June 25, 2020 (Spotlight on Success) 


Hello Olympia School District Families,


The 2019-20 school year will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most challenging, unusual and probably influential in the recent history of education. As we all know, COVID-19 forced school districts across the world to change their delivery model overnight. We also know that the results and impacts of that sudden and dramatic change on families and staff were wide-ranging.


I want to express my gratitude to all of our students, staff, families and community members for their exceptional effort, resilience and perseverance under these extraordinary circumstances. I want to say a special thank you and congratulations to the graduates of the Class of 2020. Your send-off into the next stage of your life has been as unique as the times we are facing. Our staff in our high schools and programs have worked so hard to honor and congratulate all of you in special ways. Whether it was virtually, through parades and drive-up ceremonies, or via local radio broadcasts, we want all our graduates to know how proud we are of you all and how we look forward to hearing about your future adventures and achievements.


As we see our graduates off, we are all keenly interested in what school will look like in the fall. We have fall planning committees with more than 100 people including staff, students, and families working diligently to review guidance from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and health authorities, as well as OSD survey data, in an effort to determine our best path forward. We all want our children back in school in the fall so they can meet face-to-face with their teachers and have in-person interactions with their peers. The effort of our staff to create a distance learning model so quickly this past spring has been commendable. And yet, at the same time, we know that not being in our school buildings is taking not only an educational toll, but it is impacting the social and emotional well-being of our students, families and staff. Our committees are working hard to find a way to get our students and staff back in our buildings safely under whatever conditions will be in place as set forth by our health officials. We know those conditions can change, so we need to have flexibility in our plan.


If you have a student in one of our schools and have not yet taken our fall school reopening family feedback survey, we encourage you to take the survey by the June 30 deadline. Also, if you want to follow the work of our Fall Contingency Planning committees, we have posted agendas, meeting summaries, committee membership, research and resources, and other information on the district website.


I suspect like everything else, this summer will be unlike those that have preceded it. Regardless of the phase we are in, or the limitations COVID-19 imposes, I do hope all of you have a safe, restful, rejuvenating summer. There will be more information than normal that we will be sharing with families this summer, so please stay connected to our district communication tools such as email, texts, social media and the website.



Patrick Murphy



May 21, 2020 (Spotlight on Success) 


Hello Olympia School District Families,


As a former history teacher, I can’t help but wonder how future historians will record the unprecedented times in which we are now living. I suspect history books will portray COVID-19 as the greatest medical challenge the world has faced since the 1918 influenza pandemic.   


History books will likely describe how in the early spring of 2020, life as we know it changed in the blink of an eye as schools, businesses and tourist attractions closed across the country and around the world during stay-at-home directives. Once bustling streets and cities around the world were suddenly deserted. I expect there will be photographs with captions describing heroic first responders donned in protective gear reporting to hospitals and clinics to serve the sick in their community.


Undoubtedly, the impact on education will be recounted, detailing how students exhibited resilience, grit and perseverance in a new learning environment that they did not choose. Perhaps the Class of 2020 will be highlighted, and the story will be told of how despite losing out on some time-honored traditions, they finished their classwork, proudly donned their caps and gowns, and participated in graduation ceremonies that looked different, but nonetheless honored their years of hard work all the same.


There will be descriptions of how all industries were faced with monumental changes, and how teachers shifted from decades of in-person teaching practices to a distance learning model from their homes in remarkably quick fashion. Support staff, likewise, will perhaps be highlighted describing how they, too, shifted and ensured kids were fed and technology was distributed to families, and facilities were maintained to provide last resort childcare to first responder’s children.


I could imagine chapters describing how our parents and community members were thrust into the unfamiliar role of being the in-person provider of school education at home. There may be pictures of Moms, Dads and other caregivers encouraging and supporting their students in their schoolwork, often while working themselves.


The medical data on infections and fatalities will of course be told, but I suspect there will also be text dedicated to the emotional and mental health impact of the COVID-19 virus on society. I am optimistic that the history books will say that humanity learned from this experience and came out of it with healthier systems in place, more responsive to the individual needs of those in duress, and an enhanced, even more compassionate education system that was better prepared to react to the next crisis.


