March 2021



Superintendent’s Message


Hello Olympia School District families,


Patrick Murphy headshotYesterday marked a major, hopeful milestone in our long struggle against COVID-19 and its distressing impact on our education system. Gov. Jay Inslee, with the Washington State Department of Health, announced that our state is adopting the new federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for schools. There are many pieces to that guidance, but the most impactful is the reduction of the physical distancing requirements between students from at least 6 feet to at least 3 feet. This is particularly significant, because the 6-foot rule was the single greatest contributing factor that made it necessary to operate in-person schooling in a hybrid model with considerably less students attending each day. Classroom capacity was greatly constricted under the old CDC guidance, and this will free up space dramatically.


The governor said that school districts can choose to operate their schools under this new guidance immediately this spring, but it will be required and expected in the fall for all districts to return to full-time in-person schooling.


This change, coupled with the recent prioritization of school employees for COVID-19 vaccinations, has provided a boost of optimism that we have sought for many months. This good news allows us to take another big step toward a return to 5 days a week of schooling, every day, all day, for those families that choose it.


And, at the same time, this guidance does not mean that school will look like it did before the pandemic; not yet. There will still be 6-foot distance requirements between adults, and between adults and students in our schools. Masks will still be required for all, and 6-foot distancing will be required in places where masks cannot be worn — like lunchrooms, and in all common areas like lobbies, hallways and auditoriums. The 6-foot rule will be in effect during any student activities when increased exhalation occurs, such as singing, band, sports and exercise.


Over the last few months, we have spent much time and work successfully preparing our schools for a hybrid model under the old health department guidance. We are committed as a school district to increasing time in and access to school for our students whenever we have the authorization to do so, which we now have. This welcome change will require some adjustments, and some of these changes will take some time to enact. Considerations that we are working through include working with our labor associations to review our existing memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and agreements and determine the impacts of these changes and possible adjustments. Health screening will still be required, and there are technical challenges around how we will screen twice as many students each morning when they arrive at school. Similarly, the 6-foot requirement at lunch will be in effect with twice as many students attending. That needs to be resolved. Our classroom settings and furnishings were set up for the old distancing requirements and will need to be adjusted again. There will likely be staffing implications in which we may have to once again shift staff to new assignments depending on family choices. Related to that, regardless of some possible shifting in family choices, we still need to thoroughly serve our families who choose remote only while we are shifting to more in-person schooling; the governor was clear about that. And, CDC requirements continue to outline health and safety protocols for students who ride our school buses.


I do not share these considerations to dampen our enthusiasm for this week’s welcome news, but merely to note that like all things that have happened during COVID, these changes don’t happen with the flick of a switch. We will continue to adjust our system responsibly and thoughtfully, and as expeditiously as is feasible and in accordance with health and safety guidelines. We will keep our community apprised of our progress and will keep moving forward.


Related to that, Monday marks the final day of hybrid launch, this time for our 10th, 11th and 12th graders. Prior to the governor’s announcement on the new CDC guidance, on March 15, in a declaration identifying a mental health crisis for our state’s children, he announced that by April 19, in-person schooling options for families must be at least 30% of the average weekly instructional hours students were receiving prior to the pandemic. In our secondary hybrid plan, we fall short of that new in-person schooling mandate by approximately 150 minutes or 2 ½ hours per week. I announced at our school board meeting last night that we are working with our labor partners and hope to have a solution to share before we recess for Spring Break at the end of next week.


Lastly, weeks ago, we surveyed families asking them to choose hybrid or remote learning for the remainder of this school year. In that same survey we did say there may be an opportunity to change that choice at the midpoint of the second semester. Our staffing, especially at elementary, is delicately balanced based on these family choices. We will be sending out another survey next week where families will be able to affirm their selections not only this spring, but also give us an idea of where they are leaning for next fall. As was stated at the beginning of this message, we expect to be in full-time learning in the fall, however some families may wish to continue with a distance format for a myriad of reasons. Getting an idea now will help us in our budgeting and planning for next year.


This past year has been more challenging than perhaps any other that we have ever experienced. And, it is in times of adversity that we often experience our greatest growth as individuals. The successful rollout of the vaccines, the diminishing transmission rates in our county and the ability to now serve more students in school, are all wonderful landmarks on our road to recovery and “getting back to better”. I want to again thank everyone for your hard work, support and understanding this past year. 



