The Centralia School District, along with the Chehalis School District, Centralia College and Twin Transit are leading the charge to ready students in Lewis County — from kindergarten to Centralia College — for the bursting number of jobs coming in the clean energy industry in coming years and decades.
The Centralia School District, looking ahead to meeting the needs of its students, has helped secure $376,000 in grants to develop a clean-energy curriculum. The school district will jump start this effort with a pilot class this fall.
The grant dollars will provide seed money for equipment, travel, consultant fees and teacher salaries. Consultant Phil Crocker, partner/owner of Teater-Crocket Consulting, is already onboard.
“Our firm has worked in school districts across the state and around the country and this is one of the most innovative approaches in the development of a Career and Technical Education (CTE) program we have been involved with,” Crocker said. “Just the fact that once this is completed and the curriculum, course work and resources have been developed, they will be available at little or no cost to other districts and schools across the state, shows the collaborative approach that Centralia and Chehalis school districts are modeling.”
Centralia College’s Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy is also a partner, as is the leading-edge clean energy agency Twin Transit, which provides transportation services throughout Lewis County.
“This is a very exciting collaboration project for us and our community,” said Centralia School District Superintendent Dr. Lisa Grant, now in her third year at the helm of the largest school district in the county. “There is a whole new realm of job opportunities evolving around renewable energy.”
Dr. Grant said under her watch, it is crucial the district prepares its students for employment in clean energy, from hydrogen, wind, solar, fusion, energy efficiency and battery-powered transportation.
“We have so many exciting opportunities for our kids,” she said. “And some of those jobs are not even known yet. We want to make sure our students have strong math and science backgrounds and experiences. We need to give them coursework that gives them exposure to those real careers and opportunities, so the class time is relevant for them.”
The Centralia School District plans to start the curriculum next year at Centralia High School debuting its first class, then expand it into CTE pathways that aim to provide 21st Century academic and technical skills. The goal is to start these programs in kindergarten.
“We are working on determining how to give our students hands-on activities, experiences and instruction around science and all of this beginning in kindergarten,” Dr. Grant said.
The high-tech, clean energy education could in turn attract clean energy businesses who need a trained workforce. It could also give young adults a reason to remain in Lewis County instead of having to relocate elsewhere for decent jobs, and for decent pay. A recent Department of Energy report stated energy jobs pay 34% higher salaries than the pay of all other industries.
“This would help families come live here, for students to come here,” she said. “Then when college grads are ready for a career, they can also come back here to contribute to this community.”
Key to the success of the pilot program and its expansion, Dr. Grant said, is to make the learning relevant, with deeper learning and better retention of knowledge, by engaging students in what they already excel — the future technology coming at us in waves.
Joe Clark, executive director of Twin Transit, said his agency has already started the transition to clean energy. Twin Transit is in the process of moving into zero-emissions technologies for its transportation services.
Clark said he sees the need for trained employees in clean energy coming like a freight train. For example, he sees his mechanics, as Twin Transit transitions from diesel to electric vehicle, picking up laptops to fix buses, instead of a wrench.
Clark is also one of the drivers of the Centralia School District pilot program. Clark envisions a program in the high schools that mirrors Running Start, where upper-level students can earn dual college and high school credits in the clean energy field.
He sees, for example, a one-year program where students could complete an electric vehicle certification, where students could land good-paying jobs that are challenging and help make the world a cleaner place.
“It is pretty exciting to figure out how to prepare the students,” Clark said. “And a lot of these students already embrace technology, they know technology better than my generation. It is baked into their life experiences.”
Clark said he is proud to be part of this pilot program.
“The opportunities and pathways this program will create for our students in Centralia will set a new direction for career readiness,” Clark said. “Dr. Grant and her team have done a fantastic job moving this effort forward.”
Monica Brummer, director of the Pacific Northwest Center of Excellence for Clean Energy at Centralia College, said she was excited by the project and the people making it happen.
“This is an amazing team that’s working diligently at aligning educational elements to support our kids and our future clean energy workforce,” Brummer said. “Great opportunities are coming to Lewis County and we’re here to help prepare our community for an energizing future”
In this past year the emerging clean energy sector powered into growth mode, led by electric vehicle service and manufacturing jobs rising by 26%, compared to the overall U.S. employment which increased by 2.8% during the same time frame.
Other clean energy jobs such as solar energy and wind energy also outpaced the general economy. The eruption in clean energy jobs is just in its infancy, with new technology such as hydrogen power and fusion coming online.
The hopes are the district will soon start with students as young as kindergarteners, making them aware of the potential, followed by classes in middle school, junior high and high school, then creating a certification program that could be melded into Running Start.
On one aspect be clear: the jobs are coming, and many will land in Lewis County. Just last month Gov. Jay Inslee traveled to Southwest Washington to announce an effort to place an application to the U.S. Department of Energy for $1 billion in a grant that would go toward making a clean energy-producing “hydrogen hub” in Lewis County.
The grant applicant is via the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub Board, made up of Tribal leadership, representatives from Amazon, Puget Sound Energy and other agencies across Washington, Oregon and Montana.
This past summer, the Economic Alliance of Lewis County led a partnership with Fortescue Future Industries to build a hydrogen plant at the Industrial Park at TransAlta, with the accompanying possibility of 140 new jobs. To build the plant would take about 200 workers and cost between $400 million and $600 million during construction. Fortescue Future Industries is a multi-billion-dollar Australian company positioning itself to be the leading producer of green hydrogen in the world.
Richard DeBolt, executive director of the Economic Alliance of Lewis County, said Fortescue Future Industries has been searching across the world for the ideal place to start a hydrogen plant from the ground up, and that Centralia has the land, water and economic prospects ideal for such an industry, with the accompanying possibility of Centralia becoming a "hydrogen hub."
DeBolt also touted its potential to decrease property taxes by 12% for property owners of the Centralia School District, saying that TransAlta’s closure brought taxes back up, thereby hurting schools as homeowners were less likely to vote for a levy.
A clean-energy program in Lewis County schools makes the opportunity for Fortescue Future Industries all that clearer.
Dr. Grant said with TransAlta shutting down its final boiler in 2025, Lewis County needs to attract new businesses to fill the tax gap. TransAlta, when it had both of its power boilers running, provided the Centralia School District with 33% of its tax base. That is now down to a single percentage digit.
The main driving force behind this ambitious effort, however, is empowering students, of making an education in Centralia valuable in this changing world. Dr. Grant said the district wants to instill a message of hope for our students, that these are family-sustaining and rewarding careers.
“Eventually we want to develop a curriculum that benefits and ripples outside of Lewis County across the state and the nation,” Dr. Grant said.
This story is a paid advertisement.