October 2022

Spotlight on Success header


Superintendent’s Message


Hello Olympia School District families,


Patrick Murphy headshot

Author Stanley Horowitz said, “Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.” After having a beautiful summer that seemed to last much longer than usual, the brilliant, flaming colors of our foliage and the brisk fall breezes are even more welcome and appreciated. This is 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.


I wanted to take this moment to update you on some current initiatives in the district as well as inform you of some inevitable challenges on the fiscal front:


Balanced Calendar

As most of you are aware by now, our district, along with others around the state have been exploring the idea of a balanced calendar. Balanced calendars are the same number of school days in a school year, but breaks are altered to shorten the length of summer break while adding breaks from school during other months inside the traditional school year. There is some research that suggests such a calendar could help address summer learning loss and lessen stress for students and staff. You may have participated in one of our surveys related to this or might be following the work of our exploratory committee on our website. The committee is looking to finish its  work next month and make a recommendation to the board. A key parameter for this work is that it should be a regional decision and that no change should be made unilaterally by our district given our deep connections with our surrounding districts like Griffin, Tumwater and North Thurston.


Our exploratory committee is grappling with the same challenges and issues that previous committees and other districts have tried to tackle when considering this. Issues like lack of air conditioning, impacts on summer employment, aligning with higher education institutions, child care challenges, etc. All of these topics and more make it very hard to substantially change the school year calendar. Stay tuned for more information in the weeks ahead.


Equity Policy Development

Creating and implementing an Equity Policy to link with and augment our district strategic plan has been a goal for the school board and district leadership. A policy will codify a systematic review of our systems and procedures to ensure that all students, families and staff get what they need to be successful. For decades, our data has shown disproportionately negative outcomes for various groups of students in our system. Students of color, those impacted by poverty, lacking housing, multilingual, or receiving special education services; all have historically had gaps in opportunities and achievement. The work of our Equity Policy Steering Committee can be found on our website. We have reached an important stage in this work as we launch our focus group outreach next month beginning with students. The committee is not only prepared to facilitate focus groups but has also created a toolkit for any group in our community to conduct its own discussions and provide feedback to inform and co-create the eventual policy. As they’ve said in their shared purpose statement, we must “celebrat(e) the strengths and diversity of our district (while) identifying and dismantling barriers that are preventing us from fostering a sense of belonging and fully honoring and serving all.” Stay tuned for more information and please consider participating in a focus group.


Budget/Upcoming Legislative Session

The last few years have been acutely challenging due to the pandemic. As we grappled with the myriad of challenges, one thing that was not pressing was any need to simultaneously manage a budget crisis. Thanks to past, prudent fiscal management coupled with the influx of one-time federal relief dollars, we were able to not only manage enrollment declines and fluctuations, but also add much-needed staffing support in the form of health room staff, social workers, family liaisons and additional teachers. Much of that staffing was being asked for prior to the pandemic as mental health support had been a clarion call by school leaders for decades. With the dropping off of the federal relief dollars and our need to respond to things like higher inflation, we once again find ourselves in a place, going into this Legislative Session, to ask for a more equitable and sustainable funding formula from the state.


Not surprisingly, given the precedence of the pandemic, we may have forgotten that back in 2019-20 we were asking the state to reconsider some of its education funding fixes. You might recall that we did not get “regionalization,” which is a significant increase in revenue for some districts due to costs of living. Olympia did not get regionalization while our neighbors did, and we compete with them to attract and hire staff. You may have understandably failed to recall that the state moved to an average teacher salary allocation for all districts regardless of teacher experience. That is especially harmful to places like Olympia that have more senior teaching staff. And, the state continues to underfund special education. The bottom line is we will once again need to make a strong case to our state leaders to do all they can to keep our much needed support of the last couple of years in place. Without some changes, there will be some difficult budgetary decisions to be made next spring. The impacts of the pandemic will not be gone next year. We will feel the reverberations for many years to come.


