Spotlight on Success

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Superintendent’s Message


Hello Olympia School District families,


Patrick Murphy headshot

Winter Break and the holiday season have arrived. As some of you may recall in previous messages I have sent this time of year, I’ve shared that we celebrate Christmas in my family. This time of year conjures up many memories from my childhood and when my own children were little. One tradition that was always a big deal was annually going out and cutting down a Christmas tree. Every year, there was quite a bit of debate, bargaining and compromise among siblings and family members as we would mark different trees and eventually pick the winner. We’d tie it to the car, bring it home and decorate.


Well this year, we’ve done something that I might have thought unthinkable not too many years ago: we are going with an artificial tree. If you’ve ever seen the Charlie Brown Christmas special, you know that a fake tree was considered an abomination. But truth be told, I like our new tree. It looks remarkably real, doesn’t shed needles (or cause one of our kids to sneeze who has been allergic to past trees), can be reused each year saving us from having to buy a new one annually, and doesn’t require putting water in the basin.


My guess is that those who celebrate Christmas and have had similar past traditions might have some strong opinions about this story. And for those that don’t celebrate Christmas, it may just be a funny little anecdote.


The fact is, at the end of the day, whether our tree is cut in the forest, picked from a lot, or pulled out of storage, it does not change the meaningfulness of the holiday to our family and the importance of it in our lives. It is the excitement with children, time with family, and celebrating our faith; those things are timeless and lasting. While the technical parts of our traditions may change causing a temporary sense of sorrow and loss, the core principles behind those joyful experiences endure.


They say the only constant in life is change. Change is necessary for progress and growth. Throughout history, it has allowed us to avoid and even eradicate many of the afflictions our ancestors experienced. There is a lot of rapid change happening in the world right now, and that can be hard to process, but it is the ultimate way we get to a better future for our children.


Whatever your traditions, whatever changes you are going through, I wish you all a restful winter break and the Happiest of New Years.



Patrick Murphy Signature
Patrick Murphy



Capital Lakefair Royalty Court: A tradition spanning five decades


Capital Lakefair Royalty Court: A tradition spanning five decades

Capital Lakefair (widely known as Olympia’s annual summer festival) became a part of our community in 1957. Since that date it has become the centerpiece of summer activities in Thurston County. The Capital Lakefair Royalty Scholarship Program was introduced in 1975 and has since become one of the most recognized scholarship programs in the Pacific Northwest.


Each year, as part of the Scholarship Program, a new group of area high school students join the Lakefair Royalty tradition. The Court participates in all aspects of the organization throughout the season. This includes local activities such as the donation drive by Little Red School House, Special Needs Prom and events held by other area non-profit service groups. They also visit locations across Washington, Oregon and British Columbia as the Lakefair Float rides in parades hosted by other community festivals.


Each participating school conducts its own selection process to identify a representative who will then become a Capital Lakefair Royalty Court candidate. Each of those candidates receives a $500 scholarship. The chosen Royalty Court members receives an additional $2,500 scholarship, and the 2023 Lakefair Queen receives an additional $4,500 scholarship.


Karen Adams-Griggs, 2023 Capital Lakefair President (and Avanti HS teacher) had this to say about the upcoming Lakefair season; “Our theme this year is “Rooted in Tradition.'' We look forward to celebrating time-honored Lakefair traditions and hopefully introducing some new traditions to you and your families.”


She continued, “Capital Lakefair started as a community event 66 years ago to celebrate the waterfront and to bring people to the downtown area. The first celebration was in 1957, with a ‘Lady of the Lake’ who rode on a boat, with her two princesses, in the parade. It has grown over the last six decades to what it is today, a place for families and friends to come together for some food, carnival rides, an incredible parade and entertainment. Capital Lakefair would not be what it is today without the support of our community and local businesses.”


