This piece was originally published in the February 2018 issue of electroindustry.
Charles Piccirillo, Product Group Manager, OSRAM Digital Systems
Providing children with a quality education is a national priority. Curriculum, school culture, teacher effectiveness, and test scores have long been used as measurements for school success and student performance. However, another aspect is now being considered—the buildings where education occurs.
According to the National Institute of Building Sciences’ Whole Building Design Guide® (WBDG), “More than other building types, school facilities have a profound impact on their occupants and the functions of the building, namely teaching and learning. Children in various stages of development are stimulated by light, color, the scale of their surroundings, even the navigational aspects of their school.”
A critical component of a high performance school is proper lighting. Research supports the connection between classroom performance and proper lighting, and a study by the Heschong Mahone Group revealed that students exposed to high levels of natural light achieve as much as 18 percent higher test scores than those exposed to minimal natural light.
The Department of Energy’s EnergySmart Schools report shows that K–12 schools spend more than $8 billion annually on energy—the second-highest operating expenditure after personnel costs. It is one of the few expenses that can be decreased without negatively impacting classroom instruction.
Therefore, lighting can be an ideal way for schools to cut costs and improve student performance. Of course, customizing lighting for the needs of each classroom is essential, as the needs of preschoolers differ from those of high school students. Lighting control systems provide the ability to personalize and control lighting at the campus, building, classroom, and individual level.
An example of a school leveraging advanced lighting control to enhance the learning environment is the Hurst-Euless-Bedford (HEB) Independent School District in Texas. The district employs a light management system that provides customized lighting to meet each classroom’s requirements and can easily be scaled when classrooms and buildings are added over time. For example, lighting is programmed in the pre-kindergarten classroom to accommodate nap time—all lights are shut off except those over the teacher’s desk. Additionally, a special education classroom leverages a mild lighting setting to protect students from overstimulation.
Occupancy sensors are employed so that lights automatically shut off when a room is unoccupied. This significantly reduces energy consumption in buildings that are often empty during evenings, weekends, and vacations. Additionally, when classes are in session, corridor lights are set to 30 percent and automatically brighten when someone enters the hallway.
By installing a light management system, HEB is now one of the most energy-efficient school districts in the state, with 57 percent to 65 percent energy savings realized.
The advantages of high performance schools are indisputable. By incorporating innovative strategies in new building design and retrofits, learning environments can be enhanced, the health of the school community improved, and operating costs reduced.
 Ellen Larson Vaughan, Steven Winter Associates, Inc., “Elementary School,” Whole Building Design Guide, National Institute of Building Sciences, March 27, 2017, https://www.wbdg.org/building-types/education-facilities/elementary-school
 Windows and Offices: A Study of Office Worker Performance and the Indoor Environment, CEC PIER 2003, Heschong Mahone Group, 2012, http://h-m-g.com/projects/daylighting/summaries%20on%20daylighting.htm
 “Guide to Financing EnergySmart Schools,” Office of Building Technologies, U.S. Department of Energy, https://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/publications/pdfs/energysmartschools/ess_financeguide_0708.pdf