Indiana, Guam, and the District of Columbia Lead Efforts to Create Healthy School Facilities
Alexandria, Va.—The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) is pleased to celebrate the accomplishments of the following state boards of education and their state teams as part of the Healthy School Facilities Network (HSFN): Indiana, Guam, and the District of Columbia.
Following the release of a NASBE landscape analysis on testing and remediation of lead in school drinking water, NASBE established the HSFN in 2022 to build and enhance the capacity of states to ensure all students have access to healthy school facilities free from environmental harms. Participating state boards each received a $10,000 grant over a one-year period to form teams of key state and local leaders to engage in learning activities, convene stakeholders, and develop action plans to advance school facility improvements.
Over the course of the project, state teams joined trainings where they connected with researchers, subject matter experts, and federal agencies and discussed action items for their own work. From the start, network leaders agreed that raising issue awareness among key stakeholders would be a high priority to create a “groundswell of support” for policymaking efforts and investment in school facility improvement.
“Unpacking the subject of healthy school facilities and taking steps to remediate health hazards is a daunting task,” said Celina Pierrottet, NASBE’s associate director of student wellness. “It was important for NASBE to support teams in such a way that allowed them to advance this issue based on their local contexts and priorities.”
The DC State Board of Education team hired Sarah Woodhead, former DC chief of facilities, to conduct research comparing facility standards and practices across the district’s public and charter schools. She identified opportunities to improve public understanding of DC’s oversight of school facilities, address the health and safety of school facilities, and demonstrate how their current master plan process can enable data comparison across sectors.
“Through NASBE’s Healthy Schools Facilities Network, DC began laying a foundation for making sure all of our schools are in healthy, safe, and educationally appropriate facilities that serve all of our students,” said DC State Board President Eboni-Rose Thompson.
Energized by presentations on lead in school drinking water, the Guam team initiated a partnership with the Guam Waterworks Authority, which led to the identification and testing of drinking water in five schools that are hubs for school meal preparation. Strategically studying the requirements for lead testing in these five schools allowed the team to identify what training is needed for staff to implement an island-wide testing initiative by 2025.
“Through this engaging process with NASBE, members of the Guam team received valuable information and technical assistance. The focus on healthy schools aligns with the latest version of our strategic plan, and working alongside community partners is helping to ensure a healthy environment for students to learn and succeed,” said Mary Okada, chair of the Guam education board.
After being connected through NASBE’s network, the Indiana team brought on Dr. Erika Eitland, director of the Human Experience Lab at Perkins&Will, to present research on the health and academic effects of poor indoor environmental quality to state policymakers. A new white paper summarizes the current health context of Indiana’s learners and how the quality of school buildings affects student’s health.
“We can spend millions of dollars on interventions for reading and math, but if the learning environment is not optimal, we will never see the full impact of those interventions,” said Indiana State Board Member Byron Ernest, who credits public health experts like Dr. Eitland for helping him understand the relationship between school facilities, health, and the success of other education reforms.
“State boards of education are primary players in ensuring all students and educators have access to healthy learning environments so that they can be successful in their learning and teaching,” says Paolo DeMaria, NASBE’s president and CEO. “Indiana, Guam, and Washington, DC, demonstrated exceptional leadership by convening state- and community-level stakeholders and centering their decision-making in data and evidence.”
The HSFN is supported by the Joyce Foundation, a Chicago-based, nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region in the areas of Culture, Democracy, Education & Economic Mobility, Environment, Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform, and Journalism. Learn more at www.joycefdn.org.
Learn more about the HSFN work by contacting Celina Pierrottet.
NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at www.nasbe.org.