Patrick Murphy Signature
Patrick Murphy



McLane Community Connections


Community Connections program at McLane strengthens engagement

While teachers and administrators across the country have struggled with locating students who stopped showing up for class during remote learning, staff at McLane Elementary has quietly been building its network of students, families and community members stronger than ever before.


In fact, each and every student at McLane Elementary has remained engaged with the school since COVID-19 forced schools to begin remote learning in March 2020, said Principal Anthony Brock.


“I’ve talked to other leaders at schools where kids have like, gone missing,” Brock said. “That number for McLane is nonexistent. We’ve had three or four kids that we’ve worried about -- that we lose touch with from time to time, but we always get back in touch with them. Our kids are still coming. They’re still staying enrolled and connected to their school.”


A national study by the nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners, published in October 2020, estimated that a staggering 3 million students were missing from schools nationwide, having had no formal education or contact with their teachers or school staff for seven months at that time. Many of those students are from among the most educationally marginalized populations in the country -- often struggling with disabilities, homelessness, low-incomes, language barriers or other challenges.


At McLane, school leaders recognize the importance of engaging all families, including those who come from historically marginalized families. The school’s Community Connections program, led by third grade teacher Emily Hamilton, intentionally finds ways to bring all types of families into the school for a variety of after school clubs and service projects. Parents are invited to participate in ways that express their unique strengths and interests.


Community Connections began as a series of unique after-school clubs and service projects meant to engage students socially. With the help of teachers, parents and community volunteers, McLane offers art and Lego clubs, ukulele club, book clubs, Minecraft club, coding club, outdoor PE opportunities, McLane trail activities, gardening and work parties. Most of these clubs have been virtual during remote learning. Plans to expand offerings to include more in-person events are in the works.


“My daughter participated in Community Connections,” said Wendy Vance, parent of a fifth grader at McLane. “After being a little apprehensive, she became a strong advocate for it. It was a wonderful way for her to be able to interact with others outside of our home doing activities she loved. The volunteers were great at bringing her into a conversation and asking about the activity she was doing. It made a big difference in her social/emotional health during the pandemic, and I am so grateful she had the opportunity to hang out with people from school, even if it was via Zoom.”


Third grader Oliver Fountain is one of many students who participated this year in an after school Community Connections Minecraft game club. The club meets once a week and builds virtual worlds together. Participants even built a virtual model of McLane. “Going to the N dimension was my favorite moment,” Fountain said, referring to a level in the game. “You find the dragon and you battle it, then you go through a portal.”


The McLane Creek Trail, a nature trail that includes an entrance adjacent to school grounds, has been a tremendous asset for the school, Hamilton said. “That gives us more real estate to be able to spread out and do the things we want to do.”


Students work with their families, school staff and community volunteers to maintain the trail. Each year, they plant thousands of daffodils along the road nearby. They also complete PE activities on the trail, hold work parties and plan scavenger hunts.


Perhaps most importantly, the trail has been a place where the school and community can see one another regularly while social distancing. “Social connections are an important factor in keeping kids and families feeling good about school,” Brock said. “And when kids feel good about school, they learn to love learning.”


Encouraging students to discover their passions, be curious and love learning is one of six Student Outcomes adopted by the OSD Board of Directors as part of its strategic planning process. Community Connections accomplishes that outcome, as well as many others.


Students who love school and have friends there are likely to be happier and perform better academically, Hamilton said.


“From a scientific standpoint, it’s really important for brain development that kids have social interactions. It’s how we learn how to interact with other people and how to manage conflict and everything that we do that’s social or emotional. You need to have relationships with other people in order to learn about those things,” she said. “And it’s just more fun. Some of them are lonely and just bored, and it gives them something really fun and engaging to do that they associate with school.


“I have noticed several kids that had a negative view toward school. Who maybe felt like they didn’t fit in or that school was a boring place for them.I’ve seen a lot of kids flip on that script and just feel more connected to their school and feel like school is a place that reflects their interests and has people that know them. And I think that probably helps with their academics. I would be surprised if it doesn’t.”


Families, also, are growing to become more passionate about their school. A diverse group of parents have joined the Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) and are eager to invest their time and talents at the school.


“Community Connections has opened up a lot of opportunities for parents who haven’t necessarily fit into the normal volunteer mode or PTSO mode. They’ve been able to use their personal strengths,” Hamilton said. “Everyone has a place in our community and everyone has an ownership in our space.”


