February 2024

Spotlight on Success header


Superintendent’s Message


Hello Olympia School District families and community,

Patrick Murphy headshot

I want to express how grateful I am to the entire Olympia community for its overwhelming support in passing our 4-year Educational Programs and Operations Replacement Levy.


Nearly 70 percent of Olympia School District voters (68.97%) said “yes” to the levy renewal, based on the February 13, 2024 Special Election results certified last week by the Thurston County Auditor’s Office. Our voter support is the highest in our region and among the highest in the state. It is reflective of the ongoing strong partnership between our schools and the community.


The levy makes up about 16 percent of the district’s budget revenue and will continue to support the remarkable learning and growth that takes place daily inside and outside of our classrooms. As I visit schools around the district, I see firsthand the dedication and hard work of our students and staff alike.


Again, my deepest gratitude for all of your ongoing support.



Patrick Murphy Signature
Patrick Murphy



Congratulations to this year's OSD Teachers of the Year!


Congratulations to this year's OSD Teachers of the Year!

This year the Olympia School District is thrilled to announce two teachers have been selected and recognized as the 2024 OSD Teachers of the Year; Centennial Elementary School Physical Education teacher Kristen Draper, and Olympia High School Environmental and Physical Science teacher Heidi Heiser.


Both teachers learned the news during impromptu after-school staff meetings. Superintendent Patrick Murphy was on hand to announce the recognition and Olympia School Board President Hilary Seidel presented the honorees with flowers while a roomful of excited colleagues cheered them on in support.


Elementary Education

In a letter nominating Draper as a candidate for Teacher of the Year, Centennial Elementary Principal Shannon Ritter praised her as an educator known for her “positive, can-do attitude, collaborative spirit, willingness to share ideas, and commitment to the overall well-being of the school community.”


Following the award presentation Draper said, “I was so surprised when Dr. Murphy announced my name. There are so many amazing educators in the Olympia School District that go above and beyond to provide students with the best learning experience that I felt completely surprised that I was chosen.”


In her letter Ritter also commended Draper as someone who has “a student-centered classroom that is engaging and exciting. It is a classroom where all students are celebrated and made to feel successful no matter their skill level. Talk about a sense of belonging!”


Draper has been a staff member at Centennial for six years. A graduate of Aberdeen High School and a Western Washington University alumna, she has a passion to teach and build connections with the students around her. “The best part about teaching is the students and their excitement about learning and trying new things. They come to PE ready to move their bodies and are so excited to hear about what we are going to do for the day. Being a specialist I get the wonderful opportunity to work with every student in the school for multiple years, so seeing their growth over the years that I work with them is such a treat,” shared Draper.


When Draper is not at school she is spending time with her husband of 20 years Ed, and her daughters Avery and Addie. Both daughters attended Centennial Elementary School where Draper was an active volunteer. Her passion for the community and the school is evident every day in her teaching.


“Mrs. Draper is a community builder and is consistently playing a pivotal role in strengthening the bond between our school and the community,” Ritter wrote in her nomination. “She has developed an exciting and innovative PE program that not only captures the interest of the students but also involves and engages the community. Star Striders, Ballet and Yoga guest teachers, the newly installed Traffic Garden and scavenger hunts at local parks which encourage families to participate in physical activity while school is not in session are just a few ways she brings PE to a new level and connection.”


Secondary Education

In a letter nominating Heiser as Teacher of the Year, Olympia High School Principal Matt Grant described her as someone who “makes every day a new opportunity to connect with the real world designing a curriculum that allows students to access the material at every level. She uses labs and discussions to maximize student learning in a variety of ways. The activities are conducive to a heterogeneous classroom where all students can access the material and where students work together.”


As a young child Heiser remembers helping her mom, who was a third grade teacher, set up her classroom each summer. She even recalls the report cards and students' classwork covering their dining room table. “I knew in high school that my love of people and science made teaching the right fit,” said Heiser.


Heiser completed her undergraduate degree at Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon. It was there she recognized that high school level teaching fit her personality perfectly. After graduation Heiser taught for two years in a small missionary school in Honduras. “I really enjoyed the slower pace of life. When I returned to the states I accepted a job at Olympia High School. During the summer breaks I worked on my Masters of Education with an ELL endorsement and some Special Education courses at The Evergreen State College,” Heiser shared.


While at OHS Heiser has taught Essentials of Biology, Biology, Environmental Science, AP Environmental Science, College in High School Environmental Science, Chemistry and Physical Science. “Each class gives me the opportunity to learn new things about science and the chance to find creative methods to deliver it,” she said.


Fellow science teacher Jesse Stevick said, “She shares all of her wonderful practices with others but is also humble and willing to listen, always seeking ways to improve her practice as well. She is incredibly organized and planned out and adapts her teaching whenever needed. She involves the community in her teaching, bringing in outside speakers; she communicates with parents very well. In addition to this she is often going way outside of her way to help anyone in need and facilitates our department collaboration,” Stevick said.


