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"Yikes! Not another snow day."
I often hear the collective voice of parents each time we decide to cancel school or delay its start on these wintry mornings. Those voices usually begin the night before a predicted weather event. The following morning, I often receive an email or phone call reminding me that we made the correct decision or that we totally missed the mark. I do appreciate the feedback!
Since we returned from winter break, we have found ourselves trying to predict or guess the quirky northwest weather so our students, families and staff can safely navigate their school commute. Of course, we want our students in school every day, but only if they can arrive safely. In making our decision, we rely upon the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), television newscasts, Internet reports, Washington State Department of Transportation, and others who profess to know how the weather will behave. As you know, meteorology is not an exact science in the northwest.
Staff rise before 4 a.m. to check roads from Summit Lake to the Yelm Highway. We consult with our neighbors in Tumwater, North Thurston and Griffin school districts because many of our main roads cross our closely connected districts. We use common sense and consider the words penned by Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan in his song Subterranean Homesick Blues..... "You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows." In short, we also stick our collective head out the window to see what the weather is actually doing at that very moment. Of course, the roads might be dry on Legion Way and icy near Summit Lake, so like much of life, it depends upon your perspective.
The challenging issue is that we cannot hold school in one part of the district and close the other side. If there is any safety concern districtwide, we must delay school for one or two hours or close school for the day. The above is a fact of life because we are a system. Bus routes and the number of buses and drivers available for transportation are predicated on timing; buses that transport high school students are the same buses that transport elementary students. Our staff prepares lunches for a system on a predictable schedule. As such, when the beginning of the day is altered, the effect ripples throughout the system.
The option of closure, one hour and two hour delays is always discussed by staff at 5 a.m. Again, we use the resources shared above, but our main determinant is always safety. When considering delays, we focus first on secondary students because they are the earliest to arrive in our schools. We know many of our high school students drive themselves, some to zero hour classes. This is often the time when the roads are most dangerous. When we order a delay of one or two hours, the dangerous conditions that existed for high school students may have passed by the time elementary school begins. This decision usually triggers some head scratching on the part of elementary parents, especially after the slick or snowy roads have changed by 8:30 a.m.
Finally, we work very hard to avoid an early dismissal from school for weather-related issues. We recognize many of our parents work and cannot simply leave without notice. We don't want our students returning to empty homes or locked doors in the afternoon. As such, it would require fairly severe conditions for us to send your students home early.
We will continue our focus on student and staff safety, but will also recognize the inconveniences of a late start or snow day closure. I am not certain we will always make the right decision, but that remains the goal. Spring is coming.
When Garfield Elementary Librarian Katy Beattie found out her former classmate Susanne Layton was an accomplished lettering artist, she knew just the place that could use some embellishment. The huge blank canvas above the Garfield library front desk was calling out for something unique. Beattie and Layton were classmates from first grade at Garfield through graduation from Capital High School in 2006 and had kept in touch through Facebook.
Beattie contacted Layton to see if she would be willing to create an original design for the Garfield Elementary Library. Layton had such fond memories of Garfield and her former librarian, Eileen Connor (who happens to be Beattie’s mom) that she jumped at the chance to give back.
Layton went to work on the design, which is a mix of letters in varying sizes and styles, with positive words hidden throughout, creating an interesting word search puzzle for students. The space dimensions were large and unusual (24 feet wide by two feet tall), requiring Layton to perch atop a ladder during the three full days it took to paint the mural.
Layton began the project by sketching in pencil on paper, then used Photoshop, an imaging and photo editing computer software program, to create a template. She painted the background with black chalkboard paint and marked a grid across the entire surface with masking tape. Layton used a combination of oil-based paint-pens and acrylic paint applied with a brush to draw on letters.
Layton has no formal art training, but says she was always a “doodler” and an “aesthetically-minded person.” After high school, Layton attended the University of Michigan, where she received a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in musical theater. Following graduation, she moved to New York City for a short time, then traveled to Paris, France to further explore her “love for the French language and culture.” After spending two years in Paris as an au pair (a domestic assistant from a foreign country working for, and living as part of, a host family), Layton returned to New York City to continue her pursuit of music and theater.
