December 2020

Spotlight on Success header


December 2020


Superintendent’s Message


Hello Olympia School District families,


Patrick Murphy headshot

Back in mid-March, when the COVID-19 virus made its initial impact, a colleague said that closing schools would be the second hardest thing we’ll ever do. I was perplexed by that and asked the natural question, “then, what will be the most difficult?” The response was, “opening them again.”

When and how we will open our schools to all of our students has been the overarching question and concern for families and staff for several months now. With the announcement this week from the governor’s office, it is not surprising that the school board and I have heard from numerous members of our community on how to respond to that new guidance, and undoubtedly we will hear from many more in the days and weeks to come.


For some, this announcement that recommends a return to in-person learning in school at a faster pace than the previous metrics allowed, it was most welcome and overdue. For others, given the rates of transmission and the imminence of the vaccine, it seems hasty, scary or even unwise.


Even with the incredible efforts and improvements in distance learning that have been made by our educators, many families, and staff, struggle mightily in the remote learning model. The toll that our school closures has taken on the mental health of our community is real and building. And at the same time, the fear of contracting the virus and the overwhelming desire to keep our students and staff safe from infection is likewise real and magnified given the rates of transmission in our community, state and country.


Neither of these viewpoints is wrong. The question is whether we can find a way to address both concerns, or are they mutually exclusive? Given the research and experience of other schools, districts, states and countries, I believe we can do both by continuing to provide distance options for families (and staff) while adhering strictly to our safety protocols in our buildings.


Gov. Jay Inslee noted the decision to open schools rests with district leaders but also encouraged cooperation with local health officials. From the beginning, we have worked with our partners at Thurston County Public Health and Social Services (PHSS) on the safest way to move forward and will continue to do so. At the end of the day, the county health officer does have authority to close schools if she does not believe we can run them safely, so it behooves us to work together. An estimated start date for larger in-person learning opportunities is not yet set, but will be determined in consultation with PHSS and our labor partners. A lower community transmission rate, as always, will help.


In a news release today, December 18, PHSS Health Officer Dr. Dimyana Abdelmalek responded to the governor’s announcement. “We have been working together with school superintendents and the Washington State Department of Health to plan for this transition to a phased in approach to in-person learning in 2021 in anticipation of these new guidelines. The latest public health research shows this can be safely achieved at higher levels of disease activity than previously thought when all health and safety guidelines are strictly adhered to. We ask the public to continue to help us bring our transmission rates down over this holiday season by avoiding travel and social gatherings, wearing masks, washing hands, abiding by quarantine if exposed to COVID-19, and getting tested quickly if symptoms develop.”


Much work has gone into preparing our school buildings for a safe return of students and staff. A couple of months ago we shared with families a COVID-19 training video for families and the community that features protocols for a safe return to school. Many of these protocols are also outlined in our OSD COVID-19 Pandemic Return to Work Safety Plan, which is posted on our COVID-19 Response Protocol webpage. Lower community transmission coupled with strong safety protocols in our schools will create the safest in-person environment for our students and staff.


If you are interested in learning more about the governor’s announcement this week, the new metrics for phasing in on-campus learning, and the most recent PHSS communication, please visit our In-Person and Remote Learning Updates webpage on the OSD website.


We recognize that winter break, like most things, will be different this year. Regardless, I wish all of you a safe and restful holiday season.



Patrick Murphy Signature
Patrick Murphy



Classified School Employee of the Year Paul Flock 

Classified School Employees of the Year Named

Congratulations to Thurgood Marshall Middle School Paraeducator Nadine Owen and Olympia School District Child Nutrition Services Supervisor Paul Flock for being named this year’s Classified School Employees of the Year. The annual award recognizes employees who consistently demonstrate outstanding work performance, professional leadership and collaboration.


Both Owen and Flock learned of their recognitions during surprise announcements accompanied by applause from their colleagues. They were also recognized at the Dec. 10 Board of Directors meeting. Owen has been a paraeducator for 22 years, five of them at Thurgood Marshall Middle School. Flock has been the supervisor in Child Nutrition Services for 31 years. Both were selected for this honor following a nomination process that included many outstanding submissions from throughout the district.


Nadine Owen: a beacon of light for struggling students
The most challenging students are among her favorites to work with, says Nadine Owen, a paraeducator at Thurgood Marshall Middle School. The same students often say that Owen is their inspiration to make better choices.


