By. Cyndy Merse, Content Manager, Green Schools National Network


This has been quite an eventful year for Green Schools National Network (GSNN). Another successful conference has come and gone, our membership program is gaining steam, and we launched our peer-reviewed publication, the Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly. However, another project has been quietly unfolding and promises to play a critical role in shaping GSNN’s future.


This project is the Catalyst School and District Network (“Catalyst Network”), which we first introduced to you in a blog post earlier this year. The Catalyst Network is the first large scale effort to engage schools, school districts, NGOs, and researchers in defining and evaluating the impact of green, healthy, and sustainable school best practices on student achievement, student engagement, school and district leadership, and teacher engagement. The goal is to develop the capacity of schools and school districts to lead the conversation on how the triple bottom line of sustainability can transform K-12 education. Network members will work together to articulate how schools and school districts can prepare college and career ready students with knowledge and skills to co-create a sustainable future by documenting and replicating best practices that demonstrate how sustainability is driving innovation.


Since the Catalyst Network’s launch in March 2017, GSNN Executive Director Jennifer Seydel has been meeting with the initial cohort of schools and school districts to develop individualized work plans with goals that encourage participants to stretch beyond their current thinking and practice to fully embrace and communicate sustainability in everything they do. Although the project is just nine months old, participants are making progress and setting some ambitious goals! Here, we share what five of our Catalyst Network schools and school districts plan to accomplish over the next three years.


Environmental Charter Schools

Already a leader in the green schools movement, Environmental Charter Schools (ECS) in Los Angeles, California is hoping to use the Catalyst Network as an opportunity to share what they have learned with other schools and school districts that want to implement core practices as outlined in GSNN’s GreenPrint for Green, Healthy, and Sustainable Schools. To do this, ECS will be working with Catalyst Network Leaders to develop a business plan that will allow GSNN to support their efforts, as well as the efforts of all Catalyst Network members, to become replication hubs in their state and region. ECS is also working to develop criteria and a rubric that can be used by educators to design exemplary curriculum modules that incorporate environmental and sustainability themes at the middle and high school level.


Middleton Cross Plains Area Schools

Leadership and strategic planning are key areas for development for Middleton Cross Plains Area Schools in Middleton, Wisconsin. The district will be helping to document and refine methods to incorporate principles of sustainability into its Strategy Map. The Strategy Map will be used to position sustainability at the core of district leadership and drive decisions related to policy and practice at the school, district, and board levels.


Virginia Beach City Public Schools

Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) in Virginia Beach, Virginia was the pilot district for this project and they have not disappointed us in their efforts to blaze the trail in shaping policy and practices that address the triple bottom line of sustainability. VBCPS is currently engaged in a pilot project to re-introduce fresh whole foods and scratch cooking into its cafeterias. The district has also developed a plan to significantly reduce the carbon and fiscal footprint of its transportation program. This multi-year initiative is already changing the way VBCPS makes decisions with sustainability as part of its core commitment to the community.


Prairie Crossing Charter School

Prairie Crossing Charter School (PCCS) in Grayslake, Illinois has been rooted in sustainability since its beginning, connecting curriculum to the environment. Through the Catalyst Network, PCCS is taking its commitment to sustainability one step further and refining its approach to P3BL curriculum (place-project-problem based learning) and the rituals and routines that have helped the school to create a culture of sustainability and caring for self, others, and the environment.


New Roots Charter School

In a similar vein, New Roots Charter School in Ithaca, New York is seeking to infuse Education for Sustainability (EfS) more fully throughout its curriculum and define assessments that reflect students’ knowledge, skills, and attributes as sustainable citizens. The school plans to develop curriculum maps that incorporate EfS and state standards through inclusion of sustainability topics, case studies, field work, and interdisciplinary projects.


In addition to these schools and school districts, our work with the Conserve School, Discovery Elementary School, Encinitas Union School District, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is beginning to take shape. We have a number of schools and school districts in the wings waiting to get their Sustainability Leadership Summits on the calendar!


At the end of this three-year pilot effort with cohort #1 of the Catalyst Network, GSNN will be able to report the impact of green, healthy, and sustainable schools on over 84,000 students! These schools and school districts will also be positioned to become Catalyst Network replication hubs with the capacity to consult and advise other schools and school districts on how to replicate their best practices. In Phase 2, GSNN aspires to support a minimum of 100 of these replication hubs (one school and one school district per state). Ambitious? Yes…but, the potential impact is tremendous! Under our current timeline, GSNN projects that within 10 years, every school and school district in the United States (14,000 school districts and 133,000 schools) will be exposed to the concept of sustainability as the driver of innovation in education. Just what we need to advance the green schools movement from niche to mainstream!