As with most creative people in a big city, Layton said she needed a way to earn extra money while she continued her artistic pursuits. While working in a coffee shop for two years, she became passionate about chalk designs on sandwich boards. Often she would stay at work until three or four in the morning, after her shifts ended, to create elaborate artwork for menu boards, “purely for her own pleasure,” Layton said. Before she knew it, people took notice and began to ask her to create menu boards for restaurants. Chalkboards and menu boards led to wedding projects and calligraphy work and soon, she had established a viable side-business.
Layton says Garfield Elementary School is where everything began for her. When putting on school plays, “the encouragement from teachers and the supportive environment planted all the seeds” for her creative life. Layton added she “always felt safe and loved at Garfield” and “when you’re taught that the sky is the limit, you have every reason to pursue what you love.” Layton’s teachers at Garfield, including Dorothy Goodrich, Hildy Ward, Marlene Stranz, Jo Edwards, Kay Hathaway, Merle Hom and many others all left an impact on her.
Beattie initially contacted Layton about six months ago, and then set about securing grant funding through the Olympia School District Education Foundation (OSDEF) and getting the project approved through the school district. Beattie is thrilled with the unique, custom design and said students are finding new words every day. Beattie is especially excited to share “a story of one Garfield student and the path they traveled” with Garfield students. Beattie’s library helper and fifth-grade student Roxy Barkis enjoys the challenge of finding words in the mural and said “the art is creative and beautiful.”
See Layton’s website to see more of her beautiful letter art.
An impressive 91 percent of Capital High School’s Class of 2016 graduated “on time,” or within four years of the first time they started ninth grade. Olympia High is also proud of its latest results, with 91.6 percent of students finishing on time, according to initial graduation rate data compiled by the school district.
Graduation results are also noteworthy at Avanti High School, which was named a School of Distinction this fall for being among the top 5 percent of improving schools statewide. The award recognizes the school’s rising 4- and 5-year graduation rates. Avanti High School’s Class of 2016 recorded a record high 4-year graduation rate of 63.9 percent, and the highest 5-year graduation rate in more than a decade — 90.5 percent.
Avanti High draws its enrollment from throughout this district, as well as from neighboring areas, and enrolls students who choose to attend the school.
When looking at the combined district average, the Olympia School District on-time graduation rate is 90 percent — up from 87.1 percent in 2015, 85.4 percent in 2014 and 83 percent in 2013.
When factoring in students who graduated in five years instead of four, referred to as the 5-year or extended graduation rate, the district average for Capital, Olympia and Avanti high schools for the Class of 2015 climbs to 91.6 percent.
While the state plans to release its 2016 graduation rates in February, Olympia School District’s early results surpass the last reported data for the Class of 2015 (78.1 percent of Washington students graduated on time that year).
The district also outpaces the national on-time graduation average of 82 percent, last reported for the Class of 2014.
“I am pleased with our steady and sustained improvement,” said Superintendent Dick Cvitanich. “We know reaching 100 percent is a daunting task; however, we are embracing this challenge as a school district ⎯ preschool through graduation. We are proud of our totals when compared to other districts, but we are intent on reaching our goal. This is a collective accomplishment, and I want to thank all of our staff, parents, community members and students. Well done!”
Capital High School Principal Curtis Cleveringa also celebrated the news of the improved graduation rates; however, he emphasized there is still work to do to get every student to graduate.
“There are many variables that have a direct impact on graduation,” Cleveringa said. “Working with staff and specifically our graduation specialist, we will continue to be diligent in providing opportunities and creating pathways for every student to overcome given obstacles. It is difficult to identify those barriers unless you really get to know the individual student. Our staff has a focus on building relationships with students to better serve them and the school as a whole.”
