October 2023

Spotlight on Success header 


Superintendent’s Message


Hello Olympia School District families,


Patrick Murphy headshot

Fall is a time of year when our eyes are drawn in appreciation and wonder to the brilliant colors of the trees as they gear up for winter. It's also the time of year when our students, families and staff begin to find their groove and get more comfortable with the routine of school. I hope that is the case for all of you.


Each year at this time, I like to update everyone about some of our current district initiatives:


School Facility Efficiency Review

Some of you may recall last spring when we were trying to address our budget challenges, there was discussion about declining enrollment and the number of schools in our district. Given the national decline in birth rates, this phenomenon is being experienced in many school districts across the region and nation. This is especially true in areas with higher housing prices which makes it difficult for new families to purchase a home. Enrollment essentially drives all revenue for school districts. Relatively speaking, Olympia has a large number of schools compared to other districts.


We have 19 schools for approximately 9,400 students. North Thurston Public Schools, for example, has nearly 6,000 more students and has 21 total schools. Smaller schools do not generate the same amount of staffing as larger schools and thus are more expensive to run when we try to similarly staff them, regardless of enrollment. You are probably aware that our board commissioned a Citizens Advisory Committee to look into this and charged it with making a recommendation to the board next month on possible solutions. You can keep track of that committee’s work on this webpage. After receiving the committee’s recommendation, the school board intends to have feedback opportunities for the entire community in the month of November before deciding on the proper course of action. Stay tuned for more information on that.


School Safety

Recently our school board commissioned a Citizens Advisory Committee to conduct a holistic review of safety in our schools that includes the possibility of a renewed partnership with the City of Olympia. That holistic approach to school safety is outlined in recently board-approved Policy 4311.


The committee charter charges that group with advising the superintendent on creating accompanying procedures to Policy 4311 that would be a guide for any future memorandum of understanding between the City of Olympia and our district related to school safety. The work of that committee will be kept up to date on its own dedicated webpage. One of the first pieces of data that will be reviewed by the committee are the results of our recent School Safety Survey. We had more than 3,000 responses to that survey with about two-thirds of respondents being students. Those results are posted on our website.


As temperatures continue to drop and you bundle up for walks in your yards, or through your neighborhoods, I do hope the excitement of the new school year transitions to a nice steady academic rhythm for all our students, staff and families.




Patrick Murphy Signature
Patrick Murphy



School board approves Replacement Levy proposal


School board approves Replacement Levy proposal

The Olympia School Board has unanimously agreed to place an Educational Programs and Operations Replacement Levy proposal before voters on the February 13, 2024 Special Election ballot.


The proposed levy is not a new tax. The measure on the February 2024 ballot would replace an expiring four-year educational programs and operations levy that voters approved in February 2020.


The replacement levy would continue to pay for programs and services that are not currently funded by state basic education funding. This includes some classroom and districtwide support staff such as paraeducators, school nurses, social and mental health supports and security staff.


Levy funds would also help support middle and high school athletics and activities, transportation outside of the basic school day, special education, visual and performing arts programs, staff professional development, and maintenance and operations.


The Educational Programs and Operations Replacement Levy makes up about 16% of the district’s budgeted revenue.


What would it cost?

The replacement levy would raise an estimated $177.3 million over four years (Approximately $39.4 million in 2025; $42.5 million in 2026; $45.9 million in 2027 and $49.5 million in 2028).


The estimated maximum tax rate would be $2.50 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. The levy tax rate is a function of the final dollar amount of assessed value of property within the school district.


A summary of state law, historical district tax rates, and tax rates estimated for 2025-2028, are included in a slide presentation shared with the Olympia School Board at its October 12, 2023 meeting. The presentation is posted on the Replacement Levy 2024 webpage.



For more information on the replacement levy proposal, including a list of frequently asked questions, visit the Replacement Levy 2024 webpage on the Olympia School District website. 


Questions may be emailed to [email protected].