Family, colleagues and friends joined Draper and Heiser as they were honored during a special Olympia School Board recognition on Thursday, February 22, at the Knox Administrative Center. Congratulations Heidi and Kristen on being recognized as the 2024 Olympia School District Teachers of the Year!




Hot Tea and TLC at Lincoln Elementary School


Hot Tea and TLC at Lincoln Elementary School

Lincoln Elementary Health Room Assistant Lois Vernon is much more than a provider of ice packs, bandaids and daily medication. She also hosts an incredibly popular daily tea time. This act of service is available to any Lincoln student to sign up and attend during their snack or recess time.


“It is a time for students to come to the office and take a break, breathe and center themselves,” explained Vernon. Supplies for daily tea time, such as kettles and a variety of tea flavors, have been donated by supportive Lincoln parents who welcome the idea of the calming tool that provides the students an opportunity to slow down and be present.


Vernon has become an expert at identifying when a little extra TLC might be needed. “Sometimes a student's day might get off to a rough start, or things aren’t going quite right and they are overwhelmed. I invite them to the table for a cup of tea, and it is quite magical what that moment can provide them for the rest of their day,” said Vernon.


There are two tea flavor options on the menu, which rotates daily. Students check out the menu as they are greeted by Vernon’s calm welcome and warm smile. She connects with each of them about their day and follows up with things she knows they have been up to.


“I like to come to tea time,” explained fifth grader Parker Butigan. “It helps me. Sometimes I can feel overwhelmed by assignments and the noise of the class, especially during snacks and breaks. I look forward to the opportunity to come join, it helps me relax.”


Butigan chatted with fellow fifth grader Gaia Alphonse about their upcoming grade-level trip to Cispus as they looked over their packing list. “I love coming to tea time, I have tried different flavors and really find that my day improves after a visit,” shared Alphonse. When Vernon prompted both students to guess the flavor, they both sipped from their cups and took in the aroma and tastes before giving their best guess. This simple technique is more than simply tea trivia, Vernon explained. “It’s a deliberate prompt to breathe and slow their thoughts."


“The discussions and connections that can happen in their short time visiting is lovely, and sometimes it’s just enough to turn a day around, or to leave with a new friend,” shared Vernon.


Kindergartner June Blanton and her tea time friends sipped their cups of Lemon Zinger or Mint tea and discussed the important stuff — dogs and puppies. Vernon calmly invited a fellow student who was visiting the nurses office to join the group, pouring them a cup of tea and pulling up a stool to the table. The students in attendance were quick to welcome them and joined with a smile. This is also a great way to practice good table manners without placing a focus on the lesson. Pleases and thank yous, and ‘have a nice day’ were shared amongst all who strolled by or joined the gathering at the little table in the office.


Sitting down to enjoy a cup of tea with friends is heartwarming in its own right, but tea time combined with Vernon’s sunny disposition and smile will fill your heart as she fills your cup.




Avanti celebrates 100 years and renovation with ribbon cutting


Avanti celebrates 100 years and renovation with ribbon cutting

This past month the Avanti High School community gathered to recognize their school building turning 100 years old, while also celebrating the completion of their most recent school renovation with a ribbon cutting ceremony.


Avanti students and staff began the 2023-24 school year in their newly renovated digs following the completion of a major renovation project. Principal Micheal Velasquez kicked off the event to a full house which included district leadership (past and present), students and staff. Velasquez shared some background on Avanti’s home which was designed by Olympia architect Joseph Wohleb. The Avanti High School building was constructed in tandem with Lincoln Options Elementary, both designed in Wohleb’s signature Mission Revival style.


This stately structure has been a part of Olympia School District since its construction in 1924. It’s original purpose was as the second Washington School, replacing the first Washington School that was located on the site of the Armory Building Creative Campus. In 1970 it became the Olympia School District headquarters. Nicknamed “Old Washington,” the building was renamed in 1987 to the Esther R. Knox Administrative Center.


Avanti High School moved in on the first floor of the building in November 1997. Marty Albee and Britt Nederhood both called Avanti home as two of the original program teachers, who Velasquez called “visionaries” during the ceremony. Neither would have ever missed this event. They walked and reminisced about the familiar halls and classrooms they once occupied, laughing and sharing stories. Both were longtime beloved OSD staff members at other buildings before they were approached to start a new alternative program. “They asked us on a Friday to come to the Knox Center the following Monday and begin preparing for students. In three months we welcomed the first class of Avanti students,” said Nederhood.