We will continue to provide updates about the budget and Legislative Session, as well as district initiatives, in the coming months. Please remember to visit our district website and OSD social media platforms.



Patrick Murphy Signature
Patrick Murphy



Remember to vote in November 8 General Election


Remember to vote in November 8 General Election

Ballots for the November 8, 2022 General Election have been sent to registered voters and must be mailed or dropped off in postage-free ballot drop boxes by Election Day to be counted.


While there are no Olympia School District measures or candidates on the November 8 election ballot, our district regularly shares election information with the community, including how to register to vote and a reminder to vote on Election Day.


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 Elections Division website.


There is still one more opportunity to register to vote or update your current voter registration for the November 8 General Election:


  • November 8, 2022: Register to vote or update your current voter registration in person only until 8 p.m. on Election Day November 8, 2022 at any county Auditor’s Office, voting center or any other designated location. The Thurston County Auditor’s Office Elections Division is located at 2400 Evergreen Park Dr. S.W., Olympia, WA 98502.


To register to vote you must be:


  • A citizen of the United States.
  • Residing at your current address for a minimum of 30 days before Election Day.
  • A legal resident of Washington state.
  • At least 18 years old by Election Day. (Note: Citizens may pre-register to vote at age 16 and will be automatically eligible to vote and sent a ballot during the first election after their 18th birthday).


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 Thurston County Official Local Voters’ Pamphlet.



McKenny Elementary unveils new Traffic Garden


McKenny Elementary unveils new Traffic Garden

Last month McKenny Elementary School had a formal ribbon cutting to celebrate the opening of its new 'Traffic Garden'. McKenny was the recipient of a $10,000 grant from State Farm Insurance which helped make this project possible.


A traffic garden is a small-scale network of connected streets with scaled-down traffic features and other roadway elements for educational programs, skills building and active engagement. They help create a small world to ride bicycles, steer scooters and act out pedestrian roles. Children navigate and practice using roadways, intersections and crossings in a safe environment free of motor vehicles. They learn while having active fun and interacting with features and other users.


Mindy Swedberg, physical education specialist at McKenny Elementary, was integral in making the Traffic Garden a reality. Swedberg was quick to point out that the remarkable fall weather we’ve experienced was crucial in teaching bike safety outside to her students for much longer than is usually possible.


“This bike safety unit was the hardest unit I have ever taught,” Swedberg said. “Imagine full classes of students on large pieces of moving equipment! But the kids took safety seriously and we only needed a few bandaids over the course of two and a half weeks. This is my fourteenth year teaching and this was the most rewarding unit I've ever taught. Kids learned how to be safe when commuting in the real world, and a handful learned how to ride for the first time ever. They learned an amazing lifelong skill and acquired a mode of transportation as well. I'm so grateful to all the stakeholders who made this project a success!”


It took an outpouring of support from the greater Olympia community to bring this project to completion; Safe Kids Thurston County donated 40 helmets, Child Care Action Council and Intercity Transit supported the project from start-to-finish, the Olympia community generously donated bikes and two wheeled scooters so that cycling safety could include all grade levels, members of the McKenny cycling community (and Walk N Roll representatives) donated their time to maintenance all the bikes before the PE unit was taught. There was even a miniature maintenance garage set up in the play shed!


Swedberg had this to say about seeing the finished product put to good use by the McKenny students; “Kindergartners navigated the Traffic Garden in pretend hula hoop cars and learned about stopping and looking both ways at intersections. First, second and third graders learned how to fit helmets, the hand signals for stopping and turning, practiced dynamic balancing and showed the rules of the road on scooters. Fourth and fifth graders were able to use bikes or scooters, learned about helmet and bike fitting, signals and rules of the road while practicing dynamic balances on their pieces of equipment. All the kids loved this unit so much!”


Interested in seeing all the photos and video from the ribbon cutting ceremony and subsequent community celebration? Check out our Facebook photo album!



School board appoints Talauna Reed to District 2 position


School board appoints Talauna Reed to District 2 position

The Olympia School Board unanimously agreed to appoint Talauna Reed to fill the District 2 board director position vacated by Justin McKaughan, who resigned effective August 31, 2022.


