November 2019

November 2019 Spotlight on Success header


November 2019


Superintendent’s Message


Hello Olympia School District Families,


Patrick Murphy headshot

In the 1860s, in the middle of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving. As a former history teacher, I recall teaching about that conflict of “unequalled magnitude and severity.” And yet, in the midst of that misery and despair, Lincoln felt it was important to note all those things for which we are grateful. We all know that there are plenty of difficult things in today’s world too. Those challenges do not have to prevent us from acknowledging those things for which we are thankful.


Like many of you, I am so thankful to be a part of the Olympia School District community. We live and work in a community that is committed like no other to the education of our children. As I have said in previous messages, our school district is so fortunate to have an abundance of volunteers who are so giving of their time in support of our schools. The numbers are staggering, as we average 5,000 volunteers per year giving more than 50,000 hours of time. One would be hard-pressed to find similar numbers in any comparable district to Olympia. Every time I visit our schools I see and hear our students who are hard-working, compassionate and caring. This is obviously a reflection of their supportive families and the hard work of our staff.


Recently we notified our school board that our most recent graduating class, the Class of 2019, posted the highest on-time graduation rate in the history of the district, since that statistic has been kept. That 91.1% on-time graduation rate is surely the result of persistent effort by dedicated teachers and staff from preschool through high school.


I am grateful that I get to work in a district that celebrates our successes but also never rests on our laurels. Through the leadership of our school board and using the lens of our recently adopted Student Outcomes, we consistently look at our data to see who is not achieving at the level of success we would want for all students.


As many of you know, it was this commitment to continuous improvement that moved our board to create a committee to explore later start times for our high schoolers. Driven by Student Outcome 3 and its focus on our students’ physical and mental wellness, our board could not ignore the growing research that later start times can positively impact the health and performance of adolescents. At our most recent board meeting, directors accepted a report from the board-appointed Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) on School Year Calendar/School Start Times. That report was largely informed by a recent survey that many of you took and had just under 5,000 responses. Before taking any action on the report and its accompanying recommendation, the board charged staff with taking the next few months to look for ways to mitigate concerns that were raised in that survey. While there were many concerns shared, the two most pressing involved 1) challenges around earlier start times for elementary schools, and 2) missed class time and challenges around athletics and extracurricular participants in high school. Staff will be reporting back to the board in the spring on ideas and possible solutions. For more information, feel free to visit the CAC webpage on the school district website.


One of the final comments from the CAC members during their presentation to the board was that “change is hard.” Indeed, it is, and life can be hard too. But it does not stop us from recognizing all the good around us and being thankful. So thank you all for your dedication and commitment to the children of the Olympia School District.



Patrick Murphy signature

Patrick Murphy




Elementary student enjoying art class


Olympia School District unveils Elementary Art Pilot Program

A teaching moment in a second grade classroom

Lindsey Johnstone’s art class at Hansen Elementary School has been hard at work creating a collaborative art piece she has titled, “Feather Mural.” All students, from kindergarten to fifth grade, will contribute a feather to this mural to create two large wings that will become wall art for the school. Johnstone’s art class is part of the Elementary Art 

Pilot Program, a program currently in its first year at the Olympia School District. There are three teachers in district who are teaching art at their schools: Lindsey Johnstone at Hansen Elementary, Julia Bloom at LP Brown Elementary and Mike White at Garfield Elementary. “Our board members had an interest in expanding art programs in our elementary schools,” says Executive Director of K-12 Teaching and Learning Lauri Klancke. With this piloting program, each student at the three schools receives an art class once a week.


Johnstone enjoys the freedom of this program to come up with the projects she wants to implement in the classrooms. Her focus is on collaboration. “The projects express the individuality of the student as well as the school as a whole,” Johnstone says. Her first project of the year focused on painting dots, inspired by Peter Reynolds book “The Dot.” Her second project was a large mural that currently fills up a large wall space in her classroom. The focus of the project was learning about the role of symmetry in art. “The program is currently focusing on the elements of art, such as line, texture and form,” says Assistant Director of K-12 Teaching and Learning, Anne Gallagher.