Thurgood Marshall MS: Expedition Yellowstone


Thurgood Marshall MS: Expedition Yellowstone 

Have you ever visited Yellowstone National Park? Well, we know of 29 Thurgood Marshall Middle School students who just recently returned from one of the most unique, weeklong, school “field trips” that you can imagine!


TMMS students (along with three staff members and six parent volunteers) embarked on an expedition to explore the fierce wonders of Yellowstone, America’s first national park. Their adventure took them back in time to the historic Lamar Buffalo Ranch where bison roam, wolves are the keystone species and the heartbeat of the park is gauged by the eruptions of numerous geysers.


Growing up, many of us can recall learning of the vast beauty of Yellowstone, dreaming of visiting one day and maybe even seeing a bison or a grizzly bear. What is it like to witness these remarkable creatures in their element? “I have dreamed of visiting Yellowstone and seeing the wildlife, and when this opportunity became available I was so excited to apply,” said TMMS eighth grader Lucy Buikema.


Former park ranger at the Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier and current TMMS Citizen Science Institute (CSI) teacher, Matthew Phillipy, had applied for a National Park lottery to attend Exhibition Yellowstone for the past several years without being selected. In spring 2023 that luck changed! Expedition Yellowstone was established to teach students about the natural and cultural history of Yellowstone National Park over the course of 4-5 days.


When the TMMS administration and science department team received news that they would be able to offer this amazing opportunity to their students, Phillipy, Principal Anthony Brock and Science Teacher Jennifer Mettler teamed to create a student application form and process. “Everyone who wanted to take part had to submit a letter of interest and a recommendation letter. In my letter, I said that I had always wanted to visit Yellowstone to view the wildlife and learn more about the thermal features, and I did," explained seventh grader Escher Arslanian.


From the applicants, TMMS staff was able to offer all 29 students who applied an opportunity to attend. They were also able to extend partial and full scholarship opportunities to any families who needed financial assistance with the cost of the trip.


The journey started as the 38 adventurers began the drive to Missoula, Montana, where they spent their first night. The following day they entered the park and explored the Roosevelt Arch and the Mammoth Springs Visitor Center before heading to the Lamar Valley to check into camp for the week. “The drive was long, but fun, and it was so awesome to arrive," said eighth grader Liam Weide.


Yellowstone Park rangers served as instructors using curriculum that connected educational objectives with the park’s resources throughout their expedition activities.


“We woke up at 6 a.m. to start our day, each group or pack of kids and adults had tasks they had to help with. We worked together family style, preparing meals and cleaning up,” shared seventh grader Andrew Kissel.


Lessons included investigating current issues affecting the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, and promoting stewardship and preservation in the park and in their home communities. The emphasis was on learning through direct experience in the outdoors.


“Being able to provide students with outdoor educational opportunities that started before dawn and didn’t end until 9 p.m. was very special,” said Brock.


Sixth grader Logan Jewett said, “Every day we went on hikes. During the hikes we would stop and the rangers would teach and talk about the different aspects of the park that we explored — Mud Volcano, Old Faithful and the Grand Prismatic Spring.” Weide added, “We were able to use different tools to enhance what we were learning.”


And wouldn’t you know it, during one of those hikes, while peering through spotting scopes, a grizzly bear could be seen lumbering across the terrain unaware of the joy he had just provided a group of middle school students. “It was so amazing,” said Buikema. “At first we weren’t sure it was a grizzly, but after we were able to take a better look at the photos, we could identify the species.”


Yellowstone National Park was established because of its unique array of geologic features and processes. The park has more than 300 active geysers, which is the largest concentration in the world, equalling about half of all identified geysers. But the geysers represent only three percent of the 10,000-plus hydrothermal features in the park.


We learned how to use a temperature gun to read the thermal feature, ph level and temperature, and we were able to conduct ph testing to determine what lived there,” said Arslanian. Buikema added, “The temperature of water was the perfect environment for thermophiles, a bacterium or microorganism, we could determine this by the color we observed. We saw a lot of green, orange and white, depending on the geyser we tested.”