Reed participated in her first board meeting after being sworn into office at the October 27, 2022 Olympia School Board meeting. She will serve a one-year term through December 2023.


Reed is the Lead Outreach and Advocacy Navigator at Interfaith Works where she works with unhoused community members. In that capacity, Reed facilitates training in Cultural Diversity, de-escalation, restorative justice models, anti-racism and trauma-informed care across multiple organizations and in collaboration with other Thurston County providers. She facilitates meetings in the community where she educates audiences with tools for dismantling white supremacy in order to create a more equitable society.


Olympia School Board President Maria Flores, on behalf of the school board, stated the following: “The content of Talauna Reed’s answers throughout the process, as well as her advocacy and experience working with underserved members of our community, raised her to the top of the applicant pool and was the basis for our decision. During the interview process she showed herself to be a committed and thoughtful advocate for the students of our school district. We look forward to working with her to address pressing equity and inclusion issues in our school district. We believe she’ll be an important voice and partner moving forward.”


Reed has two children who attended Olympia schools. She has a bachelor’s degree in organizational management and was named a YWCA “Womxn of Achievement” in 2020 as part of the organization’s annual Olympia event. The YWCA describes the award as a way to amplify and celebrate inspiring South Sound community members as part of its collective work to bring about racial and gender justice.


Featured Photo (above): Talauna Reed is the fourth person from the left. Photo taken during the October 29, 2022, OSD school board meeting where Reed was sworn into office.



Christine Zhang of Olympia HS recognized as STEM Rising Star


Christine Zhang of Olympia HS recognized as STEM Rising Star

Christine Zhang, a junior at Olympia High School, was recently recognized as a Washington STEM Rising Star awardee for the Capital Region. Zhang was nominated by OHS teacher-librarian Stacy Udo. She was selected for her leadership within the student organization ‘BYHER4HER’ and her commitment to making computer science education accessible in her community. You can find a brief video of Zhang talking about her passion for STEM on the Washington STEM YouTube Channel.


One of the driving forces behind Zhang creating the initiative BYHER4HER was to teach elementary aged children (specifically girls) in the Olympia School District basic coding skills. During the pandemic she started teaching students in local elementary schools via Zoom, expanded the lessons across Washington state and eventually those lessons reached aspiring coders across the globe, from Peru to Vietnam. Zhang developed an entire curriculum and she is now working to see what it could look like to get this curriculum into our schools.


“The purpose of BYHER4HER is to bring computer science classes to every student in the district regardless of race, gender and socioeconomic status”, she said. “It is absolutely crucial that we start exposing younger audiences to computer science to give them the skills they need to succeed in the competitive job industry in the future. To make sure that is done, we need to start exposing kids to computer sciences at an early age. I didn't know anything about coding until Kode with Klossy and it genuinely changed my life. I don't know what I would be doing right now without coding,” said Zhang.


OHS Principal Matt Grant had this to say about Zhang; “She’s a mover and a shaker. Christine shows a passion for computer science unlike anyone I have ever seen. Her drive to make sure all students receive education in basic computer science began with the realization that all future jobs will contain various aspects of these skills. I am impressed with her steadfast commitment to provide STEM to all students in our district. She is destined to leave a legacy for future generations of girls in STEM.”


On top of all this Zhang currently holds a seat as a student representative on the Olympia School District Board of Directors. She will serve on the board until June 2023.


Congratulations Christine on this well deserved recognition, we can’t wait to see what you do next!



Flu and COVID-19 vaccines recommended this fall


Flu and COVID-19 vaccines recommended this fall

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is urging the public to get an influenza (flu) vaccine in addition to a COVID-19 booster this fall to keep themselves and others safe and out of the hospital.


A DOH news release issued in early October noted that in recent years flu activity was low due to the preventive benefits of social distancing, masking and other COVID-19 precautions. Now that guidance and recommendations have relaxed, people are more active, mobile and have returned to traditional gatherings. At the tail of the last flu season, Washington experienced an unusual late spring wave of flu.


