Centralia High School 2017 Graduation

The Centralia High School Class of 2017 waves to friends and family in the audience prior to the start of the graduation ceremony in June 2017 at the Northwest Sports Hub in Centralia. A $2 million grant from the TransAlta Coal Transition Board to the Centralia Community Foundation could begin the process of improving and reshaping the Centralia School District, stakeholders announced Tuesday. 

The Centralia Community Foundation has been awarded a $2 million grant that local leaders hope will propel a new era of improvement and opportunity in the Centralia School District.

The grant was provided by the TransAlta Centralia Coal Transition Grants Economic and Community Development Board to be used by the Centralia School District and other partners to help move the educational system forward in areas focused on improving opportunities for students and the community.

The grant was announced during a meeting with key stakeholders at The Chronicle on Tuesday morning. It will drive a systemic approach to preparing students for college and vocational careers with the help of the BERC Group, a widely-respected consulting firm that has worked with the Chehalis Foundation. The firm will partner and coach administrators to enhance teaching practices, strategies and methods, according to the TransAlta Coal Transition Board.

“Education has always stood out as a focal point,” Centralia Superintendent Mark Davalos said of the foundation’s goals. “I’ve made a couple presentations to the foundation about our work, and the school district, and our efforts and our challenges. I think they are very enlightened with the success they’ve seen in a nearby city in Chehalis and the work of the foundation there. They really had this idea and aspiration to be able to support us in a similar way, if not in a greater way.”

TransAlta Grant Awarded

Dan Rich, president of the Centralia Community Foundation, discusses the partnership that has been created with the Centralia School District in order to use a $2 million grant from TransAlta, while Jonathan Meyer, secretary of the foundation and Lewis County prosecutor, looks on Tuesday morning at The Chronicle.

The money will be used to help gear students toward college and career readiness, to strengthen and enhance the rigor of academic focus of the school district and to provide even stronger instructional leadership, Davalos said. It can also be used to enhance staffing and provide new technology in the district.

The grant is funded by TransAlta as part of an agreement with the state to help the area as the company transitions away from coal-fired electric power generation. In all, TransAlta will invest $55 million into the local community and the state through its Coal Transition Boards. So far, almost $3.7 million has been awarded through the coal transition grant boards, which include groups focused on economic development, weatherization and energy. This is the first grant awarded by the economic and community development board, which has $20 million to spend.

“These TransAlta funds will make a difference in this community,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a press release. “By investing in local education, options for youth will be expanded. This dovetails nicely with the new STEM facilities currently under construction in both Centralia and Chehalis. Together we can make a difference for young people throughout this region.”

The partnership that has formed between the school district and the foundation is a starting point for future support and opportunities to more readily prepare students for after high school, officials said.

The $2 million grant will fund the initial assessments and establish milestones and metrics to enhance the currently under construction STEM facility at Centralia High School, according to TransAlta.

Amy Buzzard, president of the Centralia School Board, said the award will make it possible to continue to strive toward excellence and equity by providing additional opportunities to students.

“The grant makes that possible,” she said. “It’s an exciting venture and I appreciate the foundation for believing in us enough to join with us and get this done. There are good things to come.”

The work at the school district to better prepare kids who will hopefully later return to Centralia has a benefit to Lewis County and the region as a whole, Dan Rich, president of the foundation, said.

When businesses want to move to the area, they often ask about the school system. The pathway will create attractive systemic changes for the future workforce, he said.

The TransAlta transition board’s focus has centered primarily on job creation. By increasing educational opportunities, it will create a more attractive area for businesses to locate, Lori Schmitt, with TransAlta, said.

The grant can also help develop and foster future partnerships with area leaders and organizations.

Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer, the secretary of the foundation, said the grant award is a historic step for Centralia.

“We have a job to do and this is just the start of it,” Meyer said.

The road to change will take time, but Davalos said he is eager for the improvements to come.

TransAlta’s transition board was provided with a budget outline of how the funds will be spent, but the decision on how to utilize that money will ultimately be up to the district. There is a requirement for a narrative and financial reports as work in the district continues.

Oakview Robotics Class

Centralia School District Superintendent Mark Davalos looks on as Oakview sixth-graders work on programming during the school's morning robotics class on in February 2017. 

“We have the utmost confidence you will succeed,” Jeff Yanish, with TransAlta, said to the district and the foundation.

The key is to be good stewards of the money and show progress along the way, the stakeholders said.

“We have a whole lot to lose and everything to gain,” Davalos said.

The Centralia Community Foundation was established in June 2016 inspired by the Chehalis Foundation, which has donated substantial funds toward various educational efforts in the Chehalis School District. The district has seen significant progress in graduation rates, academic success and the number of students pursuing admission to college.

