January 2021

Spotlight on Success header


January 2021


Superintendent’s Message


Hello Olympia School District families,


Patrick Murphy headshot

2020 was a year like no other, and while the start to 2021 has certainly already had its share of challenges, it has also brought signs of hope and seeds of optimism. The immense obstacles, barriers and trials presented to us by the COVID-19 virus has forced our reliable, predictable school system to pivot in ways we might never have thought possible. And though challenges continue, I think history will reflect that our families, students and staff have responded to this test with remarkable success, fortitude and devotion.


As we all know by now, our health officials have learned much about the virus over the last year. We have been given the recommendation to proceed thoughtfully, cautiously and slowly with hybrid learning, in-person in our schools for those families and students that seek it. This recommendation comes because we have learned that with health and safety mitigation measures in place in our schools, transmission likelihood is negligible even compared to remaining in full-time remote learning. Masking, frequent hand-washing, health screening, physical distancing and maintaining small cohorts work. We have learned that from our own experience in serving students in our special education programs since September here in Olympia. We have done enormous work, partnered with facility safety agencies, hired additional nursing support and done training to be prepared. If you have not seen our Pandemic Safety plan that covers all these areas in detail, you can read it here. Similarly, I would encourage families to view our training video to get an idea what hybrid will look like in our schools if you have not already viewed it here.


We shared earlier this month that this rollout will begin with kindergartners and preschoolers on February 1, 2021. There will be a “soft launch” for our youngest learners as most of them have never set foot on their campuses. Teachers will have short “meet and greet” meetings with students and families to familiarize them with their school and classroom the first two days before hybrid learning starts in full. We will take at least two weeks to monitor and ensure that our protocols continue to be effective before adding subsequent grade levels.


We know that many families have indicated a desire to continue in full-time distance learning. We also know that staff have individual circumstances and health requirements that necessitate continuation in remote instruction and support as well. Matching up the choices of families with the availability of staff across schools, and grade levels, is a complex and iterative process that takes time, so we do appreciate your patience and understanding as we keep working through that.


One thing we know for sure is that we will need all hands on deck in the months to come. Whether your student is working remotely or coming on campus in hybrid; whether staff are working with kids online or in a mask in a classroom, we will all continue to give our best with compassion and kindness. Times of difficulty are often when we do our greatest learning, and come out stronger and better prepared for the inevitable challenges that are still before us. I have great confidence that this is and will be our story in the Olympia School District. Together, we will come out of this “better”; better at serving all children. 



Patrick Murphy Signature
Patrick Murphy



Olympia HS Computer Science Award


Olympia High School wins AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award

There are more students who identify as female taking computer science classes at Olympia High School than ever before. OHS was recently recognized with the College Board’s 2020 AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award for increasing gender diversity in computer science. The award is given annually to schools across the country for their work toward equal gender representation, as demonstrated by the reported gender of students taking AP Computer Science exams and their scores.


At OHS, teacher Hallie Houge is working to narrow the gender gap in math and science fields. Since she began teaching computer science at OHS in 2014, the gender inequity gap has narrowed considerably. In 2014, there were about 10% female students and 90% male students enrolled in AP Computer Science. For the past two years, the classes have been evenly split with students who identify as female or male. The course offerings in computer science and programming are also expanding at OHS.


“Historically, our AP Computer Science classes have been male dominated,” said OHS Principal Matt Grant. “Over the past several years, there have been intentional efforts to encourage a wider variety of students to participate. One of the main factors was Hallie Houge who carries a can-do attitude to her students. Her inclusive and encouraging approach really provides the support and climate needed to make the changes that have occurred. She is a fantastic role model in the classroom who inspires others to pursue computer science. I am not surprised to see the increased diversity in her classroom as a result.”


Houge has a special interest in the effort to increase diversity in math and science. She recalls experiencing sexist bias as a college student when declaring herself a math major.


