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A year ago, a group of state and federal agency employees and private sector “green” education advocates gathered at DOER to plan Massachusetts’ first year in the U.S. Department of Education’s (US-ED) Green Ribbon Schools award recognition program. While we weren’t sure what to expect, something told us Massachusetts would be a natural for this new federal initiative, given our state’s long tradition of excellence in both education and environmentalism and its recent national leadership in clean energy.

photo of US Dept of Ed officials visitng Quincy High solar installation

Andrea Falkan and Donald Yu from the U.S. Department of Education visit Quincy High School’s solar panel installation, a key part of an annual projected energy savings of nearly $78,000, which helps reduce the city’s total yearly energy consumption by almost 3 percent. Photo courtesy of DESE.

Fast forward 12 months: in late July, state education, energy and environment officials were pleased to welcome US-ED to the Bay State to tour two Massachusetts schools that were awarded a Green Ribbon Schools award at a national ceremony this past spring: Manchester Essex Regional Middle High School and Quincy High School. Massachusetts’ two additional 2013 Green Ribbon awardees were The Berkshire School in Sheffield and Acton Public Schools/Acton-Boxborough Regional School District. The US-ED school visits, dubbed the “Education Built to Last” Facilities Best Practices Tour, were part of a two-day New England fact-finding tour that began with a half-day workshop at the Providence Career and Technical Academy. The tours included trips to schools in Rhode Island and Connecticut before wrapping up here on July 30 at Manchester Essex Regional Middle High School and Quincy High School.

Donald Yu, Special Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, logo of US department of education green ribbon schoolsand US-ED Green Ribbon Schools Program Director Andrea Falken were greeted by proud municipal officials and school administrators, teachers, staff and students, as well as Commonwealth luminaries such as State Treasurer Steven Grossman, Department of Elementary and Secondary (DESE) Commissioner Mitchell D. Chester, Energy Undersecretary Barbara Kates-Garnick, and Massachusetts School Building Authority Executive Director Jack McCarthy.

At Manchester Essex, US-ED learned that the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS)-certified school constructed with recycled materials and energy-efficient design principles has reduced its heating load by nearly 58 percent over three years, meets 5 percent of its electricity needs through on-site solar panels, and has decreased waste through recycling by a whopping 90 percent. At Quincy High School (also CHPS certified), US-ED viewed a 66-kilowatt rooftop solar array and high efficiency natural gas boilers, as well as three academic wings dedicated to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), arts and humanities. Quincy’s Great Ideas Program hosts cross-discipline lessons that encourage students to think about responsibility to environmental stewardship, such as a chemistry/social studies class that explores renewable energy and sustainability. With Quincy already among the Commonwealth’s 110 designated Green Communities and Manchester reportedly planning to apply for designation this fall, it’s of interest that Green Communities grants have financed clean energy projects in 64 public schools since 2010.

DESE, DOER and our Green Ribbon Schools working group are now gearing up for the next Green Ribbon Schools nomination process, with a conference at Mt. Wachusett Community College (a zero net energy campus) planned for September 27 and a webinar on October 3. Other key dates are available online.

Stay tuned for more details on the DESE and DOER websites, and congratulations again to the 2013 Green Ribbon Schools awardees.

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As Deputy Director of DOER's Green Communities Division, Lisa helps lead a team devoted to working with Massachusetts cities and towns to realize environmental and cost benefits of municipal energy efficiency and renewable energy. Prior to joining DOER, Lisa worked in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs from 2007 to 2012, first as Press Secretary and then as Assistant Secretary for Communications and Public Affairs. Her previous communications and public relations experience includes both government and the private sector, where, as principal of upWrite Communications, she served clients such as The Trustees of Reservations, The Nature Conservancy, and Partners Health Care/North Shore Medical Center. She began her career as a journalist, covering Beacon Hill for the State House News Service, and later wrote for a variety of other publications including The Boston Globe, Teacher Magazine, Animals Magazine, and The Gulf of Maine Times. The author of two books, Lisa serves on the board of the Saugus River Watershed Council and resides with her family in Melrose.

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