Frequently Asked Questions
Below is a listing of frequently asked questions that relate to registration, certification, the application, the Digital Schools Program, and grants.
1. Why should I sign up for a Sustainable Jersey for Schools (SJS) account?
All resources on the website are free and available on the website, but once you set up an account, you are also able to:
- Register a district or school
- Be added to a district and/or school profile
- Access a district and/or school dashboard
- Post events to our Calendar
- Sign-up for automatic grant notifications
Signing up is easy and takes only a couple minutes. To sign up, click here.
2. Are there any fees or obligations incurred to participate in Sustainable Jersey for Schools?
No. Sustainable Jersey for Schools is a free and voluntary program.
3. Is Sustainable Jersey for Schools a state program?
No. Sustainable Jersey is a non-profit organization. The Sustainability Institute at the College of New Jersey administers the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program for the non-profit.
4. What are the benefits of participation?
Participating schools are leading the charge to a sustainable future. In working towards certification, schools complete a diverse selection of actions that capture efforts to reduce waste, save energy, improve health and wellness, enhance school culture and climate, educate for sustainability, and build community partnerships. Participating schools:
- Have access to clear guidance and New Jersey-specific tools and resources for developing a comprehensive sustainable school program and implementing cost savings practices;
- Are eligible to apply for Sustainable Jersey grants;
- Are part of a state-wide community sharing and advancing best practices for New Jersey schools;
- Gain recognition while creating a better future for their community. Learn more.
5. How can my school get involved in the program?
Only public districts and schools can register to participate. The district must register first with a resolution of participation passed by the board of education. After the district registration has been approved, any school in the district can register with a letter of participation signed by the superintendent and principal. Anyone acting on behalf of the district and/or school can sign up for an account on our website and register the district and/or school. Learn more.
6. Do all schools in a district have to participate?
No. After the district registers, any school can register, but there is no requirement that all schools in the district participate in the program.
7. For how long is a registration valid?
Registration with Sustainable Jersey for Schools does not expire.
8. Do I need to apply for certification in the year that I register?
No. You can apply for certification in any year. Work at the pace that feels right for you. Applications are accepted every year. Learn more.
1. Is there a fee to apply for certification?
No. There are no registration or certification fees.
2. What does a school need to do to get certified?
The school needs to complete an online certification application where it documents the implementation of sustainability actions selected from our comprehensive list of actions. Applications are submitted for review and feedback at established times during the application cycle each year. For bronze certification, a school must complete actions totaling at least 150 points in six different categories, including two priority actions and the green team action. For silver certification, a school needs at least 350 points in eight categories, with three priority actions and the green team action. Many actions are worth 5 or 10 points, with some worth as many as 50 points. The establishment of a green team is mandatory, but existing groups such as a School Wellness Council may serve as green teams. More details are available on the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Certification Overview page.
3. How long does certification last?
Three years. For example, the certification status of a school certified in 2020 expires August 31, 2023. To avoid a lapse in certification, that school would apply for recertification in the 2023 certification cycle or sooner.
4. When should a school recertify?
In any year that works for the school team. Certification lasts for 3 years, but the opportunity to recertify is offered annually. Some schools choose to recertify more frequently to maintain their momentum. Some schools do so to capitalize on points before they expire. Points within the application expire independently of the certification, so it makes sense to look at the expiration dates of approved actions in the application to inform a decision on your recertification timeline. Consider recertifying before all approved actions expire so that it is easier to get certified again, or to earn more points for a higher certification level. Training webinars are available on the Webinars page to assist with recertification.
5. Can a district be certified?
No. Only schools are certified. However, districts can help their schools get certified by completing actions in the district application. Any points earned in a district application are automatically added to the application of each school in the district.
6. What is the deadline to apply for certification?
Sustainable Jersey for Schools offers one certification application cycle per year with three submission dates between January and June. The cycle is iterative; feedback from reviewers in the first two rounds helps applicants address any issues before the final June deadline. Additional details and dates for the current cycle are available on the Certification Cycle page.
7. Can a school collaborate with other schools or municipalities?
Yes. Collaboration is highly encouraged. Actions that are found in both the school and municipal certification programs lend themselves easily to collaboration. Each collaborating school and municipality applying for certification must submit the appropriate documentation in their own application. For example, if three schools and a municipality collaborate on a green fair, as long as the schools and the town were all involved in the planning, preparation and promotion of the event, each could earn points for the Green Fair action in their respective certification applications.