It’s a unique bond that’s formed in the Restorative Room at Thurgood Marshall Middle School, where Owen works with dozens of students each day when school is in person. Some students are sent to see Owen when they are struggling behaviorally. Many students choose to visit when they need a calm, accepting adult to help them problem-solve. A handful of students visit Owen’s classroom daily for a lunchtime dose of helpful advice and to practice self-calming techniques. During remote learning, Owen works with students independently and in small groups via Zoom.


The Restorative Room is a refuge from the stressors of middle school life. The lights are dim, the music peaceful and the conversation soothing. Owen’s work there is among the reasons she was selected for the OSD Classified School Employee of the Year award this year.


“Being in Nadine's presence is like being wrapped in a warm hug,” a colleague said in Owen’s nomination letter. “She has cultivated a safe space at school for anyone who needs a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on or some tough love. Students leave a conversation with Nadine with a sense of confidence and determination that they didn't have before. Working with Nadine has made us all better educators and more importantly, better people.”


Owen gets a little tearful when she reflects on her work at Thurgood Marshall Middle School for the past five years. Prior to that, she was a paraeducator in the Yelm School District for 17 years. There are hundreds of students whose lives she’s touched over the years. Many of those students initially thought they were meeting Owen because they were in trouble — but that couldn’t be further from the truth.


“When a student enters my room looking afraid, the first thing I tell them is my room is not trouble. My room is where we are going to problem-solve together and come up with a plan to help make everything better,” Owen said. “Being a kid is all about making mistakes. The most important thing is we learn from our mistakes, we grow, we move forward and we do better next time. This is where we can make things better. We can talk about it. This is always a safe space for them and they know that when they come to see me.”


Owen said she hopes her work is making a difference in the world — that she can be the person who shows a child that they are important, capable and loved. For students who would like a symbol to remind them, Owen makes and distributes friendship bracelets to any student who asks. She recently received an email from a former student who is still wearing her bracelet a year later.


“When I tie the bracelets on my students I tell them that this is a reminder that they are loved, I believe in them, they have the ability to make good choices, and to remember to breathe when life gets tough,” Owen said. “I hope to be the person that makes them want to show up. The one that tells them that they can. That they are incredible human beings. That I care about them.”


Paul Flock: supervising school lunches across generations
In more than 30 years supervising the school lunch program in Olympia schools, Paul Flock has seen a lot of changes. But one thing has never changed — pizza is always the crowd favorite.


The pizza recipe however, along with all school menu recipes, has changed a bit over the years. Nowadays there is an emphasis on local ingredients, recipes from scratch and reduced salt and sugar. Today’s pizza is prepared using dough from a local bakery while the toppings are placed fresh and baked in individual school kitchens.


Flock has easily adapted to all sorts of changes in the school lunch program over the years. Most recently, he tackled one of the greatest challenges in his career — how to provide thousands of meals to hungry students who were learning remotely during a global pandemic. His seamless handling of the task is among the reasons that Flock was selected this year as an OSD Classified School Employee of the Year.


“Paul realized early in the COVID-19 outbreak that meals for children would be critical if school had to close,” said Jennifer Priddy, assistant superintendent of finance and capital planning. “Paul began quietly buying the supplies that the team would need in order to begin distributing sack breakfasts and lunches. He mapped out where meals would be most needed and most easily accessed. As soon as closure was announced on a Thursday evening, Paul and his team already had a plan to distribute meals at 26 sites spanning the district. They were serving grab-and-go meals, with social distancing distribution, by 11 a.m. that Monday.”


Flock has many duties in addition to coordinating meal distribution and menu planning. “What I love about my job is no day is the same,” he said. “One day I might be talking to fourth graders and getting some menu ideas and giving a lesson about nutrition. That afternoon I might be off-loading a semi on a forklift and, in between all that, I have the responsibility of making sure we are in compliance with all the USDA rules and regulations regarding our meal programs.”


Flock also mentors two OSD high school farm programs and works with local food banks to ensure any unused school food is safely distributed to reach community members most in need.


Not all of Flock’s efforts have been a huge success. He enjoys laughing about the time, many years ago, that the district received a shipment of canned salmon from the USDA. The district decided to make salmon burgers and distributed the salmon to each school along with breadcrumbs and baking instructions. No one predicted the strong odor of the baking salmon.


“The smell from these went throughout the school and nauseated students. We received several phone calls from principals,” Flock said. “That was the last time we served canned salmon in our schools.”