“I was one of the only women to major in mathematics my year,” she said. “I watched several young men walk into the advisor's office to get their declaration for the major paperwork stamped without any hesitation or setbacks. And when it was my turn, the advisor spent a long time going over my paperwork, and eventually asked me if I really wanted to major in math and if I realized that the math classes got harder. He never questioned anyone else's paperwork (all men), but he felt the need to explain to me (a woman) that the subject I was choosing might not be right for me.”


“This is just a minor example of how biases appear in our lives and how important it is to disrupt biases when we witness them or notice them in ourselves,” Houge said. “I'm not saying that this encounter is the main reason why I chose to go into teaching, but it's definitely part of my story.”


Houge said that she encourages all students in her math classes to try out computer science. Students also become interested in the program from their friends, older siblings and other teachers.


There is still much work to be done increasing diversity in STEM fields, Houge said. “There is a continued need in our schools' technology classes not only for more gender diversity, but also more racial diversity,” she said. “Our world needs more people from different backgrounds and experiences to learn about programming. As more people learn to program, more innovative ideas and creative solutions to global problems will begin to emerge. Technology fields will change to recognize the needs of more diverse groups of people. And even if a student decides not to major in computer science after taking my class, their knowledge of how computers and programs work can help shape their approaches to problem solving and making decisions in the future.”


The photo illustration with this story shows Hallie Houge with OHS Principal Matt Grant, OSD CTE Director Pat Cusack and Ace Choi, a student of Houge’s who won the Amazon Future Engineer scholarship in the 2018-19 school year.



Black Lives Matter at School Week 

School Board proclaims Feb. 1-5 Black Lives Matter at School Week

The Olympia School Board has proclaimed that the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action will be recognized in OSD schools February 1-5, 2021.


Board members, during a meeting on January 14, unanimously supported the proclamation. The Black Lives Matter at School campaign first began in Seattle in 2016 and has since spread across the nation.


The school board proclamation states in part that “school systems have a responsibility to their students and the communities they serve to nurture young people who have the courage and skills to confront personal, systemic and societal bias and recognize the many types of privilege that exist in our society.”


Read the full proclamation



Ingersoll Turf Field


New state guidance on high school athletics

New state guidelines have been announced regarding high school athletics and an upgrade of our region to Phase 2 of the Governor’s Healthy Roadmap to Recovery. Based on Department of Health guidance, Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) Healthy Washington Sport and Activity Guidelines, and WIAA Return to Play Guidelines, the Olympia School District plans to start WIAA Modified Season 1 sports on Monday, February 1, 2021.


The sports seasons and dates below, subject to change, are as follows:


Adjusted Sports Seasons

OSD will try to have 3 sport seasons between February 1 and the end of the school year.


  • Season 1 will:
 Include traditional fall sports: Football, Volleyball, Cross Country, Girls Swimming, Girls Soccer (Exceptions: OHS Golf will be in Season 2, and Boys Tennis will be moved to Season 3). Official practices will begin on February 1.
  • Season 2 will: Include traditional spring sports: Baseball, Fastpitch Softball, Golf, Boys Soccer, Girls Tennis, Track & Field, and Boys Swim. Official pre-contest practices are tentatively set to begin on March 15 and end on May 1.

  • Season 3 will: Include traditional winter sports: Basketball, Bowling, Cheerleading, Dance/Drill, Gymnastics, Boys Tennis and Wrestling. Official pre-contest practices are tentatively set to begin on April 26 and end on June 12.


New League

Area schools have temporarily formed a new league (South Sound Conference South) to help teams stay local, which will help with consistency, travel time and the availability to play based on the phase we are in. All schools in the new league are in the same region. The South Sound Conference South will include Yelm, Capital, Olympia, North Thurston, River Ridge and Timberline high schools. Sport seasons will be modified and teams will compete only within our region at this time.