In 1995, near-extinction wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone. Some 28 years later the wolf population is once again healthy. Kissel explained, “Some of the wolves wear tracking collars so that biologists and rangers can monitor the packs and their travels. We were able to learn how to use the radio tracker to locate a collar that they had placed for us to practice how to recognize the frequency that it emits.”


Mettler added that students had an “epic experience” watching a pack of wolves across the valley where they were staying, getting a first-hand view. Buikema said, “We were able to identify the wolves as the Junction Butte Pack by recognizing the alpha female and the territory they were located. There were seven wolves, the smallest black wolf was identified as the alpha female.”


When the students were not on one of their many hiking adventures they were busy observing bison, birds, bears and wolves or conducting field investigations. Discussions, creative dramatics and lessons took place to broaden their scope of understanding.


“We created species with our groups that could survive in the habitat we were given. We chose from adaptations that would make our animal able to survive. The lesson taught us about how animals adapt to their environment, which is important across the entire food chain,” said Arslanian.


Mettler had a favorite moment that she won’t soon forget. “On one of the last evenings in the park — after it had been rainy and cloudy all week — we were sitting down to have a final celebration campfire and the clouds parted and all the students had a front-row seat to see The Milky Way galaxy with almost no light pollution or street lights. Then on the walk back to the cabins we could hear the wolves howling in the distance. It was truly a magical moment!”


Brock summarized, “It was an amazing experience, reimagining how students learn. Having the opportunity to take students out of the classroom to learn from Yellowstone was unforgettable.”


This amazing opportunity created a bond among students, staff and family volunteers who were able to witness the wonder of nature through the eyes of their students. What an incredible adventure this group shared, one they will be able to tell stories of for the rest of their lives. Thank you to the TMMS staff and parent volunteers who made this adventure possible, as well as to all of the Yellowstone rangers who provided the educational connection to the park, land and its inhabitants. You truly made this trip a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!




Remember to vote in November 7 General Election


Remember to vote in November 7 General Election

Ballots for the November 7, 2023, General Election have been sent to registered voters and must be mailed or dropped off in postage-free drop boxes by Election Day to be counted.


Ballot drop boxes are open 24 hours a day during elections and will continue to accept ballots until 8 p.m. on Election Day. For a list of drop box locations in the Olympia School District, visit the Thurston County Auditor’s Office website.


The Olympia School District has three school board positions on the November 7, 2023 General Election ballot. Candidates for each seat are listed below in the order they will appear on the Thurston County Elections ballot:


Olympia School Board Candidates


  • District 1: The candidates on the ballot for the District 1 position are Maria Flores and Talauna Reed. The seat is currently held by Director Maria Flores.

  • District 2: The candidates on the ballot for the District 2 position are Jess Tourtellotte-Palumbo and Frank Durocher. The seat is currently held by Director Talauna Reed, who was appointed to the position in October 2022. Reed recently moved to District 1.

  • District 4: The candidates on the ballot for the District 4 position are Hilary Seidel and Leslie Van Leishout. The seat is currently held by Director Hilary Seidel.


The Thurston County Auditor’s Office Elections Division mailed ballots to registered voters on October 18, 2023. To be counted, ballots must be postmarked or dropped in postage-free ballot drop boxes by 8 p.m. on Election Day, November 7, 2023.


If you lost, damaged or did not receive your ballot, replacement ballots are available via email at [email protected], online at VoteWA.gov, by phone at (360) 786-5408 or 711 Washington Relay, or in person at 2400 Evergreen Park Dr. S.W., Olympia, WA 98502 (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Primary Election Day.


The following are voter registration deadlines for the upcoming General Election:


  • October 30, 2023: The last day to register to vote or update your current voter registration by any means other than in person. The information must be received by an election official by this day. It's easy and secure to register online by mail with a paper form, or at a county elections office. Check your registration at VoteWA.gov.