With the start of fall, many adults have returned to in-person work and most children are back in school. DOH notes that these conditions could lead to an increase in flu or COVID-19 cases this fall or winter.


Young children, pregnant people, those with underlying health conditions and people aged 65 and older are at high risk for flu-related complications. The flu is a highly contagious disease that can cause severe illness and lead to hospitalization and death – even in healthy, young people. Getting a flu vaccine reduces the chance of flu illness and protects individuals from serious flu symptoms. The flu shot can be safely given at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine or booster.


Flu illness is more dangerous than the common cold for children, especially for children under 5 years old. Flu can be deadly in young children. DOH reports about 80% of flu-related deaths in children are in those who were not vaccinated. Across Washington, the flu vaccine, and all recommended childhood vaccines, are available at no cost for everyone age 18 years and younger.


It’s best to get your family vaccinated for flu by October, but flu vaccine is still available through winter. You may visit your local doctor’s office, pharmacy or clinic event in your area.


Flu Vaccines

  • CDC Flu Vaccine Locator or call the Help Me Grow Washington hotline at 1-800-322-2588 (language assistance available) to find a flu vaccine location near you.


COVID-19 Vaccines



Students walk and roll during Walk to School Month


Students walk and roll during Walk to School Month

Each year the Olympia School District officially proclaims the month of October as Walk to School Month. Students look forward to walking and biking to school, and this year was no exception!


Several elementary schools scheduled a day this month when groups of students, joined by family members, staff and community partners, met at designated neighborhood locations to walk and roll to school. Even a few family pets joined in on the fun at this year’s Walk N Roll events, coordinated by Intercity Transit and supported by local police and fire departments.


Garfield Elementary Principal Brendon Chertok joined nearly 60 students, family members and community partners on October 19 during the school’s Walk N Roll kickoff for the year. Garfield is one of several schools that continue to partner with Intercity Transit to schedule monthly Walk N Roll events throughout the school year.


The event was so popular this year that some families who live outside the walk to school zone drove their students to the designated meeting location so they could join the long parade of Garfield Cheetahs who walked and biked to school.


“These are special moments where I believe we all feel the strength of our community coming together,” Chertok said.


The district’s Walk to School Month proclamation states in part that in October, children, families and community leaders from around the world join together for Walk to School events “to increase awareness about the health and environmental benefits of walking and biking to school.”


The city of Olympia also proclaimed October as Walk to School Month this year. OSD Superintendent Patrick Murphy shared about the school district’s proclamation during a City Council meeting in September and thanked the city and the Intercity Transit Walk N Roll program for partnering on walk to school efforts. Walk N Roll events will continue at several OSD elementary schools this year.


A big thank you to the many students, families, staff and community members who walked and rolled to school this month!



OSD board welcomes two new student representatives


OSD board welcomes two new student representatives

The Olympia School District Board of Directors recently welcomed two additional student representatives for the 2022-23 school year.


Completing the board are Ali Owen, a junior from Avanti High School, and Ru'ya Russell, a senior at Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA). They join the two existing student representatives who took their oath of office in June of 2022 – senior Rahma Gaye from Capital High School, and junior Christine Zhang from Olympia High School.


All four student representatives are serving a one-year term which ends in June 2023.


“Ru’ya and Ali bring unique experiences as students from our alternative high schools ORLA and Avanti that will help inform our supports and strategies for secondary education,” said Olympia School Board President Maria Flores. “The Board is excited to learn from our students and honor student voice in our work.”


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


Featured Photo (above): Ru'ya Russell (Olympia Regional Learning Academy) is on the left and Ali Owen (Avanti High School) is on the right.



National Merit Scholarship Program Semifinalists


National Merit Scholarship Program Semifinalists

Olympia High School recently recognized three seniors who were selected as National Merit semifinalists.