Student Athletes

Students planning to play in Season 1 should complete the sports clearance registration online via FamilyID, so they are able ready to go on the first day. Information is also available on the Sports Clearance Process webpage on the district website. The district has decreased the Pay to Play fee from $125 to $60 during this pandemic. Due to COVID uncertainty, athletic fees will not be applied or collected until the first official game has occurred.


Due to COVID-19, spectators will not be permitted for Season 1 at this time. Schools are currently working on ways to stream and broadcast home games. More information will be provided as soon as it is available.


In the midst of this incredibly challenging time, we would like to thank our coaches and athletic directors for their steadfast commitment and efforts to provide opportunities to our student athletes with safety at the forefront.


We recognize the many social, emotional and physical benefits for students who participate in education-based sports and activities and look forward to having our student athletes and coaches back on campus. OSD is committed to doing so safely, as DOH and WIAA guidelines allow.



CHS Alumni Don Westfall


Meet Don Westfall, Distinguished Grad from Capital HS, Class of 1978

Don Westfall, a class of 1978 Capital High School graduate, knew as a young child he would be a lawyer someday. His parents had never gone to college and Westfall set a goal to be the first in his family to graduate college.


And that’s exactly what he did. After graduating from CHS, Westfall attended Linfield College in Oregon, where he majored in business administration and political science. He then moved on to law school at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. After law school, he landed back in Olympia, where he lives today. Both of his children are also graduates of Capital High School.


After law school, Westfall was hired by the Washington State Employment Security Department. He has been there ever since, first as a law clerk and then working his way up to his current position as Chief Review Judge. In his current role, Westfall oversees the unemployment insurance appeals system which reviews the work of administrative law judges. He supervises seven review judges who work for him.


Capital High School staff members were not surprised to hear about their former student’s successful career. As a student, Westfall was a high performer in all subjects. He recalls testing well in English Language Arts classes and being given the opportunity to study intriguing subjects such as science fiction and humor.


“I was pretty motivated as a student,” he said. “I enjoyed the discussions we had in class. I think I was a positive contributor to the classroom and I enjoyed my teachers and everybody at Capital.”


In addition to excelling in academics, Westfall also excelled in athletics. “I was playing ball all the time. It didn’t matter what sport,” he said. Westfall played on the varsity football, basketball, baseball and soccer teams. He credits athletics with helping him develop into the person he is today.


“The athletic field is a classroom, it’s where you’re teaching life skills, especially in team sports,” Westfall said. “It’s about getting along, it’s about understanding your role and your responsibilities, being accountable to others, and being able to pull together as a team to accomplish goals; all things that are really important and contribute to society. I think athletics goes hand in hand with being a good person, a well-rounded person.”


Westfall feels so strongly about the value of athletics that he coached high school sports for nearly 20 years, many at Capital High School. “It really kind of satisfied my passion for athletics, working with kids, and giving something back,” he said.


Westfall offers the following advice for current high school students: “Don’t limit yourself. Take in as much as you can in terms of what's being offered in school and after school activities -- music, athletics, clubs. I believe in experiencing as much as you can before you limit your path and your focus. The school systems really do offer a lot, and I hope today’s students take advantage of that.”


Distinguished Grads is a new series profiling graduates from our schools who model achievement in careers, hobbies or unique pursuits. If you know someone who should be considered for a profile, please email [email protected]. Please include contact information for the graduate.



OSD offices


Board approves legislative and funding priorities

The Olympia School Board has unanimously approved a resolution outlining the district's legislative and funding priorities for the 2021 Legislative Session.


The resolution states in part that the board will face a significant deficit in the Olympia School District for the 2020-21 school year and beyond. “The shortfalls are caused, in part, by inequitable funding mechanisms (Regionalization, Staff Mix) and underfunded mandates (Special Education, Health Care, K-3 Class Size),” the resolution states. “These shortfalls are exacerbated by the on-going COVID-19 Pandemic and costs to operate in a remote or hybrid environment.”