8. How can I learn more about opportunities for free grants and technical assistance to implement Sustainable Jersey actions?
Opportunities are available. For grants free technical support resources, visit Sustainable Jersey Grants page.
1. Where is my district’s or school’s application?
The application is on the District and School Dashboards page of our website. To access this page and your application, you must have a personal account on the website and your username must be linked to the application. Sign in to the website; go to District and School Dashboards; click on “Begin Application” or “Update Application” to enter the application. Contact email@example.com if you need help with gaining access to an application.
2. How do I start working on the application?
Anyone with access to an application can add, edit, or remove information, as well as submit it for review. Once in the application, click on an action name to get into the submission page where you can input and save your documentation for that action. Consult the Application User Guide or view one of our certification webinars for guidance on navigating and working in the online application.
3. Can I get points for the same activity under different actions?
No. There is no double-counting.
4. How long are actions good for?
It depends. Each action has a look back period and an approval period, found in the action description and in the Master Action Tracking Spreadsheet on the Actions page. Use this sheet to help determine if your documentation will be valid at the time you plan to apply for certification. The look back period identifies how recently the activities associated with the action need to have been completed. The approval period identifies when an approved action will expire and new documentation will be required to continue to earn points for an action.
5. Why am I unable to submit my school application?
The “Submit Application…” button in a school application will turn yellow and be clickable when the application meets the minimum requirements for bronze certification. This means that actions with the status Approved or Completed must total at least 150 points in at least 6 categories, including two priority actions and the mandatory Green Team action. In the first two rounds of the application cycle, it is acceptable to mark incomplete actions as “Completed” just to get the “Submit Application…” button to turn yellow. You can add/remove actions throughout the certification cycle.
6. If my actions are not "completed" should I still submit them for review?
Yes – you should submit incomplete actions for review in the first two rounds of the application cycle. Even if you have not finished work on actions, we recommend submitting partial work early in the cycle to get feedback from reviewers and ensure you are on the right track. Change the status of any action you want reviewed to “Completed” even if it is not fully finished. When you submit your application, only actions with the status “Completed” will be reviewed. You can add/remove actions throughout the certification cycle.
7. Why do some of the actions in my school application appear grey and I can’t open them?
You cannot open actions that are greyed out in the school application because they are actions for the district to work on. Either they are district-only actions that can only be completed in the district application, or they are actions that could be completed either in the district or the school application but the district has claimed by changing the action’s status from “Unplanned” in the district application. In the latter case, the actions may be released to the school application by changing the action status back to “Unplanned” in the district application.
8. Since the district actions show up in the school application, is it necessary to submit the district application as well?
Yes. Even though “Completed” district actions and points are visible in the school application, district actions will only be reviewed if the district application is submitted for review separately.
9. What happens after the final submission deadline?
After the final submission deadline, all action submissions will be marked Approved or Not Approved and school applications will be closed out with a Certified or Certification Denied status. District applications are closed out with a Review Completed status. Points from approved actions will remain in the application until they expire. All existing content will remain in the online application until removed by a user. This means that a school that fell short of achieving certification can try again the next year, building on unexpired points and existing content. Similarly, bronze certified schools can set their sights on silver for the following year by leveraging the approved points that will carry over to the following year.
10. Can anyone else see what I submitted?
Yes and No. If your school gets certified, then yes, all approved action submissions become part of a Certification Report that is viewable by the public through the Sustainable Jersey for Schools website. To promote peer learning the reports can be searched on the Participating Schools and Approved Actions page. If you do not get certified, your materials will remain in your online application, but they will not be publicly viewable, even if individual actions were approved.
11. Is my application "wiped out" after a certification cycle?
No. Sustainable Jersey does not remove documentation from applications. The intent of the application is for it to serve as a living filing cabinet to store work and track progress over time.