Albee and Nederhood went on to say, “We chose the name of the school after a vote amongst the three teachers and 18 students. At first the kids wanted Budd Bay High School, but one of the teachers, Jan Labell, was a Studebaker aficionado and he drove a Studebaker Avanti at the time. It was a cool car and he offered the name Avanti; meaning “move forward” in Italian, or “come in.” When it was chosen in the vote, it felt very fitting, because that is what we wanted for the students to come in, find their place and move forward in life.”


During the ceremony Velasquez announced to the crowd the recent recognition that both the Avanti and Lincoln school buildings had received from the Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum. Holding up The Gerry L. Alexander Award for the crowd to see, Velasquez  explained, “The award is given for outstanding achievement in heritage and preserving the historical character of the building.” He went on to thank the voters and leadership for their investment in their future and for entrusting them as the caretakers of the historic building. Velasquez then shared his wish that in 100 years the building will continue to educate Olympia youth providing “creative, innovative and inclusive opportunities within the walls of the beautiful building.”


Avanti graduate Kimmie Johnston came back to share in the joy of the event with her former teachers and classmates, “I love Avanti, it gave me so much,” she said. “I wouldn’t have made it through high school without the support of the staff here.”


Johnston was not the only alum who came back to express their gratitude and appreciation for the love, care and encouragement they received while they attended. Former students brought their partners and babies to celebrate the evening's events. “It is such a wonderful thing to see our former students come back and share with us their success and their young families,” said Office and Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) Manager Brenda Beck.


Following the ribbon cutting, guests toured the newly renovated spaces that have been transformed into a 21st century learning campus that transports you back in time to its original design. The halls hummed with discussions of the art displays and student-run market that lined the cafeteria. In the theatre students showcased poetry readings, presentations, theatrical performances and music before a full house. This was the first time many of the guests had the opportunity to explore the beauty of Avanti’s remarkable theatre. New red curtains grace the stage, and updates to the electrical, lighting and sound system gives students the opportunity to shine front and center.


Albee and Nederhood connected with other former staff as they explored familiar corridors. “This was so much more than a school, we were family, it was about building relationships, finding strengths in each student and helping them see those strengths,” said Albee.


Avanti’s ribbon cutting ceremony was a heartfelt celebration. Not just of the building itself, but as a showcase of the compassion, strength and love that this school building has been a home to since 1924. Here’s to the next 100 years Avanti Boxers!




School Performance Reports & School Improvement Plans


School Performance Reports & School Improvement Plans

The 2022-23 Olympia School District Annual Report is now available. Take a quick peek at some of the remarkable accomplishments of our students, staff and schools for the 2022-23 school year! You will also find our 2022-23 School Performance Reports and 2023-24 School Improvement Plans. To access this information simply follow the links below.


School Performance Reports and School Improvement Plans are published annually by the Olympia School District. Much of the data on these pages may also be found on the Office of the Superintendent Public Instruction (OSPI) Report Card.


Should you have any questions regarding these reports, plans or district policies please contact the OSD Communications Office at [email protected] or (360) 596-6103.




Centennial Elementary School celebrates belonging

Centennial Elementary School celebrates belonging

Centennial Elementary School was excited to bring their students together for the first annual “You Belong” schoolwide event earlier this month. The staff and student council had been hard at work planning and prepping since October.


“We set goals for the year to increase students' sense of belonging with classroom and schoolwide activities, this event is much larger in scale,” shared Centennial Principal Shannon Ritter.


When students first arrived they were quick to notice staff wearing matching T-shirts donning the theme “You Belong at Centennial.” A student was heard complimenting Ritter on how nice all the teachers' matching shirts were. Little did students know they would find the same exact shirt waiting for them, folded on their desks. “Their eyes lit up and you could see how very excited each of them were as they layered on their own “You Belong” shirt,” said Ritter.


Staff hurried through final preparations late into the evening the night before the event, wrapping up every last detail for the following morning. Staff were hard at work gathering baggies of supplies, creating name tags and organizing yummy snacks. When the doors opened at 8 a.m. everyone was ready for the excitement to commence.


In mid-November, students were given approximately 50 activities to choose from and asked to select and rank the three they would most like to participate. “They weren’t given the opportunity to talk to friends and coordinate their likes. We wanted to know what they wanted to do,” explained Ritter. After their interests were collected and organized, 24 activities rose to the top with almost every student getting to take part in their first choice. That’s when the planning kicked into high gear.


Staff members signed up to lead activities along with community members and student athletes from Saint Martin’s University in Lacey. All of the supplies, snacks and shirts for the event were purchased using funds raised during the school’s annual Pumpkin Fund Run in October.


