San Francisco schools growing greener and smarter 

click to enlarge San Francisco bond funding has contributed almost $14 million toward the creation of green schoolyards at 84 schools in the SFUSD system. - COURTESY SFUSD
  • Courtesy SFUSD
  • San Francisco bond funding has contributed almost $14 million toward the creation of green schoolyards at 84 schools in the SFUSD system.

When you pass by a San Francisco Unified School District school, you might notice a new colorful mural, or perhaps you see that the windows could use a little washing.

But what you probably don't see is how our schools are part of San Francisco's greening revolution. They are making big reductions in how much water and electricity they use, turning their blacktop yards into leafy gardens and contributing tons (literally) of food scraps to The City's compost pile.

Go outside and learn something!

Since 2001, San Franciscans have contributed nearly $14 million in bond funding for the development of green schoolyards at 84 public schools in San Francisco, possibly the largest green-schoolyards system of any public school district in the country.

While bond funds help transform school buildings and yards, it is also crucial to have a trained, on-the-ground outdoor classroom and eco-literacy expert to harness the educational power of our green schoolyards and spearhead important school greening efforts — an impossibility for many schools with limited financial resources.

Education Outside (formerly the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance) has led the effort to foster the next generation of environmental leaders. Right now, there are 22 trained, energetic and eco-literate Education Outside Corps members at our schools teaching students science, ecology and even math on their green schoolyards.

Do we really need to leave that on?

You would be amazed at how much money our students and staff are saving taxpayers every year just by diligently closing doors and windows to save heat, getting machines fixed so they run more efficiently and turning off lights when leaving the room.

One student group determined exactly where the most water was being wasted in their school's bathrooms and then led a campaign that saved the school thousands of dollars. In fact, just last year our schools saved more than $350,000 in utilities.

Which bin does this go in?

You've probably heard by now that we have vastly improved the meals we serve. We know this because, well, the kids tell us and more are eating school lunch since we made big changes. Our food is prepared fresh daily with no artificial preservatives or colors, and fresh fruits and vegetables come with every meal.

But what if a student doesn't finish all the carrots on his or her plate?

Green Team to the rescue! At many of our schools, student volunteer teams help their classmates sort their leftovers, milk cartons and forks into the right trash, recycle or compost bins every day. With such careful work, our school district is now diverting 60 percent of its waste away from the landfill. We are well on our way to the Board of Education's goal of 75 percent diversion for the SFUSD by 2015.

I'm proud of the way our staff and students are tackling the very real 21st-century problem of sustainability — and learning from it along the way.

Richard A. Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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