  • November 7, 2023: You may register to vote or update your current voter registration in person only up to 8 p.m. on Election Day at any county Auditor’s Office, voting center or any other designated location.


For additional voter registration information, visit the Thurston County Auditor’s Office Elections Division webpage. You may also call (360) 786-5408 or email [email protected]. For more information about ballot items, read the November 7, 2023 Thurston County Local Voters’ Pamphlet.



Josh Everson - Empowering all voices through art


Josh Everson - Empowering all voices through art

Olympia High School art teacher Josh Everson was recently honored with the prestigious Washington Art Educator of the Year award by the Washington Art Educator Association (WAEA). His dedication, professionalism, innovation, service, advocacy and excellence in the field of art education was recognized at the WAEA Fall Conference in Everett the weekend of October 20-21. Everson had the support of his family in the audience celebrating his recognition.


“Everson guides his students to unearth their inner creativity and discover their unique identities,” said OHS Principal Matt Grant.


Junior Cece Wallace added, “He is a teacher who motivates you, and wants you to succeed. If you find yourself struggling he will encourage you to explore art, and when you find an interest he will help to guide you through the entire process.”


OHS student art has been featured prominently throughout the area. Students have participated in the Olympia Art Walk and received high honors as part of the remarkable spring annual showcase at the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).


Everson provides connections through conversations throughout the year with guest presenters, providing students an opportunity to discuss their portfolio submissions and gain helpful insight about their own projects.


“I am fortunate to have always been a CTE teacher throughout my 20 years of education. This has inspired me to make sure that the end goal of my class is always to help prepare students for life after high school,” said Everson.


The guidance he provides can be seen and heard when talking with his students. “When we are creating a composition he will ignite the ideas we want to convey, so that every brush stroke or color can tell a story, and he helps us to express ourselves through the work because our art is a reflection of us,” shared senior Chinmayee Kuntulu.


Everson ensures art is accessible to students from all backgrounds and abilities and offers classmates the opportunity to celebrate their peers, holding an annual arts recognition assembly.


“As a testament to his exceptional teaching, we proudly display the work of the eclectic range of students — from those in our Life Skills program, to beginners stepping into the world of art, to budding artists with professional aspirations," Grant said. “Their work can be seen proudly displayed throughout the halls.”


Grant continued, “His commitment to sharing his students' art within our school and beyond has ignited a cascade of positive conversations surrounding their creative endeavors. Students have now embraced their artistic identities, fueling a desire to further explore their talents. Many have won prestigious local and state awards as a result.”


In a letter to Everson announcing his award, WAEA wrote, “Your tireless advocacy for the arts has generated a palpable enthusiasm for art in Olympia, leading to a surge in demand for art classes. Students are not only considering art as a form of self-expression but also contemplating it as a viable career option. The impact of your guidance and mentorship has been transformative, attracting new students and fostering a genuine love for the arts.”


Grant said, “In every stroke of the brush and every intricately designed piece, Everson has inspired a new generation to see themselves as artists, eager to embark on a journey of boundless artistic exploration.”


Next month Everson and OHS pottery teacher Courtney Warnick will take the National Art Honor Students to the National Portfolio Day in Portland. Everson said that opportunities such as this build life skills. “With every experience you learn you have to keep trying again and again, and each time you are given an opportunity to improve,” he said. “This real life experience is like a job interview or applying for college. It all takes practice. My advanced students soon realize that making the actual art is only a fraction of the work — and that is the golden epiphany for young artists!”


In receiving this award, Everson also becomes eligible for future nominations for regional and national recognition with the National Art Education Association. We can’t wait to see what’s next for Everson who is giving a voice to all OHS art students through the creativity he inspires. As the saying goes in the OHS Art Department, “Someday art might just rule the world!”



Have you enrolled in ParentSquare?


Have you enrolled in ParentSquare?

The Olympia School District has officially launched the ParentSquare communications platform for the 2023-24 school year. ParentSquare replaced the SchoolMessenger ‘Communicate’ platform which was previously used to send communications (robocalls, email and texts) to families and staff.