Remember earlier when we mentioned Lakefair’s inaugural season was back in 1957? Well, that year Gretchen Christopher was selected ‘First Princess,’ or runner-up to the ‘Lady of the Lake’ as was the title at that time. Christopher was an Olympia High School student (now OHS Hall of Fame member) who went on to become a Gold Record vocalist and founding member of The Fleetwoods, performing on such iconic venues as The Dick Clark Show, The Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand.


Christopher shared a few memories of her Lakefair experience; “As a teenage girl, I had been one of the candidates judged by Olympia businessmen called ‘Capitalarians'. We were judged on talent performed onstage at the Capitol Theater (mine was dance, being a scholarship student at the Olympia Academy of Theatrical Arts and a soloist in the Olympia Ballet Company), our evening gown appearance (mine was a strapless, floor length sheath of baby blue taffeta with a bit of a train, styled by my mother and fit for Audrey Hepburn), and our interviews.


“There were no scholarships for Lakefair royalty that first year. Finalists received three matching outfits of a scoop-neck, navy blue fitted top and blue and white full skirt (for our daytime appearances) and three sea-foam gray-green net evening gowns. I recall being fitted for wardrobe at Miller’s Department Store, Olympia’s new and most modern department store.”


As luck would have it, Christopher’s daughter Kimari Helmer now works at Capital High School. When CHS counselor Jenny Morgan learned about the local connection, she quickly extended an invite to Gretchen to join the judging panel for this year’s CHS Lakefair finalists. Christopher was happy to oblige and gave this advice to the Royalty Court candidates prior to their speeches; “Don’t be rushing through it; pause if you want to, wherever you feel like it; just be sincere, come from your heart."


The Royalty Court candidates will be announced on January 3, 2023, on the Capital Lakefair Facebook page. Christopher has been extended an invitation to join the judging panel which will select the 2023 Lakefair Queen. We wish the best of luck to all participating candidates, you are a truly inspiring group of young students.


To view additional photos of the 2023 Capital High School Lakefair Royalty Court candidates (and judging panel) check out our Facebook photo album!


Featured Photo (from left to right): CHS Counselor Jenny Morgan, CHS Career Center Office Professional Kimari Helmer, 1957 Lakefair 'First Princess' Gretchen Christopher, current Lakefair Queen (and CHS student) Grace Salapka and the 2023 CHS Royalty Court candidates Malia Kolle and Daynniella Hansen.



Brenda Beck: OSD Classified School Employee of the Year


Brenda Beck: OSD Classified School Employee of the Year

Brenda Beck was recently selected as the 2022-23 OSD Classified School Employee of the Year. Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Beck is not surprised in the least by this news. And for good reason. Beck is described as “the heart and soul of Avanti, a superhero.” She is the first person students and families meet when applying for enrollment and the last person they see when they pick up their diplomas.


Beck’s official title is Avanti High School Office and Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) Manager. In his nomination, Principal Mike Velasquez included quotes from students and staff who care for Beck as she does for them. “What makes her stand out above all others is her humanity; she spreads her warmth, kindness, compassion, generosity of spirit and friendly disposition with all she meets,” Velasquez wrote.


Superintendent Patrick Murphy made the surprise announcement on a recent visit to Avanti. Murphy kicked off the semi-impromptu gathering by detailing the merits of the award; “The annual statewide OSPI award begins with local nominations and that recipient has the opportunity to be the regional and then state classified employee of the year.” He went on to share a few characteristics and stories of the surprise nominee, listing the traits Principal Velasquez shared in his nomination. When Murphy eventually announced the name of the award, recipient Beck was speechless. He presented her with flowers as the crowd of students and staff cheered and called out, “We love you Brenda!” There wasn’t a dry eye to be found.


