Superintendents' Environmental Education Collaborative

San Mateo County Public Schools

The San Mateo County Office of Education (SMCOE) provides educational leadership, coordination, and support to 23 school districts serving more than 95,000 students.

While there is a long history of environmental and outdoor education in San Mateo county as well as a commitment to increasing sustainability in school facilities operations, SMCOE’s leadership in the implementation of the California Blueprint for Environmental Literacy has inspired an accelerated and highly coordinated approach to ensuring equitable access to environmental literacy programs and experiences.

SMCOE’s vision for environmental literacy is to take a whole-school approach, meaning that environmental education will happen across all aspects (4Cs) of the institution: Campus and operations, Curriculum and instruction, Community programs and partnerships, and overall Culture. A dedicated environmental literacy coordinator now sits within the curriculum and instruction division and works with leadership across all core content areas to ensure the integration of environmental literacy into the teacher professional development and curricular instruction.

SMCOE convenes a network of community-based environmental education partners quarterly, in order to foster collaboration and program alignment with the needs of school districts throughout San Mateo County. As they become familiar with the curricular and programming needs of SMCOE, partners are increasingly recognizing the value of working together to be more deeply embedded in schools. As a result, programs are more deliberately aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and other content standards, and are focused on targeting appropriate grade levels and closing gaps in service.

For SMCOE, key partnerships also include local funders who support the environmental literacy initiative. In its first year, a local family foundation funded teacher professional development around the integration of NGSS and environmental literacy. Other funding partners have stepped in to provide stipends and other support for teacher training. Importantly, SMCOE has steadily increased its budget for direct professional development programming related to environmental literacy three-fold in as many years.  

Teacher professional development is having a big impact. County-wide data and anecdotes show a significant increase in teacher enthusiasm and skill in using the environment to teach students at all grade levels. By investing in training for their teachers, SMCOE is working to build capacity for robust and rigorous environmental programming—including local environmental issues investigations and action projects.