Greening the 2020 School Board Election Campaign
This year’s School Board race features something I’ve rarely, if ever, seen in Laguna Beach: some attention to the natural and built environments.
In perusing the local press coverage of this year’s campaign, during the COVID-19 crisis, I noticed that candidates are rightly devoting attention to distance learning, and how and when to safely reopen classrooms. Also, candidates are committing to being transparent, civil, student-focused, and cost-conscious if elected. Again, good. Then I came across an item in Stu News that surprised me: one candidate, Kelly Osborne (no relation to me), added to her message to voters that as a PTA President and curriculum specialist, she worked collaboratively to secure Top of the World elementary school’s coveted 2018 designation as a Green Ribbon School by the California Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education.
As a long-time environmental columnist for this newspaper, that information jumped out at me. In my family’s 46-year residency in this town, I can’t recall a school board candidate ever referencing the greening of our schools. That’s largely understandable. Parents and the district care much about curriculum, standardized test scores, teacher-student ratios, academic enrichment programs, fundraising, sports championships, student drug and alcohol usage, and related matters. The environment simply has not played much of a role in our thinking about educational matters. Until now.
Maybe California’s recent wildfires, the most extensive and numerous in our state’s history, have helped the public connect the dots between record temperatures on land and sea with scientists’ persistent warnings about a climate crisis projected to get worse. I really cannot say if this backdrop accounts for mention of the environment in this year’s school board election. For candidate Osborne, the environment is not front and center in her campaign, but it did merit a reference by her.
That was enough for me to dig further into her thinking about the environment and public education. So, I Zoom-interviewed her for an hour recently, asking a range of questions. That’s how I learned she led a five-year collaborative effort at TOW, working with administrators, teachers, and parents to renovate the Outdoor Classroom program, introduce environmental learning standards into the curriculum, and establish a feasible “walk to school day” to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. Coupled with these steps, her team established a “no-idling” policy whereby parents would not let their car engines run while waiting to pick up their children. Part of the demanding Green Ribbon application process required analyzing and reporting on the demonstrated environmental benefits of the school’s efforts. The Laguna Beach Water District confirmed reduced water usage; Laguna Beach Unified School District showed how much energy had been saved by the LED lighting retrofit, new LEED-certified portable classrooms, and upgrading HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) systems for more efficiency. “It was really exciting to do this,” she said, her voice resonant with enthusiasm. When asked to distill into three words what she saw as most meritorious about the huge effort to green TOW, she responded “teaching environmental stewardship.”
If elected, she would see as among her many other responsibilities the articulation of an environmental vision, to be implemented in plans and actions undertaken by all district stakeholders. Wouldn’t similar greening be good for our entire town?
Tom Osborne, an environmental historian, co-leads with his wife, Ginger, the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Email: [email protected]