Guest Blog: A Brighter Present Means a Brighter Future for Our Schools

Imagine trying to do your job in a poorly-lit room, squinting just to read your notes or documents. Or consider exercising under huge lamps from a bygone era that needs 15 minutes to turn on and emit an almost unbearable heat.

What’s unthinkable in our professional lives is the reality that our children are subjected to at educational institutions across America.

Outdated electrical and heating systems negatively impact the learning experience

As superintendent for three schools in California’s Susanville Elementary School District, I’ve seen firsthand how outdated electrical and heating systems can negatively impact the learning experience. I can also personally attest to how students are directly affected by these inefficiencies.

The data also supports this connection, especially between classroom lighting and academics.

On average, children spend 1,000 hours per year at their schools. Research has shown that students in properly-lit classrooms significantly outperform students who endure substandard lighting in academic settings. Factors essential to creating a successful learning environment such as sleep, mood, focus, motivation, and concentration are directly affected by lighting.

That’s why I reached out to SmartWatt.

One of the first things that became immediately apparent was that SmartWatt knows their stuff. Regardless of client location, SmartWatt’s team of experts are knowledgeable of local, regional, and state regulations, programs, and policies that affect the energy that you, your family, your colleagues, and community rely on to live, work, and learn. In our case, we needed help navigating Proposition 39, a grant funding program created so that schools could receive energy efficient upgrades in the state of California.

SmartWatt helped us prepare for installations and upgrades, guided us through the process itself, and was instrumental in completing paperwork that was required by the state. From start to finish, they proved to be an invaluable partner.

Prior to working with SmartWatt, we had a gym in one of our schools that relied on 24 bay lights for illumination. The amount of heat that was produced by these lights literally had people running out of the gym. SmartWatt came in and replaced those two-dozen lamps with one light, with no increase in energy consumption.  The energy usage of one of the old lamps was equal to 24 of the new lamps.  In essence, we managed to bring in 24 new, energy efficient lamps that operated at the same cost as one of the old lamps.  Pretty cool stuff! The gym is now cooler and brighter, and the savings we’ve achieved through this upgrade is unbelievable.

Before, we’d have to wait for the lamps to cool down and warm back up again before we could turn them back on. Now, we can just flip the switch on and off. It’s been a huge, noticeable improvement, not just for the staff and students at the school, but for the other organizations that commonly use that space.

Students and teachers were noticeably happier, more motivated, and more engaged

We had classrooms that, when entered, would exude a feeling of dreariness due to the old lighting. After SmartWatt’s upgrades, the impact was immediate – students and teachers were noticeably happier, more motivated, and more engaged. Classrooms were brighter, and the atmosphere was more conducive to effective learning.

Another major change that SmartWatt helped initiate was in regards to our schools’ HVAC systems. They helped us switch out old wall thermostats for controls that can be accessed online. We were also able to establish temperature set points and install sensors in each classroom. These efficient and convenient measures have all resulted in significant savings on heating and electrical costs.

Re-invest the energy savings back into the classroom and  teachers’ salaries

Across the country, schools spend an exorbitant amount of money on electricity.  Some estimates, in fact, show that school districts in the U.S. spend $6 billion each year on energy. With the money that my schools have saved by implementing SmartWatt’s initiatives, we have been able to re-invest these savings back into the classroom and into teachers’ salaries, both of which help lay the groundwork for long-term success for our students.

The benefits that we’ve seen from our partnership with SmartWatt just keep accumulating. Beyond cutting costs and improving the learning environment in our schools, these energy efficient upgrades also decrease our facilities’ carbon footprint, boost staff productivity, and increase sustainability.

Although we’ve accomplished a lot in the upgrading of our schools’ lighting and HVAC systems, there is so much more to do. Now that we have a lifelong partner and resource in SmartWatt – one that is knowledgeable, trustworthy, and easy to work with – there’s no doubt that we’ll continue to implement energy conservation projects in the future. It’s time that other school districts, cities, counties, and states followed suit to improve outcomes for their employees, residents, children, and families as well.

About the Author

Jason Waddell is the Superintendent of the Susanville School District in California.  He is wholly committed to creating incredible learning environments where students flourish academically, grow socially and emotionally and learn to become life-long learners prepared to interact and persevere in the 21st Century.

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