The salmon may have been a flop, but most school meals are well-received by students, such as Flock’s personal favorite — macaroni and cheese. “It’s always good stuff. We make it from scratch,” he said. Another favorite is the produce bar, where students can choose each day from up to 15 different fruits or vegetables.


Flock said he loves his job and thanks his colleagues for being such a pleasure to work with. “I have a great staff. We’ve been working together for years and it’s like family,” he said. 



Winter Break graphic


Winter Break schedule

All Olympia School District schools will be closed for Winter Break from Monday, December 21 through Friday, January 1. Schools will reopen on Monday, January 4, 2021.

During Winter Break, staff working in the Knox 111 Administrative Center and other support buildings may be reached via email or phone December 21 and 22, and again from December 28-30. All support buildings will resume service on Monday, January 4.



Avanti High School staff


New Avanti High class focuses on racial and social justice movements

Students and staff at Avanti High School are focusing on racial and social justice movements in a new Civil Rights class which began this month.

Students participating in the class said they were motivated to learn more about current issues involving race and social justice. “As someone who is a part of multiple minorities, I think it's important to speak up about injustices and shed light on the situation and give those people a platform to amplify their voices,” said Avanti eleventh grader Adaya Coleman.

“I want to educate myself to be a more genuine and thoughtful person to all, not just those that I'm used to being around,” said Avanti tenth grader Taz Macbeth. “We all have internal biases, and if we're really honest with ourselves and can make the effort to educate ourselves, then I feel like we can become one step closer to equality.”

The class is taught by a team of three AHS teachers who initially began coordinating the new offering during a summer professional development course on confronting racism in the community through classroom education. The teachers were so moved by the course, they applied for a grant to continue their study and bring their knowledge into the classroom.

“We felt like we were definitely committed to bringing this into our curriculum and into our learning and teaching,” said Cecily Schmidt, one of the teachers who participated in the session. “We wanted to learn more about how we can approach these conversations without doing more harm.”

The teachers received the grant, which allowed for a group of eight teachers to each receive a copy of the text ‘Teaching for Black Lives’ by Rethinking Schools. The teachers will also work with a mentor from the Zinn Education Project, an organization that aims to bring a more robust and accurate depiction of history into classrooms. The lessons learned through this grant will be used to inform the Civil Rights class, and also contribute to the advisory curriculum implemented schoolwide.

Schmidt said this project is important because current events are bringing racial justice to the forefront. “With the racial justice awakening that we are currently experiencing in this country, I feel it’s especially important with the population of students and staff we work with to engage in this work. Being a predominantly white population, we are able to avoid these conversations more easily, and that’s contributing to racist structures that exist in our society,” she said.

The Avanti High School teachers’ study group will meet every other Friday through the spring, when the study will culminate with a national event involving other study groups around the country. So far, 45 AHS students in grades 9-12 are participating in the Civil Rights cohort class.

“I feel like I couldn't get this sort of education at any other school,” said Avanti student Lena Kirkendall. “I'm always wishing I would learn more about social justice issues, including all the complicated ideas surrounding them. I'm very grateful to the teachers of this class for trusting us with such heavy topics. Every student should have the opportunity to learn about the world around them. This class just explores a part of it that needs to be taught through schools more often.”



OSD Family Resources webpage


Newly updated webpage features expanded youth and family resources

Looking for information about support groups, crisis lines, help with meals or bills, social and emotional wellness, or tips for taming toddler temper tantrums? You can find all that and much more at our newly updated Resources for Youth and Families webpage.    

The webpage provides one-stop-shopping for almost any community or district resource that a student, family, staff or community member might need. Information is grouped by topic: Community Resources, Parenting Resources and Supports, District Resources for New Families, and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).

“In order to prepare students for career, college and citizenship, schools need to establish partnerships with families and the community,” said Kris Norelius, district social-emotional learning program specialist. “The hope is that easy access to relevant resources will streamline the process of finding solutions and help students and families feel supported.” 

The webpage is designed to be comprehensive enough so a staff member can offer a parenting resource to a struggling family, a community member can gain an understanding of social-emotional learning, a parent can find mental health support for their child or a family can find out how to get help with a utility bill. 

“There are many resources out there but it is often overwhelming finding what we need,” Norelius said. “Families often don't know where to start. Teachers are sometimes in the position of offering support to families. We wanted to provide enough information in one place so people can access help on their own if they choose to do so. If they need support in the process, district social workers and school counselors are here to help.”