Read the full story here



FIRST Robotics student at work on their latest challenge


Students participate in FIRST Lego League mock robotics competition

Robotics students with their challenge robot

Many students throughout our district participate in robotics’ FIRST Lego League (FLL). This robotics club teaches students how to program Lego robots to accomplish a variety of tasks called “missions.” Competing teams are scored on the completion of these challenges. “These missions give students experience in the engineering process, including working by trial and error. They learn persistence and determination. It gives students the chance to work on a problem until they get it right,” says Jennifer Mettler, an eighth-grade science and robotics teacher at Thurgood Marshall Middle School.


Each year the FIRST Lego League chooses a new challenge. This year’s challenge is called “City Shaper.” The competition itself takes place on a large board with a city landscape, intersected with black lines. If programmed correctly, the robot will follow these lines using their color sensors. Some of the missions for the City Shaper Challenge include the Traffic Jam Mission, Design for Wildlife Mission, the Safety Factor Mission, and the Elevator and the Crane Mission. Each mission is made up of Legos. Mettler describes the Safety Factor Mission and the Crane Mission as two of the most difficult missions. Each robotics team is given 2.5 minutes to accomplish the missions of their choice. “The students have to decide which missions are worth the most points and are within their skill capacity,” says Mettler.


Marshall MS teacher Jennifer Mettler teaching in the classroomThe most recent competition, held at Olympia High School, was a mock competition designed to help middle and elementary school students prepare for future competitions, including the regional competition in December. Students from Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA), Garfield ES, Jefferson MS, Thurgood Marshall MS and Reeves MS competed in this City Shaper Challenge. Olympia HS students from Andrew Woodbridge’s class acted as referees and helped set up the competition boards. “The students really like to see the hard work come together. FIRST Lego League is big on cheering each other and helping others,” says Olympia High teacher Andrew Woodbridge. This preparatory competition benefits both high school and younger students. “It is important for the middle and elementary students to make connections to high school robotics. It helps them stay involved,” Woodbridge says.



Where do all the food leftovers go?

Have you ever wondered what happens to the unserved food that is leftover from school cafeteria lunches? Robert Coit, Executive Director of the Thurston County Food Bank, works with the Olympia School District Child Nutrition Services Department to bring leftover food to families in need. Every day, food not distributed to students at district schools is sent to the central kitchen at Olympia High School. The Thurston County Food Bank picks up the leftover food once a week from the OSD central kitchen. This effort is part of the Thurston Food Rescue Program which repackages food from across the district, and local restaurants, combining it into nutritious and ready-to-eat meals.


OHS Food Services worker“What I really like about this arrangement is the food bank creates meals ready to be heated in the microwave, individually packaged and convenient. This is just one way the Olympia School District can show support for our community,” says Alicia Snyder, administrative assistant of Child Nutrition Services.


Child Nutrition Services Supervisor Paul Flock adds, “When I first announced this program, my staff started clapping. They don’t like to see food being wasted when there’s a need out there.”


Assistant Cook Cheri Jackson worked at Roosevelt Elementary prior to coming to work in the central kitchen at Olympia High. “The Food Rescue Program is a wonderful program,” she says. “It’s good to see the food being used.” Before school breaks such as Winter Break, the central kitchen also reaches out to the Thurston County Food Bank to pick up fresh produce.


“Even with what’s being provided to students through the Free and Reduced Meal program, there’s still a need for food for families,” says Snyder. “The Thurston Food Rescue Program steps in and fills that gap.”



Family and staff interact at the OSD Welcome Center event


Olympia School District Welcome Center reaches out to bilingual families

This year, the Olympia School District opened its doors to the Welcome Center, located at Roosevelt Elementary School. The Welcome Center is available to families of students of all ages, from elementary to high school. It was created to help “facilitate communication between Olympia School District staff and our bilingual families,” said EL Coordinator Carol Richardson. Nancy Swanson, who works as a Bilingual Family Engagement Specialist added, “The goal of the Welcome Center is to welcome families and take care of their registration and interpretation needs, as well as any additional questions they have. We want to connect them with all the different departments in the district, and with all other available resources.”


Parent Diana Hernandez says: “It has been a relief to know that there is someone who speaks my language and can communicate my doubts and questions to teachers. At first, it was very difficult for me to establish a connection with the school because I do not speak English. This service has been extremely helpful because it keeps me connected with the school, which benefits my family.”


