A Community Rallies Behind Green Cleaning in Newport News, VA

February 28, 2014 | Written By:

Green Cleaning Award Grand winner NNPS makes the green cleaning a priority for the entire community.

An innovative training program, devotion to green cleaning and the uncanny ability to get students excited about cleaning their schools? The Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) custodial department does it all. In the process, they've even saved money. For all of these reasons, we are thrilled to announce NNPS as the Grand winners in the K-12 division of the 2013 Green Cleaning Award.

Green Cleaning Award winners demonstrate best green cleaning practices, involving their school communities in the process. The annual award, presented by American School & University magazine, Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) and the Green Cleaning Network, recognizes schools with innovative health-focused and environmentally minded cleaning programs. Winners are judged based on the five simple steps to green cleaning outlined in HSC's Quick + Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools.

NNPS serves 30,000 students across 44 schools and 4.4 million square feet of building space. In 2007, the custodial services department replaced its turn-of-the-century cleaning equipment with the most environmentally friendly technologies available, thanks to $441,000 saved by streamlining staffing (accomplished without laying anyone off). The southeastern Virginia school district hasn't looked back since. Executive Director of Plant Services Keith Webb went after equipment that used fewer chemicals, such as speed scrubbers that scrub floors with ionized water and metered dosing systems. “You only get a chance to do it all over from scratch a very few times in your career,” says Webb. He wanted to do it right.

At about the same time, a professional trainer was hired from a nearby hospital organization. The focus shifted to cleaning for health. Most workers weren't used to wiping down doorknobs, door frames or light switches. They were used to cleaning up the dirt from the floor—not invisible germs from touch surfaces. This new way of thinking challenged the department's methods and revamped the school environment.

Another priority was building up the district's custodial workers. All staff members were enrolled in a custodial technician training program that issues a certificate upon completion. This not only trained employees in best practices and efficiency, but it also provided an opportunity to build workers' self esteem. With the training program, the workers “walk away with a tangible benefit and a piece of paper that says 'I know what I'm doing,'” says Webb.

Taking this a step forward, the school district holds an annual awards ceremony at a televised board meeting where certificates are individually awarded by the school superintendent. It's also publicized on the school district's website. This not only reinforces the accomplishment among staff members, it also broadcasts their important job to the larger community.

All of that is just one way that Webb's team is engaging the larger school community in green cleaning. In order to get students involved, they hold an annual “Go Green” art contest. Students from all grades and programs submit personal art work. The winning entries are made into bumper stickers and signs that are displayed throughout the school to promote the green cleaning program.

Between students who are excited about green cleaning and community members that value the hard work of their custodial workers, Newport News is rallying together for the health of its children. We think NNPS is a shining example of what the future holds when it comes to green and healthy schools.


Read about all our 2013 Green Cleaning Award winners here.

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