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School Leaders Energized by Unexpected Guest in Ossining

OSSINING, N.Y. – Kerry-Jane King said Berenice Tompkins is the most passionate person in Westchester when it comes to thinking of new sustainable-energy ideas.

So when King heard Tompkins sharing ideas with dozens of Westchester school officials Thursday night at the 2012 Regional Leadership Summit, she said it fit perfectly. But she can understand if others were surprised to see Tompkins, a 16-year-old Hastings-on-Hudson student, joining the conversation.

“The only thing that stops her is her age and being a junior in high school,” King said. “If it weren’t for that, she would be right there doing this all the time.”

King was invited to the invitation-only summit at the Ossining Public Library as the chair of the Hastings Conservation Commission and the sustainability manager of the New York Power Authority. Not bringing Tompkins along with her to the summit to meet hundreds of Westchester leaders would’ve been “next to impossible,” she said.

“Any opportunity she has to learn about environmental issues and community involvement, she goes,” King said. “She’s been working with the cafeteria to develop a composting program and improving their recycling techniques. She revitalized the Environmental Club at the high school, and she does everything she can to lead the way on new ideas to help the school. So of course she had to come to this, too.”

Tompkins said she was “enthralled” by the different ideas coming from school officials during the summit workshop on energy efficiency in schools.

“I am really looking for ideas for how we can improve what we’re doing in Hastings,” Tompkins said. “I really like what some of the school districts are doing with their energy performance contracts. I think from replacing our roofing to adding double-pane windows or some of the other ideas discussed, we can always do more. I really can’t wait to get back and tell people in Hastings what I learned and what ideas I have.”

Session leader Janet Harckham, who doubles as a Katonah-Lewisboro school board member and as director of the Green Schools Coalition of Westchester, saluted Tompkins for attending.

“That was just good and gutsy for her to come, because she wasn’t invited. But it was really great having her,” Harckham said, adding that education on energy efficiency starts with passionate community members. “The community is just as poorly educated right now with best practices in energy use as the students are, and it’s our jobs as officials to get that message out there to change that. We’re really behind in New York state. To see members of the public wanting to be here like this is encouraging.”

Harckham said the session represented a rare opportunity for school officials to share ideas.

“This is the first time, to my knowledge, that all of the schools have shared what they’re doing on energy efficiency,” she said. “This is a huge thing for us to come together to do this, and it’s really great to see everyone getting involved.”

Raymond Sanchez, Ossining school district assistant superintendent, was also enthusiastic about the turnout at the session.

“I think it’s really exciting that Ossining had an opportunity to host the summit at the library because it’s a perfect place that represents the work we’re trying to do here,” Sanchez said. “I think not just for our residents in Ossining but all residents of Westchester, to get this level of interest from all different municipalities, school districts and even a few community members, it’s a benefit to all communities.” 

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