SEM Contest

W.F. West senior, Payton Rothlin, shows images taken with a scanning electron microscope in January 2015 in Chehalis.

Local education leaders met with the Chehalis Foundation and other innovators in the region to discuss what the Chehalis School District is doing to ensure its students are college and career ready.

Members of the Chehalis Foundation, Chehalis School District, Centralia College, the Washington Roundtable and The BERC Group discussed the Beyond K-12 Student Initiative on Thursday and how it ties into a larger statewide picture.

The goal of the initiative is to increase the number of students who earn a postsecondary credential of some sort from 20 percent to 60 percent within the next 10 years. 

Data provided by The BERC Group, an independent evaluation, research and consulting firm, shows the district has made improvements and plans to continue its progress.

Steve Mullin, president of the Washington Roundtable, said he is pleased to work with a community that he will one day use an example as he closely watches the progress. 

Duane Baker, with The BERC Group, also shared a similar thought about Chehalis becoming a model for others to follow.

“I think Chehalis is actually on the track for being a model for mapping it out and saying this is how it can actually happen on the ground,” Baker said. “Hopefully it has a major impact here, but it can also probably impact others beyond Chehalis.” 

On a statewide level, the Washington Roundtable in partnership with the Boston Consulting Group has examined the state’s five-year jobs outlook to help pinpoint jobs that will be available and the pathways students can pursue to obtain those jobs.

With only 31 percent of Washington high school students earning a postsecondary credential, the Roundtable Initiative aims to increase that number to 70 percent by 2030. 

“Reaching the 70 percent goal will take a concerted effort on the part of the private, public and nonprofit sectors,” stated the Pathways to Great Jobs in Washington State report. “It will require a systemwide approach focused on enhancing school readiness, improving college and career readiness, increasing participation in postsecondary certification and degree programs, and building awareness of career pathways.”

Mullin said Washington is the second most dependent state in the nation on imported talent, which leads to a supply-demand imbalance. 

Numbers presented by Mullin said the average demand shows there are 52,000 career jobs, and only 24,000 Washington students who earn the proper certificate or credentials for those jobs.  For pathway jobs, there are 66,000 jobs annually, with only 38,000 students graduating with the skills needed.

The fact that the Chehalis Foundation has begun to help prepare students for career and college readiness with the Beyond K-12 Student Initiative “truly validates” the work happening within the school district, said Kevin Smith, a foundation donor. 

“It’s kind of a mandate now that we have to do better than giving kids a cap and gown,” he said. “The discussions on being career ready are pretty inspiring.” 

Jim Lintott, a foundation donor, said the initiatives undertaken by the school district have resulted in a culture shift and have given the kids that needed push to pursue STEM — science, technology, engineering, mathematics — jobs. And with the rising numbers of those jobs in Washington, it’s good to have a solid STEM program in place, he said.

According to Mullin, those jobs are the ones that pay the best and are the hardest to fill. 

“These are the jobs that are going to build that future for these kids and these families, and you have them comfortable doing that,” Lintott said. “Who is going to be afraid of taking biology when they’ve already done molecular genetics in high school? It’s a huge difference compared to other places. This is a step up for the kids from our area. … and that’s exactly what we want to be able to promise these kids.” 

The Chehalis School District, with the help of the Chehalis Foundation, is on its way to increasing the amount of students with some kind of credential, and now the focus will look at Centralia College’s support services to see what areas can be improved to help students who enroll at the college.

Smith said that about half of the kids graduating from Chehalis go on to college, and of that number, half of them start at Centralia College. But of the students who do go on to Centralia College, many drop out or slip through the cracks.

In order to reach the foundation’s goal of 60 percent of students with a postsecondary credential, the students have to find success at the college, Smith said.

To evaluate support services, The BERC Group has been hired to look into the practices. The report should be completed in January.

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