McLane staff have plans to increase community involvement even more over the next five years, including adult education opportunities, guided and led by the interests of the community. While currently, about 10 percent of families participate in traditional PTSO events at the school, Hamilton would like to see that number rise to about 70 percent of families attending PTSO events, and even more getting involved with Community Connections.


“I want 100 percent of our families to see themselves as welcome and see themselves as being stakeholders in our school in some way,” Hamilton said.


Brock credited the school staff at McLane with helping Community Connections flourish. “I have deep admiration and gratitude for our entire McLane staff,” he said. “This work is all possible because of our entire McLane staff’s commitment to serve our students and to meet their needs. It is an honor, and humbling, to work alongside these amazing educators every day.”



McLane ES Teacher Emily Hamilton: OSD Teacher of the Year 

Emily Hamilton selected as OSD Teacher of the Year

Congratulations to McLane Elementary third grade teacher Emily Hamilton, who learned this week during an impromptu online staff meeting that she has been selected as this year's Olympia School District Teacher of the Year.


Hamilton will be honored at the May 13, 2021 Olympia School Board meeting. The meeting will be held in person and on Zoom starting at 6:30 p.m. The in-person meeting is held at the Knox 111 Administrative Center, 111 Bethel St. in Olympia.


In a letter nominating Hamilton as Teacher of the Year, McLane Elementary Principal Anthony Brock praised her for her work leading staff professional development on racial equity. “Every single day, she is leading by example displaying the skills, knowledge, and courage to identify and confront personal, systemic, and societal bias,” he wrote.


Brock also commended Hamilton for her “leadership and innovation” with a Community Connections -- a new initiative this year at McLane. “In our School Improvement Plan, we spoke specifically about creating Community Connections and engaging students in their curiosity, their passions, and their love of learning,” he wrote. “This was led once again by Emily Hamilton.” Learn more about Community Connections in a separate article featured in this issue of Spotlight on Success.


He continued, “Mrs. Hamilton’s drive is uncommon; it is the drive of an individual who doesn’t take anything for granted, a drive of an individual who is an instructional gamechanger who maximizes the learning of every student, every moment of every day.”


Hamilton, who is a National Board Certified Teacher, has participated in district and statewide efforts in distance learning and helps educators across Washington as a teacher technician for the Washington State Schoology Help Desk. She has been teaching the past five years at McLane Elementary. 


Jefferson MS & Capital HS: The Studio 

Student filmmakers at Jefferson and Capital create “The Studio”

It all began as an inkling of an idea in student Charles Norris’s mind. Norris, then a seventh grader at Jefferson Middle School, dreamt of creating a skit based on the popular television series “The Office,” but in the setting of a middle school.


Norris brought his idea to Jefferson Visual Communications Teacher Jonathan Moore, who encouraged him to develop a plan for a full series, and “The Studio” was born. After three years worth of work, help from two dozen student volunteers, and an exercise in improvisation and flexibility when COVID-19 closed schools, “The Studio” finally hit the air. It is the first student-created sitcom to air on Jefferson’s KJAG TV station, produced by students in the school’s visual communications program.


The sitcom, now on its 7th episode, tells the amusing and sometimes mysterious story of the Jefferson Morning News crew. Written and produced before the events of 2020, the plot, somehow, strangely parallels and parodies many of the events of that year, creators say.


The students who produce “The Studio” include a team of leaders who are now students at Capital High School, working with about two dozen students from Jefferson in Zoom meetings after school. Some of them put in more than 12 hours of work per week on the project. The closure of schools in 2020 forced students to get creative, but they managed to complete their work remotely. Students work as directors, producers, story writers, editors, actors and camera operators.


Participants in the television series say that they have developed leadership skills and formed unlikely friendships during the years of production.


Eighth grader Sawyer Conklin said that he developed time management skills balancing homework with the extracurricular film production club, and also developed confidence in social situations.


“It really just created a lot of friendships that wouldn’t ordinarily have happened,” added eighth grader Carli Cockrell.


For Norris, seeing his idea come to fruition taught him the value of hard work and persistence, he said. “The Studio was the first time I had really ever stepped into a leadership role,” he added. “For me the greatest accomplishment was seeing that first episode finally be edited and produced.”


“The Studio” airs at Jefferson once a week, with episodes lasting about 10 minutes. The public can also view the program on the Jefferson KJAG TV YouTube channel.


