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Welcome back!  I hope you had an enjoyable summer.

Last fall, when I became NJSBA executive director, I made a commitment to expand our initiatives in the area of sustainability. People asked me why.

What is the relationship between sustainability and education?

In fact, the linkage is one that ultimately reaches into the classroom, with benefits to our students’ physical and academic well-being. Sustainable practices result in healthier schools. They reduce operating costs and free up money for classroom initiatives, including STEM—that is, science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

The importance of STEM education is indisputable. During this century, more than 60 percent of new jobs will require a background in STEM, according to the National Commission on Mathematics and Science for the Twenty-first Century. Unfortunately, the U.S. is lagging in efforts to provide students with the background they need for these jobs.

Let me describe some of STEM and Sustainability projects in which NJSBA is engaged:

Now in development, the Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification program will provide guidance and resources to schools on developing comprehensive sustainability programs. Participating districts and charter schools will earn points in areas such as energy conservation, curriculum and district leadership. The program will help schools improve efficiency, cut waste and contribute to students’ education, particularly in STEM.  NJSBA and Sustainable Jersey, a non-profit organization based at The College of New Jersey, are creating the program, which will begin operating in 2014.

The three-year New Jersey Sustainable Schools Project, started in 2011, will identify the impact that “greening” existing school buildings will have on operating costs and student achievement.

With funding from Bristol-Myers Squibb, the U.S. Green Building Council has placed a Center for Green Schools Fellow at NJSBA. The fellow will provide local school board leaders with direction and information on greening school buildings. She will also work with NJSBA staff to address opportunities involving facilities, funding and professional development for local school board members.

The Educational Leadership Foundation of New Jersey, an affiliate of NJSBA, was instrumental in securing a grant, also from Bristol-Myers Squibb, to advance the Association’s iSTEM (that is, “integrative STEM” education) initiative. iSTEM will equip school board members with the information they need to make informed and strategic decisions to effectively integrate STEM into the school programs.

NJSBA is now entering its third year of collaborating with other educational organizations and sustainability advocates in projects that include the federal Green Ribbon Schools program, training board members about the importance of sustainability in policy-setting and strategic planning, and even greening our headquarters building in Trenton.

And there are even more efforts in the works, including innovative STEM and Sustainability resources and programming at this year’s Workshop.

I am proud to say that NJSBA’s STEM and sustainability initiatives comprise a model for school boards associations throughout the nation. In fact, we are the first school boards association to place a STEM and Sustainability specialist on staff.

John Henry, who serves in this critical role, has an impressive background that includes awards, such as New Jersey’s educational technologist of the year and Radio Shack’s National Teacher of the Year in Math, Science and Technology. He was a NASA Einstein Fellow and has served as advisor and curriculum writer for New Jersey’s Green Program of Study in Sustainable Design. John has served as NJSBA’s liaison to the U.S. Green Building Council and its New Jersey chapter. He is a wonderful addition to our staff.

Another key player is Kara Angotti, our Center for Green Schools Fellow. Kara’s experience includes interior design with an emphasis on energy analysis and sustainability. She has operated her own consulting firm, with clients that included the Philadelphia Water Authority, and she has served as an instructor in Sustainable Design for Moore College of Art & Design. We look forward to working with Kara during the fellowship.

Implementation of these programs is exciting, but the real thrill comes with achievement—student achievement. As New Jersey’s school districts increase the breadth and rigor of STEM education and become more sustainable, the beneficiaries will be our students.

My best wishes for a productive school year.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours.  Contact me at [email protected].