This speculation on how generations to come will view the present crisis puts greater emphasis on what most of us have been thinking about for some time. What will next fall look like in our schools? While we can’t say definitively how the structure will look, as there are still too many unknowns, we can say that it almost assuredly won’t be business as usual. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has put together a task force to talk about how schools might operate this fall. That group has looked at a continuum of possibilities. Instruction could continue to be delivered in a distance learning model. We could have an on-campus learning model with physical distancing protocols in place that warrant altered schedules. Or perhaps some type of combination of those approaches might be the preferred course. Time will tell as state leaders and health officials continue to track COVID-19 cases locally and statewide, and determine the pace at which sites can reopen. In the meantime, we, too in Olympia, have formed two planning teams to begin mapping out needs for various scenarios this fall. One of the groups is addressing academic needs, and the other is looking at how we could safely operate school inside our physical buildings, even if only for a limited number of staff and/or students. These same groups are planning ways to safely gather and distribute materials going into the summer. Some students and parents are helping educators with this planning work, and we will share ways the entire community can be engaged as we move forward. As always, we will continue to follow guidance from the governor, health departments and education officials.


In closing, I want to express my appreciation to the entire Olympia School District community for your continued support during these uncertain times. I know how hard our staff and students are working every day to finish this school year in the best way possible, as well as those who are working on planning for the start of the new school year.



Patrick Murphy




Olympia School District Superintendent Patrick Murphy routinely sends messages to Olympia School District families and the community. His messages are sent monthly as part of the school district's Spotlight on Success e-newsletter, as well as via occasional direct emails.



February 3, 2020 (Spotlight on Success)


Hello Olympia School District Families,


There is an anecdote I find amusing that goes something like this: A man standing on the bank of a river decides he needs to get to the other side. He jumps in and begins to swim and gets halfway there, but decides he is too tired so he turns around and swims back to where he came. It’s silly because he ended up swimming the same distance but did not get to his desired destination. I guess the moral is if you are halfway there, you might as well keep going.


Well, this is the halfway point in our school year. And yes, there are challenges ahead, and sometimes we get tired, but we, too, need to keep going … and the destination is worth it. Early February also means we are a few weeks into the legislative session. It appears at this point that there is very little legislation with funding for K-12 this go-around. We will continue to advocate for equitable revenue distribution for all school districts, especially those like Olympia that did not fare as well as other districts that received regionalization. Many of those districts can incur increased costs and continue on with business as usual, while we, and many others, have to wrestle with reductions.


This winter season has also been marked with celebration. During the month of January we held ribbon cutting ceremonies at the newly remodeled Centennial, McLane and Roosevelt elementary schools. Thanks to the generosity of our voters and community, the fruits of the 2016 building bond are evident at these three schools. If you get a chance to visit, walk through these modernized buildings to see the remarkable new learning spaces for students and staff.


And speaking of ballot measures, just a reminder, our Educational Programs and Operations Replacement Levy is on the current Special Election ballot. These ballots must be turned in by February 11. Even with the reduced levy authority as a result of the McCleary fix, the local levy accounts for nearly 17% of the district’s overall operating budget. To learn more about the levy and specific staff and programs funded by it, please visit our school district website Levy 2020 webpage.


As always, thanks to all of you for the time you spend in our schools and at home helping students to succeed. I wish all of you a wonderful and productive second half.



Patrick Murphy



December 18, 2019 (Spotlight on Success)  


Hello Olympia School District Families,


Incredibly, we are in the last couple weeks of the teen decade of this century. That means on January 1, we will officially start the 2020s. There have been many predictions about what life would be like in the 2020s. One of the more interesting ones was in 1900 when Ladies' Home JournalOpening in a new window asked John Elfreth Watkins Jr., of the Smithsonian Institution, for his educated guesses about the 21st century. He predicted that sometime in the early 2000s, "there will be no C, X or Q in our everyday alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary." He said we would be spelling mostly by sound and would only communicate with "condensed words expressing condensed ideas." So, in 2020, we may say to our friends, "Me happy good, hi!"  Looking at my most recent text messages, I think Mr. Watkins may have been on to something. As we head into winter break, I do hope that your time with family and friends is not so condensed, but rather is unhurried and truly enjoyable.


You all hopefully know by now that with the new year, there will be an Educational Programs and Operations Replacement Levy on the February 11 Special Election ballot. School levies are the only locally approved ballot measures that directly pay for classroom and educational needs of students not funded by the state, of which there are many. Staff like nurses, counselors, social workers and security are disproportionately funded by local levy dollars. We have included information about the proposed Educational Programs and Operations Replacement Levy on our Olympia School District website. Visit the Levy 2020 webpage.


Also, with the ringing in of the new year, the Legislative session starts up in January. While the inequitable funding refrain may be getting tiresome, sadly it still exists for us in Olympia. Yes, we have had last minute assistance from the Legislature the last two years to help us avoid significant reductions; however, a long-term sustainable funding solution still alludes us. Unlike districts to the north of us, Olympia did not get regionalization dollars to offset the reduction in our local levy collection. Subsequently, we will be wrestling with reductions again this spring without some changes. That is why our school board recently approved legislative funding prioritiesOpening in a new window to guide us as we continue our advocacy and pursuit of equitable, maintainable funding for Olympia students.


