Culver City Edition Lead Story

Culver City School District honored for environmental efforts

CULVER CITY — State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson was on hand March 3 at Culver City High School to nominate the Culver City Unified School District as a Green Achiever District, one of only three districts in the state to compete in the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition program.

The program honors school districts that conserve resources while promoting health and environmental literacy. The district will be honored in May for its state award and at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. in July as part of its federal recognition.

“This is an incredible achievement that speaks to our ongoing commitment to make our campuses a national leader in the effort to create more sustainable schools and more environmentally aware students,” said Culver City Superintendent Josh Arnold. The district “takes pride in the continual improvements that are being made to reduce the district’s environmental impacts; improve the health and well-being of students, staff and the community; and provide effective environmental and sustainability education.”

According to Torlakson, Green Ribbon Schools demonstrate exemplary achievement in three “pillars.” Pillar I: reduce environmental impact and costs; Pillar II: improve the health and wellness of schools, students and staff; and Pillar III: provide effective environmental education that teaches many disciplines and is especially good at effectively incorporating science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, civic skills, and green career pathways.

“These schools and districts serve as role models for their students in two important ways,” said Torlakson, who started his public service career as a high school science teacher and coach. “First, they manage their own facilities wisely by saving energy, conserving water and reducing their impact on the environment.

“Next, they provide innovative education programs that teach students about nature, the importance of clean air and water, and how to make good choices to preserve the environment for future generations.”

The California Green Ribbon Schools recognition award uses the applications to recognize schools and school districts for environmental excellence. California is one of 25 states as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity that are expected to nominate schools and districts for federal recognition this year.

The Culver City school district has long been a leader in focusing its schools, its students and its community on environmental initiatives.

In October 2010, the school board created the Environmental Sustainability Committee to help the district become more environmentally and fiscally sustainable and foster an eco-literate and globally responsible student body. The committee is comprised of parent volunteers with knowledge and experience in sustainability and a passion to help the district.

In 2011, the committee facilitated a third-party baseline energy audit of the school facilities, created a sustainability master plan for the school board, and began working on bringing a 750 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system to the district’s main campus (Culver City High School, Middle School and Farragut Elementary) to reduce the district’s carbon footprint and raise money for the general fund.

Since February 2014, the solar panels have accounted for approximately 82 percent of the energy needs of the three schools, delivered more than $500,000 back into the district’s general fund each year and avoided approximately 2,326 tons of greenhouses gases annually.

During the 2011-12 school year, the committee launched the “Green 5” sustainability education program to increase awareness among students and staff about recycling; reducing waste, energy and water consumption; reusing materials; engaging in active transportation and rethinking local solutions to global problems.

The Green 5, also known as the “Five Rs” (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Ride and Rethink), was piloted at Linwood E. Howe Elementary School, which included recycling audits, surveys, a campus-wide recycling program, signage and other messaging, and the establishment of a student leadership program.

The post audit found recycling rates increased by 500 percent and sustainability awareness among the students and staff also substantially increased.

The next year, the program was introduced at the other elementary schools in the district and in 2014 the program went district-wide.

“It has been my distinct honor to have worked so closely over the past five years with so many passionate student and staff leaders, dedicated parent volunteers, supportive school board members and the empowering superintendent’s office,” district Sustainability Coordinator Shea Cunningham said. “Together, we have built a district-wide sustainability program based on best practices and committed to continual improvement.”

The district “is working hard to foster a culture of sustainability,” school board member Kelly Kent said. “When people come to ours campuses and see our solar PV arrays, award-winning custom designed sorting stations, Green 5 banners and posters, they know the district embraces the responsibility to create a more sustainable world.

“CCUSD students and staff have cultivated a habit of practicing the Five Rs, and an understanding of what kind of positive impact they are making as a collective community. And, as they go out into the world, they are carrying this knowledge with them.”