National Merit Scholarship Program is a national academic competition for high school students to provide scholarship financial aid to attend college. Students qualify for the program by achieving a high score on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). In early September high scorers, or approximately one-third of the overall testers, are notified by the NMSC that they qualify as semifinalists.


Olympia High School seniors Audrey Shen, Owen McEwen and Jonathan Holcombe were recognized on the OSD Facebook page last month. OHS Career Counselor Jennifer Boelts had this to say about these young bears: “Those few who rank among the 1.5 million students who entered the National Merit Scholar Competition have achieved a prestigious level of academic recognition that can provide numerous opportunities. We are so proud of our scholars for achieving this tangible, quantifiable and satisfying achievement. Jonathan is an amazing scholar who is a lightening fast learner, always willing to learn new things in both STEM and beyond. Audrey models excellence both inside and outside the classroom. Owen is a self-motivated natural leader that showcases incredible integrity."


The next step for the semifinalists includes meeting the necessary program requirements. Each student must:


  • Be enrolled in their last year of high school.
  • Submit a detailed application.
  • Continue to have a very high record of academic performance.
  • Be fully endorsed for finalist standings including principal recommendation.
  • Take the SAT or ACT and earn scores that confirm the PSAT/NMSQT performance.
  • Complete an essay demonstrating leadership and contribution to school and community activities.


If chosen as finalists, the three OHS students will be considered for one of the three types of National Merit Scholarships; College Sponsored, Corporate Sponsored or National Merit $2,500. The 7,250 awards available have a combined value of more than $28 million. Winners are chosen on the basis of their abilities, skills and accomplishments. Notification of scholarships for finalists begins in late March 2023.


We look forward to following this process with Olympia High Schools' three semifinalists. Congratulations to Audrey, Owen and Jonathan on their accomplishments and dedication to their future. Great work Bears!



Stay informed by attending school board meetings in person or on Zoom


Stay informed by attending school board meetings in person or on Zoom

The Olympia School Board invites students, staff, families and community members to stay informed about school district programs and initiatives by attending school board meetings in person or on Zoom.


Regularly-scheduled school board meetings are generally held on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at 6:30 p.m. Meetings are held in person at the Knox 111 Administrative Center Boardroom, 111 Bethel Street N.E., Olympia, WA 98506. Participants are also welcome to join the meetings on Zoom.


The board also occasionally schedules special board meetings or work sessions to study specific issues or hear in-depth reports.


Meeting dates, agendas and accompanying reports or presentations, as well as Zoom links, are posted in advance of board meetings in several locations:


  • BoardDocs
  • Announcement on the district website (Board meeting announcements are generally posted the week before the board meeting near the top of the district Home page under the Announcements heading)
  • OSD social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram)
  • OSD Google Calendar
  • Board Meeting Schedule webpage (this webpage includes the dates of regularly-scheduled board meetings and planned agenda topics).


Time is set aside for public comment near the start of each regularly-scheduled board meeting. People interested in speaking to the board are asked to fill out and submit an online form, which is available between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. the day of the board meeting. The form is linked from the meeting announcement and in BoardDocs. There is a 3-minute time limit for each speaker during public comment.


Public comment is also welcome via email to [email protected] or by mail to Olympia School District, ATTN: Board of Directors - Public Comment, 111 Bethel St. N.E., Olympia, WA 98506.


Video recordings of board meetings and meeting minutes are posted in BoardDocs.


For assistance, please contact the Superintendent’s Office at (360) 596-6114.



Upcoming Events

  • November 2: 50-Minute Early Release
  • November 3: School Board Work Session 6-8 p.m. - Knox 111
  • November 8: General Election Day
  • November 9: 50-Minute Early Release
  • November 10: OSD Board Meeting in-person and online via Zoom at 6:30 p.m.
  • November 11: Veterans Day (Observed) - No School
  • November 16: 50-Minute Early Release
  • November 23 - 25: Thanksgiving Break - No School
  • November 30: 50-Minute Early Release



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:


Elia Alailima, 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.