OSD Welcome Center staffThis past month the Welcome Center put on an event for district families. All families that attended were served a homemade dinner and free books from South Sound Reading Foundation were set out on a table for children to read at their leisure and take home with them at the end of the evening. Booths providing resources from the district as well as the community were set up throughout Roosevelt Elementary School's cafeteria. Some of the community organizations which participated included; Centro Integral Educativo Latino de Olympia (CIELO), Title 1, the Migrant Education Program (MEP) and Head Start. “Our goal is to help families help themselves. We want parents to be empowered to take the lead in their child’s education,” Richardson said.


During the parent event night, Swanson greeted many families and was met with smiles. Richardson was also busy throughout the event, greeting families and talking with OSD staff who had informational booths set up around the room.


Richardson noted the positive impact the Welcome Center has had on the district in such a short period of time. “Having recently gone through elementary and middle school conferences, the Welcome Center has been a huge resource not only to families but to our teachers. There have been numerous instances where we have gotten incredible praise for Nancy and her connection with the OSD community. Vilma Loarca, who has a student in the district added; “Without this service, it would be extremely difficult for me to support my children in school.”



OSD Board student representatives


2019-20 Student Board Representatives

The Olympia District School Board includes not only our district directors and superintendent; the board also includes two student representatives chosen from among our four high schools. Ruby Gruber, a senior at Olympia High School, and Alexis Nevy, a senior at Avanti High School, are this year’s student representatives on the Olympia School District Board of Directors. Although the student representatives do not take part in the voting process, their input is vital to the school board’s decision-making processes.


Read the full story here



OSD students on their way to a PAI initiative at the Washington Center


Performing Arts Initiative brings storytelling and music to students

Olympia School District students from four elementary schools, one middle school, and two high schools recently attended a performance by a music group called Che Apalache. This performance was sponsored by the Performing Arts Initiative (PAI) and was performed at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. The purpose of the PAI is to enhance students’ opportunities to enjoy the performing arts. One of the PAI’s goals is to reach students who don’t have equal access to the performing arts. PAI performances cover a wide range of the performing arts. Professional storytelling, comedy, music, poetry, opera and more are brought to our students through this initiative. Funding is mainly provided by the Dawkins Charitable Trust, as well as through grants and private donors. Schools occasionally pay a small fee to host or attend PAI performances.


PAI performer at elementary school assemblyThe idea for the PAI began five years ago with a conversation between Anne Larsen Matheson, a former President of Olympia School District Education Foundation (OSDEF), and PAI Director Bob Hodges, concerning how the Olympia School District could better partner with the Washington Center for the Performing Arts. This initiative is a collaboration between the OSD and the OSDEF. “The thing I like best about this program is its focus on equity: we are able to bring the performing arts to so many students who would not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy them. We also support our local performing artists and arts organizations by providing extra opportunities to perform,” says Hodges. The PAI works with the performers for discounted prices, bundling multiple shows for the school district. “Bob Hodges is truly a master of helping make sure these funds touch as many students as possible,” says Katy Johansson, Executive Director of OSDEF.


Read the full story here



2019 OHS Bearzaar


Annual Olympia High School Bearzaar is resounding success

From pottery and potholders to candles and cutting boards, thousands of people walked through the halls of Olympia High School on Saturday, November 23 in search of unique handcrafted gifts. More than 170 vendors from Washington and Oregon shared their crafts as part of the 19th Annual Olympia High School Bearzaar. The annual event, a tradition for people near and far to attend on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, is an Associated Student Body (ASB) fundraiser. Some of the most sought-after booths each year are those organized by student classes featuring products designed and crafted by students — pottery, woodworking, visual art, textiles and more.

Happy staff members at one of the many Bearzaar booths


In addition to items sold by Olympia High students, several Washington Middle School marketing students were also on hand this year to show and take orders for their wares. Several high school athletic teams and clubs also participated as vendors and sold Bearwear items, while others donated items to the annual raffle. In addition to raising money for the school ASB, visitors to this year’s event shared their generosity by donating tables full of canned food, which will be given to the Thurston County Food Bank.


Kudos to everyone who made this event a success, including event coordinator Kathy Thompson, the many talented vendors, and all of the volunteers and supportive customers, many who return year after year to support the school.