ParentSquare automatically generates an account for each parent, guardian or staff member listed in Skyward using either an email address, phone number or both.


What is available to families/staff in ParentSquare:


  • Receive smart alert messages from the school/district via email, text or phone.

  • Receive post alerts via email/text, which you can choose to receive instantly or all at once with a “daily digest” every evening.

  • Receive communications in your preferred language.


How to sign up for ParentSquare:


  • Desktop/Laptop: Visit the ParentSquare website and select ‘Register’.

  • Mobile Device: Install the ParentSquare app and follow the prompts to register.

  • When registering in ParentSquare make sure to use the email or the phone number that you have associated with your student in Skyward Family Access. Your email or phone number must match contact details in our database.


NOTE: You will continue to receive district and school communications via robocall, email and text regardless of whether or not you register for ParentSquare.


Helpful Tips

For more helpful resources visit our ParentSquare Family FAQ webpage. Should you have any questions regarding ParentSquare please contact the OSD Communications Department at (360) 596-6103, or email [email protected].



Hundreds attend Olympia Education Foundation annual breakfast fundraiser


Hundreds attend Olympia Education Foundation annual breakfast fundraiser

Several hundred Olympia School District employees, community members and students celebrated the Olympia Education Foundation’s 25 years of “empowering every student” during the annual Foundation breakfast fundraiser on October 13.


The event, held at the Capital High School Performing Arts Center, began with a welcome from Master of Ceremonies Drew Mikkelsen, King 5 News South Sound Bureau Chief. Mikkelsen introduced Capital High School student Jaelah Coley, who shared a land acknowledgement.


The event featured information about the Foundation, including videos that highlighted the Foundation’s Principal’s Emergency Fund and Mental Health Initiative.


The Principal’s Emergency Fund, for example, allows school staff to immediately assist students who have urgent basic needs – anything from shoes to eyeglasses, groceries, utility assistance, or partial rent. The Foundation website notes that “removing systemic barriers helps ensure students continue to come to class, stay engaged in learning, and ultimately, feel successful in their education and life.”


Information was also shared about the Foundation’s Mission and Values, as well as its years of support for OSD staff through Teaching & Learning Grants.


Featured speakers included Executive Director Katy Johansson and several Foundation board members. Among the event highlights were surprise announcements of the following award winners:


  • Hecks' Hero: Leslie Gowell, McKinney-Vento Liaison Designee in the Olympia School District, was recognized for her tireless advocacy of students and families who do not have stable housing. 

  • Students' Champion Award: The school district’s middle and high school social worker team of Leigh Archbold, Jennifer Gould, Jessica Pickert and Kim Senger received this award for the work they do every day to support students' mental health. The award includes a $2,000 Foundation grant for use this year.

  • Friend of the Foundation: Andrea Griffith, owner of Browsers Bookshop, is the inaugural recipient of this award, which she earned for supporting more than $20,000 in grants for books in libraries and classrooms throughout the district.


The Olympia Education Foundation continues to edge closer to this year’s $125,000 fundraising goal. More information about the annual fundraiser, including videos shared during the event and opportunities to donate, is available on the Foundation website.


Thank you OEF and the community for supporting the success of OSD students!




OSD board welcomes two new student representatives


OSD board welcomes two new student representatives

The Olympia School District Board of Directors has welcomed two additional student representatives to the board for the 2023-24 school year.


Olympia School Board President Darcy Huffman issued the oath of office at the October 26 board meeting to Dani Farney, an Avanti High School senior, and Aphrodite Torres, an Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA) senior. They join the two existing student representatives who took their oath of office in June of 2023 — Christine Zhang, senior at Olympia High School, and Meredith Morgan, senior at Capital High School. All four student representatives are serving a one-year term which ends in June 2024.