While that work awaits us, at the same time we are so grateful for the amazing students that come through our doors every day and the incredibly generous support from our community. I do wish you all a safe and restful winter break with family and friends. See you in 2020!



Patrick Murphy



November 26, 2019 (Spotlight on Success) 

Hello Olympia School District Families,


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


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


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


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


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


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



Patrick Murphy



October 30, 2019 (Spotlight on Success) 


Hello Olympia School District Families,


With the arrival of November, we are officially into the full swing of the school year. Fall sports are finishing and winter sports are just around the corner. Our musicians are busily preparing for upcoming holiday performances. The last vestiges of summer apparel have been replaced with winter coats, scarves and warmer clothing in preparation for the inevitable cold weather. This is a good reminder, if you have not already done so, to check out our inclement weather school contingencies in case we have a delay or cancellation. This information, including snow bus routes, is posted on our district website.


It is also a good time to thank our incredible parent and community organizations for their amazing support of our schools. Many of you are probably aware that the Olympia School District Education Foundation had its annual Principal’s Emergency Fund Breakfast. Once again, the Foundation raised tens of thousands of dollars to ensure our students and families experiencing financial difficulties are supplied with seasonally appropriate clothing, proper fitting shoes, eye glasses, groceries and bus passes among other things. In addition, the OSDEF awards teaching and learning grants, supports outdoor learning and is sponsoring mental health initiatives in the district.


Similarly, we recently hosted a Parent Group Leader dinner and annual training for leaders of our local school parent organizations, such as PTOs, PTAs, and Community Councils. We collectively learned about best practices around fundraising and how to best partner in meeting our students’ needs. Our parent organizations also support classroom needs and teacher and staff recognitions, as well as hold wonderful events to build a stronger sense of community in our schools. It is the unsurpassed community support that makes Olympia such a strong and vibrant school district. So thank you!


I also want to remind everyone that our school board recently approved an Educational Programs and Operations Replacement Levy request. This proposal will be on the February 11, 2020 Special Election ballot and would replace an expiring four-year levy approved by voters in 2016. Once again, it would fund those things that are not fully funded by the state like additional teachers for science, mathematics, fine arts and special needs education; school nurses; social, mental health and security staff; and athletics and extracurricular opportunities. Look for more information about the levy in this issue of Spotlight on Success and on the Levy 2020 webpage on our Olympia School District website.


Lastly, our board recently approved our new District and School Improvement Plans based on our six (6) adopted Student Outcomes. Outcome 6 speaks to our students having the ability to “be critical thinkers who contribute to and collaborate with our local, global and natural world.”  In addition, there is an indicator under that outcome that says our students will: “Participate on teams and know the power of teamwork.”


We want to be sure that we model whatever we ask of our students. Fortunately for us, we have such a supportive, collaborative and involved community that this is one outcome that we can illustrate quite effectively. Thank you again.



Patrick Murphy



September 24, 2019 (Spotlight on Success)


Hello Olympia School District Families,

The first few weeks of school are just about complete and not surprisingly, our students, families and staff have slowly begun to reestablish their routines and rituals. It is the predictability and reliability of school that can be comforting. At the same time, we know that our most powerful learning experiences in school, and in life for that matter, do not take place when we are most comfortable. On the contrary, they are more likely to occur when we are outside of our comfort zone. That is one of the great challenges for our teachers — to create a learning environment where all feel safe and valued while simultaneously providing opportunities for our students to stretch themselves, experience new learnings and ultimately create new ideas and understandings.

We are so fortunate in Olympia to have schools filled with dedicated educators who constantly work to do just that. In fact, as I visited all of our schools the first couple of weeks of school, I saw teachers and staff setting the foundations for strong relationships with their students. At the same time, I saw them challenging students to think critically about new concepts and ideas. It’s not only in our classrooms that students are already stretching themselves. In school gyms and performance halls, and on playing fields, our athletes and musicians are likewise pushing to get better and strengthen their teamwork.

I think our school board was cognizant of this need for balance when they constructed our recent Student Outcomes, which drive our strategic planning. Under Outcome 5, which states that we want our students to “discover their passions, be curious and love learning,” there are two indicators that read as follows:

Our Students Will:


  • Broaden their perspectives and seek out various opportunities to explore new ideas, particularly those areas that are unfamiliar or uncomfortable to find their interests.

  • Experience failure, setbacks and disappointments as an expected and honored part of learning.


So as September rolls into October, and our students research topics, study for exams and prepare for presentations and performances, know that we are committed to providing a safe and caring learning environment where our students can grow and reach their full potential.


Patrick Murphy