You Belong Activities:


  • Culinary Adventures: Fruit smoothies, cookies and mini pizzas 

  • Arts & Crafts: Friendship bracelets, sewing, knitting, clay pinch pots and canvas painting

  • Games & Music: Karaoke Dance Party, Chess and Pokemon

  • Movers & Shakers: Capture the flag, Track and Field, Basketball, Bowling and the climbing wall

  • Quiet & Calm Activities: Board games, cozy read to self and coloring to music


Third grade student Elsie Rigg was excited to make individual pizzas with the wonderful crew from Vic’s Pizzeria. She and Executive Director of Elementary Education Autumn Lara checked out the variety of toppings and supplies generously donated by Vic’s. Dough was laid out on tables ready to be tossed and thrown to create pizza masterpieces. Vic’s experts showed thir skill by tossing and spinning the dough in the air. “Pizza making was so fun and yummy, I picked cheese, pepperoni, olives, canadian bacon and pineapple,” Rigg said.


Pokemon was the hands-down fan favorite, followed by friendship bracelets and fruit smoothies. Kindergartner Avery Thronson participated in the library as part of the friendship bracelet making group. “I made a bracelet for my friend Tennessee. She is moving and I wanted her to have this to remember me,” Thronson shared as she held up a beautifully made beaded bracelet.


The halls smelled of fresh baked cookies being prepared by a group of students in the lunchroom, while in the gymnasium next door adventures were scaling rock walls, rope climbing and bowling. Athletes from Saint Martin’s University helped with a variety of events, and had a minor celebrity following at each group they stopped to help. Saint Martin’s Soccer Coach Rob Walker was an OSD grad and happy to bring a group of athletes to help with the day, “This has been so much fun and I think every single kid, big and small, are really enjoying it. The Centennial staff have done an incredible job and we are so grateful to be a part of it,” said Walker.


The You Belong event took a tremendous amount of planning and preparation, but was so worth it! Everyone who attended were STARS that day, and the goal of belonging was clearly seen when the students, staff and volunteers wearing their matching shirts posed for a group photo on the field taken with a drone by a student photographer from Washington Middle School. Thank you to the staff, community volunteers, Vic’s Pizzeria and SMU Saints for a memorable morning.




Paper roller coasters are all the rage at Jefferson MS


Paper roller coasters are all the rage at Jefferson MS

Over the past few months, Lorie Gillespie's students at Jefferson Middle School have been diligently constructing paper roller coasters. What are paper roller coasters you ask? Well, in this instance it involves marble runs made of only paper and tape. The roller coasters are required to meet certain requirements/constraints, so students had to put a lot of thought and effort into their designs. This also included creatively problem-solving unanticipated glitches!


The goal was to attempt to keep the marble in the coaster for as long as possible before reaching the bottom (finish line). Students were charged with attempting to make the marble run last 60 seconds, which is a tall task. Some got close, some didn't, but regardless it was a fun ride!


Families, staff and Superintendent Patrick Murphy were invited to move around the classroom to see each coaster in action and watch the aspiring engineers hard at work. This offered students a chance to communicate their process, challenges, and solutions, as well as any extra cool design modifications they made throughout construction.


The coaster creations were so unique and creative, it was a joy to learn about every one of them. The smiles truly tell it all. Great work Jags, and thank you Mrs. Gillespie for tackling such a big project with your students. Clearly, it was a huge hit!




Boston Harbor ES celebrates the wonderful world of STEAM


Boston Harbor ES celebrates the wonderful world of STEAM

Boston Harbor Elementary School recently celebrated Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) with their 4th Annual STEAM Day and Family STEAM Night.


During the school day Boston Harbor students rotated throughout the building, learning from parent presenters about their STEAM-related jobs and hobbies. An archivist helped kids make connections to their job with historical photos and details from Boston Harbor's original, one-room schoolhouse. There were opportunities to learn from a fisheries biologist, a veterinarian and a Navy Veteran who explained how submarines work...not to mention the lessons on magnetism, heavy machinery and stormwater engineering.


All morning students heard about how things they’re learning in the classroom connect to the adult world of work that keeps our communities healthy and thriving.


That evening students returned to school with their families for an engaging, hands-on event. Olympia Robotics Federation (ORF) students from Jefferson Middle School, and Capital, Avanti, and Olympia high schools, inspired everyone with FLL, FTC and FRC robots and programming demonstrations in the gym. This helped students envision building and coding their own robots in middle and high school.


The culmination of Boston Harbor’s “One Book - One School” activities featured one Ralph S. Mouse (of Beverly Cleary fame) who participated in interactive adventures with family-made parachutes, button-wheel cars, straw rockets and cardboard mazes throughout the classrooms. Students (and family participants) were invited to cut out a paper mouse, build Ralph an index card home or just catapult him across the room as he takes off on his next adventure!


Such a fun event. Thank you Boston Harbor administration, students, staff and families for bringing this wonderful theme and evening to life. Those are some happy kiddos!



Upcoming Events






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.