Digital Schools Program
1. What is the origin of the Digital Schools program?
The Digital Schools program was created in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey School Boards Association and endorsed by New Jersey Leadership for Educational Excellence. It builds on the legacy of the Future Ready Schools - New Jersey program (which ceased operations in 2019) by integrating FRS-NJ topic areas and content into the Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification program. (See Digital Schools History for more information)
2. My school is new to the Sustainable Jersey for Schools and Digital Schools programs. Why should we participate?
The many benefits of participating in Sustainable Jersey for Schools are presented in the Why Get Certified page. Within Sustainable Jersey for Schools, the Digital Schools program seeks to support schools’ efforts to keep pace with constant educational innovation called for in our ever-evolving cyber-society. Embarking on the Digital School Star Recognition program within Sustainable Jersey for Schools represents a commitment by schools to assess current practices in order to implement the most effective and sustainable uses of digital tools, content, and strategies. The twelve new actions and updates to existing SJS actions will help schools, educators, and communities better understand the benefits of digital tools, resources, strategies, and equitable access. Schools can start slowly, building on current successes and seeing how each step yields meaningful gains. Once your district and school are registered, they will have online applications where all work is saved indefinitely so they can work towards their goals at their own pace. Please see Digital Schools Star Recognition for information on how to get started.
3. How does my school apply for Digital Schools Star recognition?
Your school first needs to be registered with Sustainable Jersey for Schools to establish an application dashboard on our website (See Registration Overview). Schools apply for Digital Schools Star recognition as part of a Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification application. (See “What does a school need to do to get certified?” in the Certification section above). When completing an online application for certification, a school can also apply for Digital Schools Star recognition from the same dashboard.
4. My school is already certified in Sustainable Jersey for Schools. How do I start the process of Digital Schools Star recognition?
Congratulations on your achievement! You will need to submit a certification application along with a Digital Schools Star application that is now available in your school dashboard. See Digital Schools Star Recognition for information on what is required.
5. My school achieved Future Ready Schools – New Jersey certification. How do we start the process for Digital Schools Star recognition?
Congratulations on your FRS-NJ achievement! To get started on Digital Schools Star recognition, see Digital Schools Star Recognition for information on what is required. At a minimum you will need to meet the Sustainable Jersey for Schools bronze certification requirements. All the Digital Schools actions your district and school complete will count towards the certification. Your Digital Schools Star recognition will be based on the specific Digital Schools actions approved in your certification application.
6. Does my school have to complete all the Digital Schools actions to achieve Digital Schools Star recognition?
No. The minimum requirements are listed on Digital Schools Star Recognition.
7. How do I find the Digital Schools actions?
Go to the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Actions page and select the Digital Schools search option to see all the actions.
8. How can I access the free Digital Schools resources?
Resources are embedded in the Digital Schools and related actions. Go to the Sustainable Jersey for Schools Actions page and select the Digital Schools search option to see all the actions. Click on an action to view its Resources section.
9. Do Digital Schools actions count towards Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification?
Yes. All Digital Schools actions do count towards certification.
10. How long is Digital Schools Star recognition good for?
Three years. For example, if it was awarded in the 2021 application cycle, it will be set to expire on August 21, 2024. This is consistent with when the Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification expires.
1. What type of grants does Sustainable Jersey for Schools offer?
Sustainable Jersey for Schools offers grants and technical assistance opportunities for activities related to completing Sustainable Jersey for Schools actions. Learn more. Grants are also offered to municipalities participating in the Sustainable Jersey program.
2. How many grant cycles are there?
Grant cycles are contingent upon funding. There are typically at least two grant cycles for schools per year.
3. What are the typical funding levels?
The number and amount of grant awards vary per funding cycle. The most common grant awards are $2,000 and $10,000, however grants as large as $30,000 for energy related projects have been awarded.
4. How do I apply for a grant?
All grant applications are completed through an online portal. Check the Grants page to see if there is a current funding cycle.
5. Am I eligible to apply for a grant?
Eligible applicants include districts and schools registered in the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program. A school does NOT have to be certified to be eligible. Check the participants map to see if your district or school is registered. Additional eligibility requirements are outlined in each grant cycle application packet.
6. What are the chances of receiving a grant?
The chances of receiving a grant vary by cycle depending on a number of factors. While Sustainable Jersey grants are competitive, the odds of receiving a grant are significantly higher than state and/or federal grant programs. Up to 50% of grant funds are awarded to certified schools.
7. I am not a grant writer, does that mean my application is less likely to be considered?
No. We receive grant applications written by green team members, parent volunteers, district staff, and even students. All applications have an equal chance of being funded. Review tips for submitting a grant proposal here.
8. If awarded a grant, how intensive are the reporting requirements?
Reporting requirements are detailed, but not overly cumbersome. Recipients are required to submit a final report (interim report as well for grants $10,000 or larger). More information on reporting requirements is available here.