Olympia High School Principal Matt Grant added, “Our school community has made a collective commitment to graduating all students on time. Whether they are implementing new interventions, building stronger relationships, or differentiating instruction for varied learners, faculty and staff will do what it takes to get all students to the finish line. I am proud that these measures have been moving us toward that goal.”
2016 graduation rates by school:
The Reeves Middle School Man Choir had the honor of performing last month at an Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) awards luncheon in Olympia.
OSPI employees, along with State Superintendent Randy Dorn, were treated to several musical numbers by this all-volunteer choir. The Man Choir is made up of sixth, seventh and eighth grade boys who meet before school twice each week to practice. This is the second time the group has been invited to perform at the annual event.
Accompanied by the school’s Orchestra teacher, Anne Daulton, the choir performed “Tell My Father,” from the musical “The Civil War.” Next, they performed the Temptation’s song, “My Girl,” which was choreographed by Reeves science teacher Beth Land. The choir is directed by Anna Garrett.
Construction is set to begin this month on the first two of five elementary school classroom “mini-buildings” approved by voters in the February 2016 school bond election.
Security fencing around the project sites, which marks the start of the construction process, may be installed as early as this week at Hansen and Pioneer elementary schools.
The Centennial and Roosevelt mini-building projects are scheduled to begin construction in April, followed by McLane Elementary in May. The building schedule for those three sites will be accelerated if building permits are secured earlier than expected, said Kurt Cross, director of capital planning and construction.
Assuming work proceeds as scheduled, the first two mini-buildings will be finished by mid-August and open for learning on the first day of school in September, Cross said.
Mini-buildings at Centennial, Roosevelt and McLane elementary schools are planned for completion in December. The classroom additions are projected to be ready for classes by the time students and staff return from winter break in early January 2018.
The two-story mini-buildings will provide space needed to comply with state-mandated smaller class sizes, while also reducing reliance on portable classrooms. They will also provide a permanent home for elementary school music programs.
On January 9, the school board selected Neeley Construction in Puyallup to build the five classroom additions.
Classes will continue during construction at all five sites, Cross said. Efforts will be made to have construction-related deliveries of equipment and supplies done during non-school hours.
For more information about school bond projects, visit the district website “School Improvement Bond Project Updates” Web page.
3rd Annual OSD Technology Fair
The free event, which is open to all students, families and the community, will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the high school Commons, 2707 Conger Ave. N.W. in Olympia.
School booths will be open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will showcase a variety of ways that students and teachers use digital tools to support the learning process.
Fair visitors are also invited to watch student technology challenge presentations from 1-3 p.m. Each school has an opportunity to enter a student team in a technology challenge to be revealed the morning of the Technology Fair. Teams will work collaboratively on the challenge from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and present to the audience in the afternoon.
Elementary school students will present their technology challenge from 1-2 p.m. Middle and high school students will present how they responded to their challenge from 2-3 p.m.
If you know of neighbors or friends who have a child entering kindergarten in the Olympia School District in fall 2017, please share this information with them and encourage them to attend this free event. Capital High School is located at 2707 Conger Ave. N.W. in Olympia.
The event begins at 10 a.m. in the high school theatre with a welcome by Superintendent Dick Cvitanich. Families will then have until 11:30 a.m. to visit school booths set up in the gym and learn about a variety of topics related to kindergarten and school in general.
Among other things, families may learn about kindergarten program options, riding the bus, how to register for kindergarten and how to use the district’s Family Access student information system to stay updated on everything from grades to lunch accounts. The school district’s Transportation department will also have a school bus on site for parents to learn about bus safety and rules, and to see the inside of the bus.
A reminder that children should be 5 years old by August 31, 2017 to be eligible to start kindergarten in September 2017.
The event is geared for adults of incoming kindergartners in the Olympia School District. Childcare is not provided.
The Evergreen State College recently awarded Todd Thedell, math, physics, music and computer science teacher at Avanti High School, with the 2016 Teacher Excellence Award. The award recognizes teachers who have had a significant impact on the lives of their students.
