By A Siegel
A simple truth: well-executed greening programs boost performance and reduce costs while lowering pollution loads and increasing resiliency against disasters (natural or man-made). This is true for military forces, for manufacturing, for office buildings, for commercial outlets, and for schools. Simply put, greening schools might be the only way to improve educational outcomes and local economic performance and student/community health and resiliency while reducing costs and pollution.
Looking at this year’s Fairfax County School Board races shows a clear possibility that Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) will seize a leadership position in understanding and leveraging greening’s multifaceted benefit streams. While FCPS has, over the past several years, engaged in a number of “green”-related actions (a services contract to reduce energy loads, a plan for putting solar on school rooftops and, most recently, responding to Dominion’s electric school bus (ESB) program and consideration of approaches to replace 100% of FCPS’ diesel school buses with better performing ESBs) (due, in no small part, to leadership from students, parents, and current School Board members like Pat Hynes), this has been done in a stove-piped manner without a clear integration and understanding of full-benefit streams. Dependent on next Tuesday’s results, this could change dramatically with an accelerated and integrated effort for climate action that will accrue significant benefits for students and the community.
As Providence District candidate Karl Frisch puts it, everyone seeking public office should ask themselves and be asked: “What will you do to act on climate?” And, “How will that lead to improve results?”
Looking across the School Board candidates, there is a slate of candidates who have thought through these questions.
- Elaine Tholen, candidate Dranesville District: As a career educator, Elaine has been involved with efforts to boost educational outcomes though developing and executing well-thought through environmental science curricula. With this work, she has developed a strong network across FCPS schools and in the administrative offices. She also understands the benefits (such as lowering costs) of energy efficiency and, with her MBA and a decade in business, will be able to drive and judge efforts to seek these benefits.
- Melanie Meren, candidate Hunter Mill District, is an avid grassroots leader in promoting whole school sustainability and environmental education in Fairfax. Serving on the leadership team of NoVA Outside for nearly 10 years, she helped educators bring learning outdoors and elevate the role of environmental stewardship in classrooms. As a member of the Virginia Association of Environmental Educators, Melanie worked on policy advocacy with Leave No Child Inside and Chesapeake Bay Foundation, to obtain state positions and funding to support environmental education. (See her for elucidation of her views re solar on schools.)
- Karl Frisch, candidate Providence District, has a clean understanding of the need to and value of climate action. As part of opening his candidacy, he laid out thoughts for a FCPS Green New Deal (GND) that include concepts for driving changes in busing, food, and curricula.
- Laura Jane Cohen, Springfield District, wants to drive sustainability practices across FCPS
- And, three at-large candidates:
- Abrar Omeish has signed on the Virginia GND;
- Karen Keys-Gamarra (running for reelection) has been engaged with the Mothers Out Front Fairfax’s efforts to move to ESBs;
- Rachna Sizemore Heizer knows that “We have to be stewards of our schools AND good citizens in our community. That means using our resources wisely, strategically, and with an eye to preserving our planet’s future.”
Each of these people bring strengths and understandings that will, collectively across all of them, make them an effective green machine to transform Fairfax County Public Schools with aggressive climate action that will boost educational outcomes, support economic development, reduce costs, and lower pollution loads.