Avanti staff shared their endless appreciation for Beck in their nomination. AHS science teacher Quasar Surprise says, “Brenda is like a heartbeat for the school. She is always there, always ready to lend a hand, an ear or a hug. She is both an administrative powerhouse wizard and a loving confidant to all those who need one. Brenda has saved the lives of students on more than one occasion, literally providing a lifeline to kids who need someone to see them, to care for them and to believe in them. I've seen her juggling so many things and yet still have the capacity to notice a student, or staff member, in need. She quickly pivots to help make the culture and spirit of the school one of belonging. I think of Brenda as a second mom and I know that I am not alone. She has powerful maternal energy blended with strong administrative skill...a rare talent set!”


Beck has been a part of the Avanti team for 10 years. She describes the staff as “phenomenal,” and “one of the reasons why I love where I work.” When asked what gives her joy, without hesitation she responded, “The students. Education is the most rewarding job someone can have. We have the privilege of building relationships with students and sharing more than just their education. We celebrate and support them throughout their day.”


Avanti student West Marum was thrilled when he heard Beck was being recognized. “Obviously she works super hard, but having a face like Brenda to say good morning to you everyday makes school easier. I mean, she’s Brenda!”


Avanti art teacher Cecily Schmidt noted, “Even in the midst of taking care of infinite tasks to keep our school operating logistically, Brenda never loses sight of what truly matters. She is always a voice of reason and her valued perspective always stems from the heart. She is an incredibly hard worker and pours herself into caring for our school community, while simultaneously taking care of some serious business.”


Principal Velasquez added, “Brenda’s value to Avanti transcends her skills, abilities, and a job description. It’s her humanity and heart that distinguishes her from others. While she is exceptional at what she does, she is equally adept at providing a bandaid, a snack, some pocket change for the bus, an ear for a person flooded by emotion and a warm smile and kind comment to anyone appearing in need. Students seek Brenda out each day as a result. Several students make an effort to greet her in the morning and stop by to chat about their day before they leave. The Avanti staff make that same pilgrimage each day as all roads lead to Brenda Beck.”


Beck was recognized for her accomplishment and presented with an etched plaque at the December 8, 2022 school board meeting, joined by family and friends. Congratulations, Brenda, and thank you for all you do for the Avanti staff, students and families!



Hansen and Madison bring the Salish Sea to downtown Oly


Hansen and Madison bring the Salish Sea to downtown Oly

Students at Hansen and Madison elementary schools are bringing joy and cheer to the downtown Olympia storefronts this winter with beautifully crafted window displays. These exhibitions were made possible through the Olympia Artspace Alliance, a non-profit organization founded in 2011. The Alliance supports artists in Olympia with exhibition and affordable studio space.


One of its ongoing projects is "Art in Olympia Storefronts," which invites (and encourages) local artists to use vacant storefronts for temporary art installations. The student art displayed from December 2022 through March 2023 combines the creatures and geography of the Salish Sea with the whimsical magic of winter.


"Winter Under the Salish Sea” and “Jelly Town" are two current storefront projects. Art teachers Lindsey Johnstone (Hansen Elementary School) and Graeme Smith (Madison Elementary School) teamed up to provide their students an opportunity to take their creations outside the halls of their schools so the greater Olympia community could bask in their creativity!


Johnstone shared that “being an art educator at Hansen for the past four years has given me a newfound excitement and passion for the arts. I strive to allow my students to experience every type of art in an experimental way.”


Hansen Elementary students have been working on “Winter Under the Salish Sea” as a whole school art project. Students in kindergarten through third grade made clay sea creatures that were hung from the ceiling to add the illusion of swimming through the sea. Fourth and fifth grade students made coral pieces from transparency sheets, cut into circular shapes, and decorated with permanent markers.Then they used a heat gun to shrink and form shapes that resembled stained glass. These were stacked and strung together to create the hanging colorful light-catching coral.


Johnstone said, “In my classroom students explore printmaking, painting, drawing, clay, paper mache and more. This exhibit will show the community the many different types of art students experience.”


Madison Elementary fifth grade students worked together on an exhibit they aptly named “Jelly Town.” Students dyed fabric jellyfish using a sunburst technique. Fifth grader Zen Gardner said, “My favorite part was dying the background because it was really satisfying and made me feel a large sense of accomplishment.”