KJAG TV students shoot and edit videos including comedy sketches, live broadcasts and game shows. Students learn in a real studio environment and take on jobs as writers, producers, directors, videographers and editors. In addition to all the fun projects, the KJAG-TV team is responsible for getting the most important information of the day to the students via the KJAG TV daily announcements.


OSD Child Nutrition Services 

Request free meal boxes for spring break by March 29

Families may request a free seven-day supply of breakfast and lunch for each of their students during spring break by completing a form at a current school or OSD community meal distribution site, or by emailing the Child Nutrition Services department. Forms are due by 4 p.m. on Monday, March 29.


Seven-day meal boxes will be distributed between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Monday, April 5. Families from schools throughout the district may choose one of the following four school locations to pick up the free meal boxes: Hansen, Centennial, Garfield or Roosevelt elementary schools.


All students and youth up to age 18 are eligible to order the free meal boxes.


To reserve a seven-day box of meals for the week of April 5, please obtain a request form from any of the current school and community meal distribution sites, open weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The meal box request form is also located on the OSD website. Return the form to any meal site by Monday, March 29. An interactive map showing the locations and driving directions to the current meal distribution sites is posted on the district website.


Families may also email the district’s Child Nutrition Services department at [email protected]. Be sure to include in your email:


  • How many students/youth in your family need a seven-day box of meals.
  • Where you will pick up the seven-day supply of meals (Hansen, Centennial, Garfield or Roosevelt elementary school).
  • Please email this information, and a phone number where we can contact you, by 4 p.m. on March 29, 2021.


Download the spring break meal box request form here. (English, Spanish, Vietnamese)


OSD Distinguished Graduate 

Lee Foster, Distinguished Grad, Avanti High School Class of 2008

Lee Foster has always been the type to forge their own path. The path that led to their current career was no different. Foster, a 2008 Avanti High School graduate, now works for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services as an administrative assistant for the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Organizational Development Team. Their many roles include being an advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion statewide, as well as organizing an annual conference to educate DSHS employees throughout the state about current issues and events regarding equity, diversity and inclusion.


Foster’s career path included stops at two different colleges, several restaurant jobs, a job as a tour guide in Hawaii, and a year studying sociology, business administration, and corporate culture in Japan. Foster chose to spend a year in Japan to further explore their own heritage.


As an Avanti student, Foster learned how to harness their unique potential, while also developing leadership skills and strength of character. Their passion for equity, diversity and inclusion was born at Avanti, Foster said. They recall principal Michael Velasquez encouraging them to explore their personal identity as a biracial Japanese American. Foster became one of the founding members and the president of the Mosaic Club at Avanti, a group that focused on equity, diversity and inclusion.


“That was the seed that was planted, my own exploration of my own self identity was really huge for me,” Foster said. “By looking inward, I was able to look outward in a bigger way.”


The teachers and staff at Avanti were like a family, Foster said. They learned about far more than just academics during their time there.


“I kind of came from a fairly broken family and I was raised my whole life to be almost fearful and distrusting of teachers. It was at Avanti, that for the first time, I felt that I wasn’t being talked down to. I felt more eye to eye with my teachers and I felt really genuinely loved and cared for by them,” Foster said.


Foster wasn’t too sure about school in general when they transferred to Avanti. Their mind changed when they learned that their teachers were invested in their social and emotional success just as much as their academic success.


Avanti Principal Michael Velasquez would say that Foster’s experience at Avanti fits with the climate that the school aims for.


“Avanti worked well for Lee because it was a place where Lee was accepted and adored by the staff.” Velasquez said. “It was a place where Lee was surrounded by friends that shared similar backgrounds and stories about the schools they came from. Avanti became a non-judgemental, caring, and safe space for Lee to grow into the natural leader they were always meant to be. It was a place where Lee's biracial heritage was acknowledged, embraced, and viewed as a strength. Avanti embraced all the quirky, and the cool things about Lee. It was a home away from home and Lee was and remains an important part of the Avanti family.”


The life lessons Foster learned at Avanti followed them. “I have a lot of good memories there,” Foster said about their time at Avanti. In particular, they recall learning a side lesson about forgiveness.


“I remember I was in history class and we were supposed to take a test and our history class had like eight students. It was teeny tiny and on the day we were supposed to take the test, half the class was absent and the others were arguing to not take the test,” Foster said.


Although they petitioned for a break, the teacher didn’t relent, Foster recalled. “Mr. Hendricks was like, ‘no you have to take this test,’” Foster said. “I just went and hid in the bathroom for the rest of the period.”