To address these financial realities, the Board supports necessary legislative action at the state level this session in the areas that follow:


  • Stabilize the Revenue Impacts of Pandemic
  • Closing the Opportunity Gap and Anti-racist Training
  • Special Education
  • State Salary Allocations
  • Physical and Mental Well-Being of Students
  • Health Care
  • Equitable and Flexible Funding 


Read the full board resolution



Marshall MS CSI Teacher Tom Condom 

Teaching Through COVID Video Series

Below are links to our three-part video series titled 'Teaching Through COVID' which focuses on what it looks like to work in K-12 education during a pandemic. The successes, the challenges and the emotional roller coaster ride educators across the world, but specifically here in Olympia, have faced over the last 10 months. We hope you enjoy this journey through the eyes of our educators!




Countdown to Kindergarten 2021 

Countdown to Kindergarten set for March 6, 2021

The Olympia School District will hold its annual “Countdown to Kindergarten” informational event starting at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 6, 2021 as an online Zoom meeting.


If you know of neighbors or friends who have a child entering kindergarten in the fall and live within the Olympia School District, please share this information with them and encourage them to attend this free event. The Zoom meeting link will be posted on the district website a week before the event.


The Countdown to Kindergarten event will include a group presentation for all parents/guardians of children entering kindergarten in September 2021. Participants will hear from Superintendent Patrick Murphy, Executive Director of Elementary Education Autumn Lara, and OSD school principals.



OSD Student Board Representatives


Meet the 2020-21 OSD Board of Directors student representatives

Each year, two high school juniors or seniors are selected to serve as student representatives on the Olympia School Board. The students serve in an advisory capacity at board meetings and do not vote. They contribute to discussion by providing student insight and are encouraged to comment about policies, procedures and decisions that affect students. They also serve as a liaison for student leadership at their schools and report to fellow students about the work of the board and district activities.


Student representatives are selected by their high schools on a rotating basis each spring to serve on the board for the following school year. In even-numbered years, selecting high schools are Capital High School and the Olympia Regional Learning Academy. In odd-numbered years, selecting schools are Avanti High School and Olympia High School.


This year’s student representatives are Rebecca McMillin-Hastings, an eleventh grader at Capital High School; and Isabel McClatchey, a twelfth grader at Olympia Regional Learning Academy.


Read the full story



OSD Meal Distribution


Free meals continue throughout school year

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it will allow school districts to serve free meals to all students through the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. We will continue to update this story with any additional meal distribution sites, or other information as it becomes available.


The Olympia School District will distribute free grab-and-go meals this year to students, including lunch, and breakfast for the following day, at designated schools.


Read the full story



School Board Recognition Month


Directors honored during School Board Recognition Month

Every January school districts across the state and nation honor their board of directors during School Board Recognition Month.


The Olympia School District recognized its school board with a special program near the start of the January 14 board meeting.


During the board recognition, Superintendent Patrick Murphy read a proclamation by Gov. Jay Inslee designating January as School Board Recognition Month in Washington state. This marks the 26th year of the annual observance initiated by the National School Boards Association in 1995. The proclamation reads in part that school directors “are directly accountable to the citizens in their districts and regions, serving as a vital link between members of the community and their schools.”


Each board member received a certificate of recognition for their service and notecards featuring artwork created by elementary students in the school district’s Visual Arts Program.


Several Lincoln Options students also honored the board at the January 28 Zoom meeting by reading special messages thanking directors for their work.



Upcoming Events


  • February 1-5: Black Lives Matter at School Week
  • February 4-5: Half-Day (Middle & High School Grading)
  • February 5: Half-Day (Elementary School Grading)
  • February 11: OSD Board Meeting online via Zoom at 6:30 p.m.
  • February 15: No School (Presidents Day)
  • February 16: No School (Mid-Winter Break)
  • February 25: 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.