2019 OSD Classified School Employee of the Year


Classified School Employee of the Year named

Congratulations to Linda Kim-Zaccagnini, administrative assistant at Garfield Elementary School, for being named this year’s Olympia School District Classified School Employee of the Year.


Superintendent Patrick Murphy delivered the news during an impromptu Garfield Elementary staff meeting. Cheers and applause filled the room as Murphy announced Kim-Zaccagnini as this year’s award winner.


Linda Kim-ZaccagniniThe annual award recognizes employees who consistently demonstrate outstanding work performance, professional leadership and collaboration. This is the third year in a row that a Garfield employee has been recognized with the district honor. Denise Pigue received the award in 2018, preceded by Michell Orwig in 2017.


Kim-Zaccagnini began working in the district as a paraeducator in 1997 after serving many years as a parent volunteer. She is in her thirteenth year as the school’s administrative assistant.


“For many years Linda has been the point person for Garfield Elementary,” said Principal Brendon Chertok. “Her thoughtful approach toward students, families and staff has contributed to an environment that is inclusive and compassionate. Particularly with families who do not speak English, Linda's ability to speak several languages has eased the transition for many of our families. Linda has also created and organized after-school opportunities for Garfield students. In cooperation with community volunteers, staff and parents, these classes include arts/crafts, sports and a homework club among many others.”


Read the full story here


 Remember to vote graphic


Register to vote for February 11 Special Election

Thurston County residents may register to vote online, by mail or in-person at the Thurston County Auditor’s Office for the February 11, 2020 Special Election.


There is one Olympia School District measure on this election ballot. The district is asking voters to consider a four-year Educational Programs and Operations Replacement levy.


Following are voter registration deadlines for the upcoming Special Election:

  • February 3, 2020: Deadline to register to vote online, by mail or by voter registration drive.
  • February 11, 2020: You may register to vote in person and update your voter registration address up until 8 p.m. on Election Day February 11. In-person voter registration is done at the Thurston County Elections Division, 2000 Lakeridge Dr. S.W., Bldg. 1, Rm. 118 in Olympia.


To register to vote you must be:

  • A citizen of the United States
  • Residing at your current address for a minimum of 30 days before Election Day.
  • A legal resident of Washington state.
  • At least 18 years old by Election Day. (Note: Citizens may pre-register to vote at age 16 and will be automatically eligible to vote and sent a ballot during the first election after their 18th birthday).

For additional voter registration information, visit the Thurston County Auditor’s Office Elections Division webpage.



Upcoming Events

  • November 27-29 - No School (Thanksgiving Break) 
  • December 4 - 50-minute Early Release 
  • December 11 - 50-minute Early Release 
  • December 16 - Board Meeting: Knox 111 @ 6:30 p.m.
  • December 18 - 50-minute Early Release 
  • December 23 - January 3 - No School (Winter Break)



OSD Notice of Nondiscrimination

The Olympia School District will provide equal educational opportunity and treatment for all students in all aspects of the academic and activities program without discrimination based on race, religion, creed, color, national origin, age, honorably-discharged veteran or military status, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, marital status, the presence of any sensory, mental or physical disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability. The district will provide equal access to school facilities to the Boy Scouts of America and all other designated youth groups listed in Title 36 of the United States Code as a patriotic society. District programs will be free from sexual harassment. Auxiliary aids and services will be provided upon request to individuals with disabilities.


The Olympia School District offers many Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs/courses in the following areas: Skilled and Technical Sciences/STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics); Agriculture/Natural Resources; Business Marketing; Family and Consumer Sciences; and Health Sciences. For more information about CTE course offerings and admissions criteria, contact Pat Cusack, Director of College and Career Readiness, 111 Bethel St. N.E., Olympia, WA 98506, (360) 596-6102. Lack of English language proficiency will not be a barrier to admission and participation in CTE programs.


The following people have been designated to handle inquiries regarding the nondiscrimination policies, reports of alleged sexual harassment, concerns about compliance, and/or grievance procedures:

Michael Hart, Title IX Officer

Ken Turcotte, Section 504 and ADA Coordinator (Students)

Starla Hoff, ADA Coordinator (Staff)

Scott Niemann, Affirmative Action Officer and Civil Rights Compliance Coordinator

Pat Cusack, Director of College and Career Readiness


All six individuals may also be contacted at 111 Bethel St. N.E., Olympia, WA, 98506.