As Green Building Alliance launches the second year of its Green Schools Academy, Jenna Cramer (GBA’s VP of Green Schools) interviewed Rodney Necciai, principal of Pittsburgh Langley K-8, about his experience opening the new school and how the Green Schools Academy has impacted the school over its first year.
JC: What are your reflections on the first workshop held at Langley for the kick-off of our second year of the Green Schools Academy?
RN: We were thrilled to have the opportunity to host the GBA workshop again this year. It was a great opportunity to highlight the hard work of the students, parents, staff and partners within the past year. We have many very positive things to celebrate in such a short amount of time. This type of recognition is paramount to our effort to sustain the momentum we have created and continue striving for more chances to integrate the important work of Green Building Alliance and our school team into our daily routines.
JC: What are some of the barriers or obstacles you faced when opening a new school?
RN: Staffing the school was so important. We really wanted to bring teachers and staff who have a vested interest in working with the type of children and community that we serve. In the end, the staffing process was so positive for us, because we had such a large number of talented educators wiling to embark on this journey with us. We brought people in from all over the district and the biggest challenge we faced in the beginning was building relationships with our children. We had 700 children who came to us looking for a new school that was going to be great, and we had to work hard to convince them that we could deliver. We are still in that process of course, but we know that most of our children have responded very positively and are in such a good space right now for them. Just like us, they are looking forward to all the new opportunities that we can collectively dream up and make a reality here at Pittsburgh Langley K-8.
JC: How important is visioning, dreaming big, collaborating, and leadership to your school? And Why?
RN: It is easy to say we have a vision and easy to say we have big dreams. The real test is in how we live day to day, in the moments that genuinely do define us. We talk a lot about collaboration and commitment, but if we don’t truly provide these opportunities, and hold people accountable to respond to them, then just talking about these things will never mean anything. So to me, the real test is in the day to day follow-through, in every activity, in every interaction. Are we collectively sending and receiving the same message from one another? Is that message one of commitment and dedication to working hard to collaborate and improve every day?
JC: Since the start of the Green Schools Academy, how has your school transformed?
RN: Our school has come such a long way. It is really hard to believe that we are only a year and two months old. It is hard to believe that 700 children and over 70 staff members attended school and reported to work in over 20 different schools a little over a year ago. The work that we have done with GBA’s Green Schools Academy has been invaluable to our message of building our school into an authentic hub of the West End Community.
JC: Name the three biggest accomplishments that your school has experienced.
RN: Our three biggest accomplishments have been:
1) Examining our PSSA growth data and seeing that in our very first year we met or exceeded our growth goals in almost every category. It validates the hard work of an awful lot of children and adults.
2) Building the type of culture and commitment that can make the whole community proud. I had a grandparent pull me aside last year at a community meeting to thank me for “breathing life back into the community.” I certainly do not take the credit for that, but it really does speak to the type of support we have begun to garner thus far.
3) Leveraging this beautiful facility to our benefit. Take the greenhouse, for instance. It has been empty for years, but we were able to find partnerships and grant money to bring it back and allow the kids to learn and enjoy the possibilities it presents. The greenhouse, the garden, the cooking the kids do in the old home economics room as part of our after school program… these are all opportunities that none of us had just a little over a year ago. And, taking advantage of these things is just the beginning……..
JC: How have the students, teachers, and staff in Langley reacted to your progress?
RN: Our students have been great. Although we have certainly had our challenges, most of our students are very grateful for the opportunities we have been fortunate enough to provide. We told every student at the beginning of last year that it didn’t matter where they came from or what their situation may have been. We wanted them to know that this project was a fresh start for everyone. Most have responded so positively and that is what we try to focus on as a staff. The teachers have had their ups and downs, because they are very hard-working and have such high expectations. We try to remind ourselves to focus on the multitude of positives we have enjoyed.
JC: How has the Green Schools Academy helped you in this process?
RN: The Green Schools Academy has helped us to mobilize efforts around the greenhouse and the greenhouse courtyard. They have helped us to better incorporate a heightened sense of what sustainability can look like in a school like ours. They have been highly instrumental at the ground level of what we hope will be a long and prosperous journey toward teaching children the types of habits that will shape their understanding of environmental consciousness.
Learn more about GBA’s Green Schools Academy here and stay tuned for more Green Schools Academy Profiles, as we learn what motivates our region’s schools to become healthier and higher performing!