change.  In fact, the Massachusetts science curriculum frameworks for Grade 3 require that students learn about climates around the world, but do not need to tie this to global warming: “An understanding of climate change is not expected in state assessment” (2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework).

As we all know, if a topic is not going to be on MCAS then it often moves to the bottom of the priorities list given how tight classroom learning time is. Therefore, any coverage of this extremely important issue before 8th grade or at the K-12 level in subject areas other than science happens primarily because a teacher brings the topic up on his/her own.

However, it doesn’t need to be this way – and it shouldn’t be. The attached document provides a quick look at some of the ways we can do a better job educating Newton students in climate science from kindergarten up through the end of high school.  These are just a few of the possible entry points for discussing climate change – many more exist.  Please note that these entry points are all directly tied to what teachers are already doing.  This is not about putting aside what’s already in place to teach something new – it’s about refocusing the lens we use when implementing the curriculum standards.  

In order to be successful with this, teachers will need support from the district.  In a 2019 NPR/Ispos national poll, over 80% of parents support teaching about climate change; that number is even larger for teachers, with 86% of them in favor.  So why doesn’t it happen?

The main reason cited by teachers is that climate change is their outside subject area.  Yet our lives are not silos in which we only use one skill at one time.  We tap into multiple bodies of knowledge simultaneously. Climate change is impacting all of us every day – it should be part of every subject area.

The second listed reason given by teachers for not teaching climate change is that students are too young.  I challenge this assumption based on my own experiences working with young people.  Feel free to ask my 4th grade Girl Scouts troop if they think they’re too young to learn about global warming and I will bet most of them already have strong opinions on this topic.

The 3rd and 4th barriers teacher list fall under the purview of the Newton School Committee and School Department: teachers don’t know enough about climate change and they don’t have sufficient materials and resources to teach about it effectively.

We are asking the school department to provide educators at the K-12 level with the materials, resources, and training to include climate science in their work with students.  Teachers also need planning time with their peers to develop substantive lessons on this topic.

For this to be impactful, funds for curriculum development and teacher training will need to be allocated in the upcoming budget.  I know the budget is tight but we need to stop making excuses for why we as a nation and a community are not confronting the climate emergency head on. 

Thank you for taking the time to consider these ideas.

Student Voice: “Bigelow Green Team presents to the School Committee”

On Monday, Jan 13, the Bigelow Green Team went to the School Committee meeting and spoke about their initiatives and concerns. 

“Thank you for listening about how we are trying to make Bigelow more sustainable and reduce Bigelow’s carbon and plastic footprints. Our team first organized in the spring of 2019, and we have already accomplished a lot.

We have ordered anti-idling parking signs from the state to be placed around our school, and they are getting posted soon! Bigelow now collects and recycles markers through Crayola’s ColorCycle program.  In October, we sent over 600 old markers to Crayola for recycling. We placed a paper only recycling bin in the copy room for teachers to better ensure the paper gets recycled. We are working with the custodial staff to solve the problem of incorrect items placed in the recycling bins, as these bins all get emptied into the trash. We are planning an Advisory Activity to better educate the Bigelow community about the choices they make and how this impacts our environment. We wrote a letter to Christine Flutie at Whitsons about our concerns.  We heard back with pretty discouraging news that none of our requests or ideas are being considered. It sounds like this is mostly due to cost issues.

Our first concern is that Meatless Mondays are full of meat! Today is supposed to be Meatless Monday, and sausages were served for lunch. More bottled water options seems to have INCREASED single-use plastic waste at Bigelow.  And plastic utensils are still offered at each meal. We have not seen the reusable food containers that Whitsons promised, and also they have added even more plastic containers to some of the lunches. For example, burgers used to have a wrapper, and now sometimes they are placed in wrappers and then inside a plastic box too.

Thank you for listening to our initiatives and concerns.”

See presentation here: Bigelow Green Team 1_13_20

Sustainability Efforts within NPS in 2019

From the School Committee Jan 13, 2020 Update – 

“Sustainability Update: Presented by Liam Hurley, Assistant Superintendent/ Chief Financial & Administrative Officer
Highlights of the presentation included:
– 2019 Goals met: School Sustainability Working Group formed and meeting monthly since June 2019, System-Wide Goals approved, sustainability page published on NPS website.
– 2020 Goals include: Promote recycling and waste management, reduce single-use plastics, food waste reduction, promote sustainable transportation, support sustainable sourcing of energy and participating in a culture shift towards a more sustainable Newton community.”

See the full  Sustainability Update presentation here.
Link to the School Committee Newsletters

More about Sustainability at NPS and the School Sustainability Working Group

Sustainability Presentation to the School Committee

On Monday, January 13th at 7:00PM the School Committee will welcome two new members, Emily Prenner and Tamika Olszewski and will receive updates from the Equity Committee, the Sustainability Working Group, and the Transportation Working Group. 

Please come to the meeting to show your support for more sustainability in our schools. All are welcome: students, parents, educators and community members. 

The meeting is held  in the Education Center at 100 Walnut Street, room 201. 

Meeting documents will be available here a few days before the meeting.  If you can’t make it, you can watch it from home. School Committee meetings are broadcast live on NewTV at the time of the meeting and can be found on Comcast  (Ch.9),  RCN (Ch.13) and Verizon (Ch. 33). Or watch a recorded meeting by obtaining access via www.newtv.org. 

School Committee Elections 2019

On November 5, 2019, Newton voters will have the opportunity to vote for the School Committee members for the 2020-2021 term (and Ward Councilor and Councilors-at-Large). 

At School Connections, we are interested in learning how School Committee members approach and prioritize sustainability in Newton Schools. To that end, we have invited all candidates running (for contested and uncontested seats) to come chat with us in one of our monthly meetings and to answer questions in writing.

Check out here what they had to say:

Learn more about the 2019 Municipal Elections and how to vote here.

Please share with your friends and neighbors — and please VOTE on Nov 5th!

 

School Committee Candidates will join our 10/10 meeting

Come talk to School Committee candidates about environmental sustainability in Newton Schools. On Thursday, October 10th, candidates will join our regular monthly meeting to share their views and answer questions.

Please RSVP[email protected]

School Committee members are in a position to impact sustainable practices in school facilities – including energy savings, waste management, and promoting a healthy environment for all – and to create opportunities to strengthen the environmental literacy of our students and staff. How can they do it?

Our regular meeting will go from 3:45pm to 4:10pm and candidates will join from  4:10pm to 5:00pm.  Each candidate will have 2 minutes to introduce themselves before we open the discussion for Q&A. 

Confirmed candidates: Emily Prenner, Tamika Olszewski, Margaret Albright, Kathy Shields.

Please RSVP[email protected]

Thursday, October 10, from 3:45-5pm in the third floor arc area of the Newton Free Library.

NOTE: Election Day is Tuesday, Nov 5. Residents can vote for all school committee candidates regardless of ward. Learn more about the School Committee here: www.newton.k12.ma.us/schoolcommittee