History of Columbia Crest
Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy - Home of the Rainiers!
1951 Education in the upper Nisqually Valley underwent a major change in the year 1951. Prior to this time Ashford, Elbe, and Alder were each separate school districts. In 1951 the three schools combined and also became part of Eatonville School District #404. The school year began with all the children attending school in Ashford. The new Columbia Crest building was not quite finished and did not open until shortly before Christmas. Duane Rose, the Ashford principal, became the first principal of Columbia Crest. Historic Image from the Tacoma Public Library
Former School Board Member Jack Chappell remembers when the decision was made to unite with the Eatonville School District. Giving up local control by each town was only agreed to by the promise that there would always be a school in close proximity to Ashford and Elbe for the local students. This school was an integral part of binding the three small towns together.
Building and moving into Columbia Crest was definitely a community project. Townspeople gathered trucks and moved everything from the Ashford school down to their spacious new home. Local men laid the beautiful hardwood gym floor that would become the envy of many visiting athletic teams. Thanks to the diligent guarding of this floor by long time principal Lucy Fountain it is still in excellent condition.
The school received its name as the result of a student contest. All the children were invited to submit their suggestions. Barbara Barnett had the winning entry. "Columbia Crest" was deemed the most appropriate as the school sits in the shadow of Mt. Rainier and Columbia Crest is the highest point on its summit. Mt. Rainier, the National Park and the agricultural/logging/tourist industries makes the area a very unique place to live and work.
The building has undergone many changes since that inaugural day in 1951. In the beginning, the main entrance was where the current office is and the teachers' room was the main office. The last two classrooms on the main hall were not added until the 1960's. There was no stage and no girl's locker room. The library had plenty of books from the combined schools of Ashford, Elbe, and Alder but was so small it could only accommodate 5-6 students at a time. The current special education classroom was an outside covered play area with a dirt floor. When the staff complained about all the mud being tracked inside the Ashford Community Improvement Club got together and laid a cement pad for the children. The community always stepped up to take care of the needs of the school. The athletic fields were cared for by the Lions’ Club who also sponsored all the community baseball.
The school building underwent a million dollar re-modeling project in 1989. The old domed roof was covered over and the school received a face lift. Due to money constraints not all areas of the school were addressed. Again the community came together to build the large cement plaza in the front of the school.
No history of Columbia Crest would be complete without mentioning the contribution of Lucy Fountain. Lucy came to CC as a young teacher in 1970 and became principal in 1978 after earning her Masters’ in Educational Administration from the University of Washington. She served as principal, 8th grade English teacher and coach while at Columbia Crest. After 19 years as principal she moved on to become the district Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment in 1997. Lucy was well known for her high standards, dedication to students, and ability to get the job done. A two classroom portable was added to the school site as the population of the school approached 250 students.
Pam Burke became principal in 1997 and stayed at CC for four years. In the fall of 2001 she left to become the principal of Weyerhaeuser Elementary. While Pam was principal the population of the school declined and it was decided that the seventh and eighth grade students would be transferred to Eatonville Middle School. David Jacobson followed as a part time principal, part time special education director. As the population of the school continued to decline, the school district chose to create a Dean of Students position. This was filled by Janna Rush who had previously been teaching at Eatonville Middle School.
The district created the Summit Class for fifth and sixth grade students. It was taught for many years by Kathy Johnstone. This class designed for Highly Capable students helped the population of the school to grow so that when Janna Rush completed her administrative work at Seattle Pacific University she became the principal.
The school saw some upgrades between 2009 and 2011. The student restrooms were remodeled, the playshed was rebuilt after it collapsed under heavy snow, the gym floor was refinished and the Department of Natural Resources and NOAA installed a remote operated weather station on the property. Part of the refinishing of the gym included a new center circle painted by well know painter and mountaineer D. Molenaar, lettered by local artist/CC graduate Sarah Larson and documented by photographer Mary Randlett.
Columbia Crest is now known as Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy. In 2012, the teachers and staff at Columbia Crest became involved in the pathway of science, technology, engineering and math as a way to help students prepare for the future. Creating partnerships with Mount Rainier National Park, NW Trek, citizens in the Nisqually Valley and the State of Washington, Columbia Crest was named a Lighthouse School. The ties with the artists in the area added the A for Art in their STEM title.
Following Janna Rush, the principal from 2013 to 2017 was Angie Ellenbecker. During the 2013-2014 school year 7th and 8th grade students rejoined Columbia Crest making the school, once again, a Kindergarten through 8th grade school. The newly chosen principal is Allison Shew. Allison was hired as a primary teacher in 2010. She was an integral part of organizing the move toward becoming a STEM school. She brought groups of over fifty people/organizations to the school to meet and plan for the future. She is also well known for the Career Fairs she held each year at the school.
Many dedicated and capable educators have made their contributions to the school since that inaugural day in 1951. Regretfully, space does not allow for all of them to be listed. Equally important is that this is truly a community school. Columbia Crest began with much community involvement and continues to be a focal point of the area today.