“The board is excited to learn from Aphrodite’s and Dani’s experiences as students from ORLA and Avanti. Their contributions will help inform the board and support the students in secondary education,” said School Board President Darcy Huffman.


For more information visit the Student Representatives webpage on the district website or contact Nicole Gonzalez, executive assistant to the superintendent, by email at [email protected] or by phone at (360) 596-6114.



It’s always a beautiful day for Harvest Festival!


It’s always a beautiful day for Harvest Festival!

The weather certainly cooperated for Lincoln Elementary School’s annual Harvest Festival event! Sunny skies and vibrant fall colors were the perfect backdrop for numerous fun activities taking place across the grounds at Lincoln. Harvest Festival celebrates the abundance of the harvest, the shifting of the seasons and the importance of nature and earth in our day-to-day lives.


Thanks to all of the amazing volunteers, students were able to spend the day participating in leg wrestling, face painting, hay jumping, art projects, pressing cider, drum circles and more. That's without mentioning the delicious homemade cuisine that was available for all in attendance. Each classroom had a dish that they were in charge of making for Harvest Festival and every classroom participated, it was spectacular. Is there a better way to roll into fall?!?





Guaranteed Admissions Program available for qualifying students


Guaranteed Admissions Program available for qualifying students

Olympia School District has partnered with the Guaranteed Admissions Program (GAP) and two private universities which provide increased access to college admissions. Juniors will receive information about the GAP program. Qualifying seniors will receive guaranteed admission letters for up to eight Washington state colleges and universities.


In order for colleges to send acceptance letters, students must give permission to release student information for the purpose of higher education through Skyward Family Access.


Eligibility for GAP includes:


  • A cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher and

  • Completion of all the College Academic Distribution Requirements (CADRs)


Participating colleges and universities include:


Guaranteed Admissions Program (Qualifying Juniors and Seniors)


  • Central Washington University (CWU)

  • Eastern Washington University (EWU)

  • The Evergreen State College (Evergreen)

  • University of Washington Tacoma (UW-T)

  • Washington State University (WSU)

  • Western Washington University (WWU)


Private Institutions (Qualifying Seniors)


  • Pacific Lutheran University (PLU)

  • Saint Martin’s University (SMU)


For more information about each guaranteed admission opportunity, please visit the Guaranteed Admissions Program webpage.



Upcoming Events




  • November 1: 50-Minute Early Release

  • November 2: OSD Board Work Session (in-person and online via Zoom) at 6 p.m.

  • November 7: Election Day

  • November 8: 50-Minute Early Release

  • November 9: OSD Board Meeting (in-person and online via Zoom) at 6:30 p.m.

  • November 10: No School (Veterans Day Observed)

  • November 11: Veterans Day

  • November 15: 50-Minute Early Release

  • November 22-24: No School Thanksgiving Break

  • November 29: 50-Minute Early Release

  • November 30: Special 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 Paula Perryman, 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:


James Whitehead, Title IX Officer

Knox 111 Administrative Center, 111 Bethel St. N.E., Olympia, WA 98506

(360) 596-8545

[email protected]


Autumn Lara, Executive Director of Elementary Education

Knox 111 Administrative Center, 111 Bethel St. N.E., Olympia, WA 98506

(360) 596-8534

[email protected]


Ken Turcotte, Section 504 and ADA Coordinator (Students)

Knox 111 Administrative Center, 111 Bethel St. N.E., Olympia, WA 98506

(360) 596-7530

[email protected]


Starla Hoff, ADA Coordinator (Staff)

Knox 111 Administrative Center, 111 Bethel St. N.E., Olympia, WA 98506

(360) 596-6185

[email protected]


Scott Niemann, Affirmative Action Officer and Civil Rights Compliance Coordinator

Knox 111 Administrative Center, 111 Bethel St. N.E., Olympia, WA 98506

(360) 596-6185

[email protected]


Paula Perryman, Director of College and Career Readiness

Knox 111 Administrative Center, 111 Bethel St. N.E., Olympia, WA 98506


[email protected]


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