Ukiah Unified School District

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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk Blog: Greening Ukiah Unified. You’re invited.

Last week in the Ukiah Daily Journal, there was a comic strip where an elementary school girl was talking with her mother. The girl explains that she’s writing a report on Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg “who’s trying to save the world from destruction.” The mom meekly replies, “when I was 16, I was begging my mom to let me wear lace-up jeans.” The girl, with her eyes rolled so far up you can barely see them, said, “I’m sure that was important, too.”

Comics, like all art, make us hone in on what is important. This strip points out that we aren’t doing enough to combat climate change. The UUSD Board of Trustees made it a goal last year to reduce waste 20% by 2020. We refer to this as our 20 by 2020 pledge. The following is an update on the climate-steps Ukiah Unified has accomplished over the last 18 months, and a request for your input on our next steps.

We’re saving water. Instead of letting rain run off the dirty parking lot polluting our streams and ocean, we now have over 8,000 square feet of efficient and attractive bio-retention planters at Ukiah High. The planters capture and clean over 4.5 million gallons of stormwater each year. UUSD is grateful for our partnership with the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District (MCRCD) and especially to Deborah Edelman, Project Manager with MCRCD and a UUSD parent.

We’re adding solar. We’re embarking on a large solar energy project that will pay for itself by reducing our utility costs. The upgrades include a new heating and cooling system, temperature controls, lighting retrofits, and lots of solar panels. This project made sense years ago, but we had to wait until we could secure financing that works for us; schools are not where we make risky investments.

We’re getting rid of plastic. Every school has hydration stations – tasty, filtered water students use more than the old water fountains. Superintendent Deb Kubin asked that we stop using plastic water bottles at district meetings and trainings; and we are all training ourselves to remember our reusable water bottles. Food Service Director, Jim Stuart, has worked for years to reduce plastic in our food system. Jim and his crew serve over 7,500 meals per day (that’s over a million meals per school year), so a small change can make a big difference. Despite testing out many different compostable utensils, we found that we can’t use them; they aren’t accepted in our green bin pick up yet. This year, Jim removed the plastic utensils from their plastic wrapping, so now students can grab just what they need, rather than a whole set. Food Service is also transitioning away from single-use plastics toward compostable paper goods.

We’re cutting emissions. As mentioned, we are improving our facilities to reduce our use of power generated from damaging sources. We’ve also added three new eco-friendly electric school buses to our fleet, replacing older energy-guzzling versions. We now have six electric school buses in our fleet.

We don’t idle. We’ve stepped up our informational campaign to reduce idling in our parking lots and pick-up zones. If you pick up students on a UUSD campus, you may have noticed signs reminding you not to leave your car idling while you wait. The signage was a simple suggestion that came directly from parents concerned about the air pollution students had to walk through on their way to and from school—precisely the kind of community input that we can implement quickly. (Unless your car is older than I am, it uses less gas to re-start it than to leave it idling for 10 seconds).

We plan climate-friendly facility projects. As you may have heard, UUSD is proposing a Facilities Bond to the voters in the March 2020 election. Every project has been reviewed with energy-efficiency in mind. To review the plans for yourself, see the UUSD Facilities Master Plan.

What else can we do? Let us know! For Greta and our young students at UUSD who need a planet long after they’ve left our schools, please keep your good ideas coming – we have a link here to receive your eco-ideas. We will consider all ideas and will respond if you provide your contact info, though you do not have to identify yourself. Also, feel free to send your recommendations to the Superintendent or come to one of our monthly board meetings and speak during public comment.