Incoming Evergreen students were asked to nominate the teacher they felt made the biggest difference in their education. Former Avanti student, Sequoia Demetro, nominated Thedell for the award. She wrote: “Todd was always very encouraging toward my abilities in class and my career prospects in the future. I always felt like I could talk to him about everything, whether that was a math problem, friend problem or family problem. I felt like he always exuded a calm, open, humorous and practical energy that created a very nurturing and exciting learning environment.”
Avanti Principal Michael Velasquez said that Thedell is one of the “finest teachers” he has encountered in his career. He described Thedell as a “master teacher who is in tune with students’ needs and interests,” and that “he is beloved to students and families and is well respected by his peers.”
“Avanti High School is fortunate to have such a talented and gifted teacher in our learning community,” he said.
Evergreen has been asking its incoming students to nominate and recognize teachers of excellence since 2011.
The Olympia School District will recognize its school board with a special program near the start of the board meeting on Monday, January 23. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at Capital High School, 2707 Conger Ave. N.W. in Olympia.
During the program, Superintendent Dick Cvitanich will share a proclamation by Gov. Jay Inslee designating January as School Board Recognition Month in Washington state. This marks the 22nd year of the annual observance initiated by the National School Boards Association in 1995.
The proclamation reads in part that school directors “play a crucial role in promoting student learning and achievement by creating a vision, establishing policies and budgets, and setting clear standards of accountability for all involved.”
It also states 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.”
Capital High School Resource Officer Kim Seig, an officer with the Olympia Police Department, will educate parents about sexting and cyberbullying, and how police respond to such reports, during a presentation on Wednesday, February 1.
Seig will begin her presentation at 6:30 p.m. in the Knox Administrative Center board room, 1113 Legion Way S.E. in Olympia.
The free presentation is geared for parents of middle and high school students; however, all community members are welcome to attend.
Superintendent Dick Cvitanich, who has served the Olympia School District for the past five years, will retire effective June 30, 2017.
This week, the Olympia School Board unanimously agreed to select Northwest Leadership Associates to lead the superintendent search process. The board held a special meeting on January 10 to hear presentations by two search firms before making its decision.
Northwest Leadership Associates, based in Liberty Lake, WA, has conducted more than 220 superintendent searches in Washington, Oregon and Idaho in its 16-year history.
The firm has also led the search for six Washington and five Oregon Educational Service District superintendents; recently conducted executive director searches for the Washington Association of School Administrators and the Washington State School Retirees’ Association; and coordinated the search last spring for the new Capital High School principal.
Lead consultants Dr. Roger Rada and Dr. Glenys Hill plan to meet with district leaders later this week or early next week to begin the search process, including developing a timeline that will allow ample opportunity for staff, student, parent and community input from throughout the district.
Once dates are set for community forums and other opportunities for input, the district will communicate the information in multiple ways, including postings on the school district website, in publications, on social media, and through direct email communication to district families and employees.
Note: A special page has been set up on the district website to provide information about the superintendent search. Visit the page here.
Additionally, get the latest news and announcements by following the district on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), and encourage friends and community members to sign up to receive the district’s "Spotlight on Success" newsletter by sending your email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Cvitanich to retire in June
Cvitanich announced his retirement in a December 19 email to colleagues, which was also shared on the district website. He wrote, “After forty-two years as an educator, the time feels right to pursue other activities with our growing family.”
The superintendent continued, “I have truly enjoyed our collaborative work over the past five years and will always be proud of our joint accomplishments, especially the high school graduation rate, student academic performance, systemic curriculum improvements, strong voter support and respectful relationship with bargaining groups … The Olympia School District is a fantastic place and I look forward to our work together the next six months.”
Cvitanich has led the Olympia School District since July 2012. Before coming to Olympia, he served six years as superintendent of the Lake Pend Oreille School District in Sandpoint, Idaho. Before that, he was assistant superintendent for Teaching and Learning in the Puyallup School District, an area administrator and an elementary school principal in the Highline School District, and a high school principal with the Vashon School District.