Profile in Courage in Public Education: Jenny Collins

Courage written in chalk on a blackboard with a heart for an O.

Jenny Collins, Executive Director of the Chehalis Foundation/ Student Achievement Initiative

One of her former colleagues said, “Jenny Collins has the ability to connect with people from all backgrounds and in all circumstances.” This connection has led Jenny to a very remarkable, courageous, and successful relationship with the people and communities of Lewis County.

Jenny is the mother of seven sons who all attended the Adna School District. She is currently serving her third term on the Adna Board of Directors. Jenny first served on the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce board for seven years. Then, she directed the Visiting Nurses Foundation for many years before being asked to lead the Chehalis Foundation. All of this happened right before the pandemic!

“Our community, all of our communities, have been through tough times together,” Jenny said. “But the beginning of our work with the Foundation started with asking these simple questions… How do we improve student achievement, how do we improve graduation rates, and how do we get significantly more of our students into post-high school programs?" As a result, current graduation rates from W.F. West High School are 96%, with post-high school enrollment up to 73% — both significantly higher than the state averages.

Seventeen years ago, the Chehalis Foundation started renovating parks and recreation facilities and supporting civic improvements. The Foundation then expanded its vision to include an educational component that first focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs at W.F. West High School. It then reached into the lower grades with new and innovative teaching.

The Student Achievement Initiative’s dramatic success has drawn several important groups’ attention. The Washington Round Table and the Gates Foundation have visited in addition to hundreds of educators. The W.F. West STEM laboratory has been open since 2019 and features science equipment that other private and public labs around the state envy.

The Chehalis community of individuals and business donors, along with various grants and other foundation support, has provided approximately $8m in support of the Student Achievement Initiative projects. The community is fortunate to be beneficiary of approximately $17m in ongoing support that will continue to assist their efforts in education and parks and recreation for future generations. Over 40 scholarships and endowments fund these.

Besides the remarkable work done inside the classrooms, the Foundation has recently completed a significant initiative called Penny Playground. It is an inclusive playground that caters to students with disabilities, autism, and barriers to play, such as a wheelchair. The Foundation spent over $2 million designing and constructing the Chehalis facility. Also, a state-of-the-art high school turfed baseball field is currently being built.

“All of this success is a credit to the community,” Jenny said. “We simply have a great family in Chehalis. We have a legacy of giving, particularly with the alumni.”

Congratulations to Jenny Collins on being selected for the November 2023 "Profiles in Courage" in Public Education for Capital Region Educational Service District 113.

Mrs. Jenny Collins

Would you like to nominate someone for our Board of Directors to honor as a profile in courage?

  • Any employee, resident, volunteer, or student in one of the 44 school districts and one tribal school represented by Capital Region ESD 113 is eligible to submit candidates for consideration to [email protected].
  • Please keep submissions to 400 words or less. Photos are also welcome.
  • A small committee will review the applications. The Board Chair will read one selection each month prior to our Board meeting. In addition, that month’s submission will be prominently featured on our ESD 113 website.

Think about the heroes in your life who have done courageous things to support our students and staff members. We want to honor the wonderful role models who have been working in our public schools!