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If you type in “who is” into Google, one of the first suggestions is “Who is Keyser Söze?” This is a reference to the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects, where the characters are all trying to figure out who the film’s antagonist is.

Mike Rushton is no one’s antagonist, but he is happy to remain anonymous, and is quick to deflect praise onto others for the success he is having as Bethel’s Energy Manager.

“People do this stuff voluntarily. I can only give them information that helps them. Most savings occur from well-developed routines,” Rushton said. “Everyone else that is doing their part to conserve energy makes our success reachable.”

Working with principals on their buildings’ start and close procedures was one of Rushton’s projects this year, and lighting was a key point. The rule used to be that the first person into the building turned on the lights. Now, staff are thinking about what is actually needed during the before- and after-school hours.

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“I’ll be walking through a school and I’ll see a teacher working in their darkened classroom,” Rushton said. “Sometimes they have desk lamps, sometimes there’s enough light coming in through the window, but I stick my head in there and give them a thumbs up and say, good job! And they always look at me like, who is this guy?”

Rushton prefers that anonymity. He would rather the credit for the energy savings be passed onto the staff members who make little changes in their routines to help the district as a whole. But he is quick to stress that safety is always number one.

“We never want to put anyone in a position where they think that conservation is more important than safety.”

That success is something Bethel is very proud of. When it comes to Energy Star scores, Bethel is the envy of other districts across the country. Currently the district sits at a 94%. But Rushton’s goal is to have the highest score in the nation. And, he says, we’re only three points away.

“The goal is to get to 95% by this August, and 97% by August of 2019. I believe that we can be the highest-rated school district in the nation. I really believe that.”

With such a high percentage already, Rushton says it will be the little things that are going to make a big difference. Things like staff taking personal appliances home at the end of the school year, or simply unplugging them during the summer months.

Rushton says the summer is also a good time for staff to look for deals on new, energy efficient space heaters.

“We want people to be able to be comfortable, but there are lower-energy options to heating the space around your desk,” Rushton says, smiles, and starts to laugh, “Such as, a big fluffy robe.”

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Serious again, Rushton said some of the 1800 watt space heaters that staff have consume so much energy, “It’s like having a personal hair dryer on in 16 different places in the building. They now have radiant heaters that you can put under the desk that are 200 watts or less. They also have radiant floor mats.”

He also added that those space heaters need to have tip-over switches and must be “UL listed,” or the fire department will not allow them to be used in the building.

It’s small changes like these, to routines and awareness, that Rushton is looking for.

“These are things that most districts don’t think about,” said Rushton’s boss, Facilities Director Dave Wells. “We’re at such a high level right now, and Mike is a huge part of that, that we’re looking for all these little things that make the big difference.”

And if Rushton has his way, the credit for it will all go to the staff.

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(Why are you still here? The article is over. Go home!)

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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