100 Percent of W.F. West Class of 2020 Graduates Were Accepted Into a Postsecondary Education Program


On Wednesday afternoon Dr. Brian Fox, assistant superintendent at the Chehalis School District, pulled a binder filled with graphs and statistics off the shelf in his office. 

The graphs reflected the college graduation rates of former Chehalis students, stemming back to 2011, rising steadily over time. Dozens of other pages filled the binder, outlining the strategies and systems the district uses to prepare its students for life after high school through the Student Achievement Initiative (SAI). 

In 2013, the Chehalis School District found that about 20% of its W.F. West High School graduates went on to complete a postsecondary credential as the number of jobs requiring those credentials were on the rise. 

The district made a commitment to raise that 20% up to 60% by 2022 by implementing the SAI, a partnership between Centralia College, the school district and The Chehalis Foundation that aims to modernize instructional practices to get more students ready for college or careers.

“This is my 36th year as an educator and 35 of them were somewhere other than Chehalis — I have never seen anything like the SAI anywhere. What I have found is that there’s a commitment and a passion in some community members that I’ve never seen before,” Fox said. 

Before students can head off to college, the military or a trade school, they must graduate from high school, which has been another focus of the SAI. The graduation rate from W.F. West High School has increased from 77% in 2010 to 99% for the class of 2020. Of that 99% of graduates, 100% of them applied and were accepted into a postsecondary program.

The district has a strong partnership with Centralia College that has allowed them to offer support to their former students even after graduation. Of the W.F. West class of 2018 who attended Centralia College, 54% have earned a credential, compared to the college’s 37% average completion rate, according to the Chehalis School District website.

Much of the work to make those numbers a reality can be accredited to Kerri Chaput, W.F. West High School’s college prep adviser. She said that much of her work is talking with students and laying out their post-high school options in front of them so they can consider all of the possibilities.

“We start talking about pathways at the beginning of the school year and we have workshops — career workshops, apprenticeship panels, college tours and fairs, and they get exposed to that starting freshman year,” Chaput said. “It’s heartwarming and fun to play a small role in such an important time in their lives.”

The district was able to help all students in the class of 2020 apply and get accepted into a program before the school closures in March, but as high school graduation neared amid the realizalization that attending college during the pandemic was going to look much different, many students turned to Chaput for support.

“In the class of 2020, once COVID hit, there were a lot of long hours and people started quickly switching schools and switching plans because of COVID. It really was dependent on the particular student but there was lots of pivoting,” Chaput said.

As for the W.F. West class of 2021, composed of about 200 students, all but about 20 students have applied to a college, trade school or the military so far. Chaput said that most of those remaining students opted for distance learning instead of the hybrid learning model that allows students to attend in-person school for about half the week.

Before students were able to come to school in-person on the district’s current hybrid learning model, Chaput would set up times to meet with each student one-on-one virtually via video call to talk with them about the college and career options. 

“We’re not forcing anything, we just want them to have options. We show them how to fill out an application. We’re here to support and navigate the process,” she said.

Chaput said that building a relationship with each student over the course of their high school career is important and it makes it easier to openly discuss all of the post-high school options with students when they reach their senior year.

“I think that the people in the community have just grown to accept that this is the way it is but they don’t realize how incredible it is to live in a community with this level of commitment,” Fox said. “It’s really worth shaking them up and reminding them what an incredible opportunity students have that come to Chehalis.”