Foster crumpled up their test and stormed out of the classroom. The most impactful moment of their education came next. Lee came back and sincerely apologized to the teacher. “It was a lesson in and of itself that it’s good to apologize,” Foster said. “I just remember Mr. Hendricks saying that he really appreciated the apology. I wasn’t in any sort of trouble, I just took the test later as best as I could.”


That sort of forgiveness was something Foster hadn’t experienced before. “I think that’s why it was so impactful. Because yeah, coming from a broken home where I was in trouble all the time and apologies didn’t make it better, this was different,” they said. “There is forgiveness.”


In addition to learning about forgiveness, Foster learned about respect at Avanti. They were given more respect than they expected, for a student their age. They recall being on a team of students who helped select the next principal at Avanti.


“I was really flattered that my opinions were valued like that,” Foster said. “My teachers, not only did I trust them, but they also trusted me.”


As a student Foster remembers casting a vote for the next principal, Michael Velasquez. “First, I think it was really important to have a person of color in a leadership position,” Foster said. “Mr. Velasquez brought unique experiences and perspectives. He was so passionate as well, about diversity and equity. And I thought that really was important. His approach to all of that was very gentle and also very impactful. I just remember his kindness and his passion for equity and diversity and inclusion.”


Foster encourages any student who feels compelled to choose a unique path, to choose Avanti High School. “You don’t have to take the traditional route,” they said. “You can make your own path and it’s okay. Don’t let people dictate what you should or shouldn’t do with your education. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t take those paths.” 


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.



Middle School Hybrid In-Person photos 

OSD middle school students transition to hybrid in-person learning

It has been a busy past couple of weeks across our district as middle school students were welcomed back into our buildings during the ongoing transition to hybrid in-person learning.


It was great to be out at all four of our middle schools as sixth, seventh and eighth graders began hybrid in-person learning. Students took tours, participated in physical education and horticulture classes and enjoyed meeting with their teachers live! Here are some pictures (and video) we captured over the past couple of weeks:



Be sure to check out the OSD Facebook Page for more 'First Day' posts with photos and videos from throughout the month of March. Stay tuned as we will continue to regularly push out new content as in-person learning continues to be safely rolled out by grade!



Olympia HS National Merit Scholars 

Olympia High School National Merit Scholarship Finalists

Back in October 2020 we celebrated a group of seven Olympia High School students who were recognized as National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) Semifinalists.


Fast-forward five months and those seven Oly Bears have continued to rack up the accolades and have been officially honored as NMSC Finalists! Without further ado, here are the honorees:


  • Bethel Asomaning
  • Hollen Foster Grahler
  • Kayla Jones
  • Andrew Pan
  • Michael Tsien
  • Blake Willett
  • Aren Wright


Olympia High School Career Center Counselor Jen Boelts had this to say about the Preliminary SAT (PSAT), the National Merit Scholarship process and the seven OHS finalists: "You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. These students took a shot and their efforts are now being rewarded. I encourage students who may or may not be considering a 4-year pathway post-high school to take the PSAT for not only the experience of the formalized testing environment but also for the opportunity the test can provide students in the form of scholarships and recognition for their efforts.”


Boelts went on to share, “The next PSAT opportunity will be in the fall of 2021 and I encourage all high school students in grades nine through eleven to participate so they don’t miss their shot to be considered for this program. The test only counts, officially, your junior year but can be taken as a practice exam freshman and sophomore year if seats are available.”


We also took a brief video (graciously emceed by Jen Boelts) which gives a brief glimpse into what this journey has looked like for these seven OHS students.


Way to go Bears, that is one impressive group you've got there!


Hybrid In-Person Resources


Hybrid In-Person and Remote Learning Updates

Get the latest information about hybrid and remote learning for elementary, middle and high schools on the school district’s In-Person and Remote Learning Updates webpage.


The page contains updated Qs and As, an archive of communications to families, safety information (including elementary and secondary safety videos), monthly attestation information and much more. All of this content is regularly updated for families.



Upcoming Events


  • March 29: In-Person Hybrid Learning Begins (Grades 10, 11 and 12)
  • March 29: Deadline to request free spring break meal boxes (Read more)
  • March 30 - April 2: Elementary School Conferences (Half Day)
  • April 5-9: Spring Break (No School)
  • April 19-23: Public School Volunteer Week
  • April 22: OSD Board Meeting in-person and 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.