Capital High School Debate Team


Capital High School debaters find success in online tournaments

While many sports and competitions have been postponed this year, Capital High School Speech and Debate students are not only persisting, but excelling, in the current environment by competing in events using video conferencing.

The team took top prize in the speaking event category at the recent Tahoma Golden Bear Classic Speech and Debate Tournament. Tenth grader Charles Norris earned a first-place prize in the event and ninth grader Kaloyan Menser earned second place.

Public speaking in an online platform such as Zoom provides unique challenges, the students said. Over time, they have learned some effective techniques for speaking via video conference.

“First, you have to be very polite and understanding, even moreso over Zoom,” Norris said. “You have to be reflective of others' technical issues, as well as your own. Be patient. Be understanding. Technical problems will happen, but if you are communicative and open, people are going to work with you.”

It also helps to imagine your audience is physically, rather than just virtually, present, Norris said. “You have to envision the situation as if the person to whom you are speaking is right next to you, in the same room with you. That makes it a lot easier. It may sound counter-intuitive, but pretend you're in front of a thousand people and you have to make a good impression on all of them. After all, it could very well be the case that a thousand people could eventually see your interactions online.”

Body language and hand gestures are always a factor in public speaking and they continue to be important to do effectively online, Menser said. “It will make you more expressive, and your point and intention will hopefully be clearer and easier to understand. Also, going into Zooms with a positive mindset really makes it a much better experience.”

If the first wins of the season are any indication, there will surely be even more positive results in the tournaments ahead for the Capital High students. The debate season runs through the spring and encompasses a dozen tournaments in total.

Congratulations to all of the debaters who represent the OSD so well in these virtual competitions! 



OSD School Board members


School board elects officers in annual reorganization

Every year in December, the Olympia School Board elects officers for the coming year during its annual reorganization.

At its December 10 meeting, the board elected Scott Clifthorne as this year’s board president and Maria Flores as vice president.

Board members are also appointed annually to serve as liaisons with various community groups and state agencies. Directors will continue with their same appointed positions from this past year:


  • Leslie Huff, board representative to the Olympia School District Education Foundation.
  • Hilary Seidel, board representative to the Thurston Regional Planning Council.
  • Justin McKaughan, board representative to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
  • Maria Flores, legislative representative to the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA). Flores will serve the second year of a two-year term as Legislative Representative.



Middle School Battle of the Books


Middle school students meet author Alexandra Diaz

Notable children’s author Alexandra Diaz shared insight into the writing process with middle school students from throughout the school district during a special Zoom online class session. Nearly 100 students participated in the event.

Diaz is an award-winning Latina children’s author who publishes in both English and Spanish. Her book The Only Road was featured in the OSD Battle of the Books competition last year. She also authored the books Good Girls Don’t Lie, The Crossroads, Of all the Stupid Things and Santiago’s Road Home.

“I love getting to meet authors, even if I've never read their books, so this visit was really cool for me,” said Reeves Middle School student Hazel Tomita. “And as an aspiring author myself, her advice on writing really helped. I placed a hold on The Only Road a few hours after her visit and am so excited to read it after meeting Alexandra Diaz and hearing the story behind each character.”

Mary Mathis, teacher librarian at Washington Middle School, arranged the author visit earlier this month so that students could learn more about the writing process from a published author. Diaz spoke about her experience and then opened up the meeting to answer questions from the students.

“When I first signed up, I was expecting an author to come and talk about a book, and maybe answer one or two questions. It was so much more than that,” said Washington Middle School student Sophia Singleton. “Alexandra Diaz is an amazing and kind person who answered every question honestly and in great detail. She made me laugh through the whole thing, and I'm so glad I went.”

Diaz said the OSD students were a pleasure to meet with. “I enjoy making that personal connection with the youths, and becoming their friend, because that's what I would have wanted when I was younger,” she said. “It helps greatly that they were interested and enthusiastic. I'll remember our author visit fondly. You have a great group there.



Upcoming Events


  • December 21-31, 2020: No School (Winter Break)
  • January 1, 2021: No School (New Year's Day)
  • January 14, 2021: OSD Board Meeting online via Zoom at 6:30 p.m.
  • January 18, 2021: No School (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
  • January 28, 2021: OSD Board Meeting online via Zoom at 6:30 p.m.



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.