“The unique role of a community foundation is the ability to create public/private partnerships that bring different entities together for a common vision,” said Tim Browning, vice president of the foundation board and chairman of its education committee. “We have seen how successful and measurable that strategy is in advancing education in Chehalis schools. The Centralia Community Foundation was formed to follow the success of the Chehalis Foundation while making specific changes to reflect the unique Centralia population.”

The grant comes after a string of successes in the Centralia School District, where voters approved a $74 million bond for two new elementary schools and the renovation of the high school earlier this year. Last week, Centralia High School was names a School of Distinction for its drastically improved graduation rates. 

Centralia School Bond Special Election

Centralia school board member Kim Ashmore hugs Centralia School District Superintendent Mark Davalos after seeing the initial special election results that the school bond passed with 61.8 percent of the vote on Tuesday, Feb. 14, at the Lewis County Courthouse in Chehalis.

Here’s the full press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

TransAlta Coal Transition Board Awards $2 Million to Centralia Community Foundation

Grant assists Lewis County students prepare for college and careers, part of TransAlta’s $55M coal transition investment into the local community

Centralia, Wash. (November 15, 2017) – Thanks to a $2 million-dollar grant awarded to Centralia Community Foundation by the TransAlta Centralia Coal Transition Grants Economic & Community Development Board, the Foundation will partner with the Centralia School District and Centralia School Board to build a district-wide evaluation and instruction plan to prepare students for college and vocational careers.

“The vision that the Centralia Community Foundation shared with us is that by supporting and improving the educational system, the entire community will be able to realize the benefits of this investment,” said Mickey Dreher, transition board member. “This approach has worked elsewhere and the board is excited to be part of such an important community-driven journey.”

Under the historic agreement between TransAlta and the State of Washington to transition the Centralia facility off coal, TransAlta is investing $55 million into the local community and the state of Washington. To date, TransAlta has awarded nearly $3.7 million through its coal transition grant boards.

“These TransAlta funds will make a difference in this community,” State Governor Jay Inslee said. “By investing in local education, options for youth will be expanded. This dovetails nicely with the new STEM facilities currently under construction in both Centralia and Chehalis. Together we can make a difference for young people throughout this region.”

“We are truly pleased to be able to help transform public education for Centralia students through this grant,” said Dawn Farrell, CEO and President of TransAlta.

The project will launch a systemic approach to preparing students to enroll and be successful in college or vocational careers. The BERC Group will partner and coach administrators to enhance teaching practices, strategies and methods. The TransAlta Coal Transition Board’s $2 million grant will begin by funding the initial assessments and establishing milestones and metrics with the goal to enhance the effectiveness of the new Centralia High School STEM facilities currently under construction.

“The unique role of a community foundation is the ability to create public/private partnerships that bring different entities together for a common vision” said Tim Browning, Vice-President of the Board and Chairman of the Education Committee. “We have seen how successful and measurable that strategy is in advancing education in Chehalis schools. The Centralia Community Foundation was formed to follow the success of the Chehalis Foundation while making specific changes to reflect the unique Centralia population.”

The project is being built off the neighboring Chehalis Foundation effort, which commissioned the BERC Group to evaluate their school systems. To date, Chehalis has seen higher numbers of graduates accepted into colleges with scholarships and classroom improvement across the district.

Mark Davalos, Superintendent of Centralia School District, is excited about the role that education will play in building a stronger community. “The Centralia School District is thrilled to receive any and all assistance to become a better organization of learning. Our challenges are many, but we believe our partnership with the Centralia Community Foundation will support us in providing what is needed to help our students with greater access to college and career preparation.”

The Centralia Community Foundation was formed in June 2016 to enhance the lives of citizens of Centralia by supporting the creation of a highly successful education system. The Foundation recognizes that a vibrant school district is critical to attracting businesses and families to select Centralia their home. The organization taps some of the area’s most optimistic, successful and accomplished community leaders all with the goal of improving Centralia for the generations to come.

Overview of the Centralia Coal Transition Funding Boards:

Annual payments for the funding boards have been made for the past five years with the last payment due December 31, 2023. The opportunity to start flowing dollars into projects became effective December 31, 2015.

Weatherization Board ($10M): established to fund energy efficiency and weatherization for the residents, employees, business, non-profit organizations and local governments within Lewis County and South Thurston County; up to $1 million shall be allocated to fund residential energy efficiency and weatherization measures for low-income and moderate-income residents of Lewis County and South Thurston County;

Economic & Community Development Board ($20M): established to fund education, retraining, economic development, and community enhancement; at least $5M shall be allocated to fund education, retraining and economic development specifically targeting the needs of workers displaced from the Centralia facility;

Energy Technology Board ($25M): established to fund energy technologies with the potential to create environmental benefits to the state of Washington.

For more information on the Centralia Coal Transition Funding Boards visit: http://cctgrants.com.

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