Smith shared his excitement for the opportunity for students to be a part of the larger art culture of Olympia. “Students rarely get a chance to show their artwork outside of the school halls, so placing their creations in the middle of downtown Olympia during the holidays allows their creativity to be seen and the students to be respected as artists,” he said.


Madison students attached small dyed strips of muslin fabric, made of loose weave cotton, to create tentacles. Next, they attached large dyed strips of the fabric to create an elaborate background tapestry. Not only did students learn how to dye fabric, they learned about the three most common varieties of jellyfish in the Salish Sea and how to represent them using tie-dye techniques.


The Moon Jellyfish is translucent with four clover-like circles in the center of its umbrella. It is not a strong swimmer and mainly drifts with the current as it feeds on plankton and mollusks. The Lion’s Mane Jellyfish is one of the largest jellyfish in the world and is known to eat fish, sea creatures and even other jellyfish. Like its name implies, the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish has a large mane of colorful tentacles that eerily trail behind it. The third variety of jellyfish is called the Fried Egg Jellyfish and looks like a fried egg. When you make the trip downtown to visit the display see how many jellyfish you can spot!


“I enjoyed the whole project, it was all just, like, a team effort and really fun,” said Madison student Noelle Rodriguez. “I really liked the hot glue part and I enjoyed looking at it downtown with all the colors.”


Chilly winter nights will be a bit brighter downtown thanks to the beauty, light, color and movement that the Hansen and Madison students have brought to our community. If you are out shopping, please make your way to the Goldberg Building (at the corner of Capitol Way and 4th Avenue in downtown Olympia) to view these beautiful exhibitions made by Olympia School District students:


  • Where: Goldberg Building (Corner of Capitol Way & 4th Avenue downtown Olympia)
  • When: December 2022 — March 2023


To view additional photos of these remarkable exhibits view our Facebook photo album!



School board elects new officers in annual reorganization


School board elects new officers in annual reorganization

Every year in December, the Olympia School Board elects officers for the coming year during its annual reorganization.


At its December 8 meeting, the board elected Darcy Huffman as this year’s board president and Hilary Seidel as vice president.


Superintendent Patrick Murphy shared a special thank you to Maria Flores for her “steadfast leadership” as board president this past year.


Board members are also appointed annually to serve as liaisons with various community groups and state agencies. This year’s appointments include:



As a reminder, January is School Board Recognition Month. The Olympia School Board will be recognized at the January 12, 2023 board meeting.



Avanti art apprenticeship takes flight in January 2023


Avanti art apprenticeship takes flight in January 2023

At the heart of the Avanti High School art program are current teacher Cecily Schmidt and former AHS staff member Evan Horback. Together, they are working on an Arts for All COVID Relief (A4A) grant to pilot an apprenticeship program for students. This program will connect Avanti's incredibly talented senior art students with local artists in the Olympia community.


The objective of Avanti's apprenticeship pilot is to provide mentorship, and increase opportunity, for students to learn professional skills in the arts and design industry. Rather than simply bringing artists into the classroom, Horback, who has been contracted to work as Avanti’s design and arts strategist on this grant project, and Schmidt are aiming to have students learn directly from artists in their studios.


Horback and Schmidt explained that they “see the future of Olympia and the potential for a place to support artists and invest in youth through networking, shared resources, increased mentorship and sustained dialogue.” They added that they are “launching ourselves into a community-wide conversation that will weave both Avanti's and Olympia's indomitable spirit of creativity with considerations about how both art and professionalism can be taught in schools.”


The two artists have known and worked together for years, including partnering on a recent art installation at Browsers Bookshop in downtown Olympia. The idea of creating a field experience for seniors truly took root as they worked with Avanti leadership on the grant application.


Avanti envisions the apprenticeship as a potential inter-organizational learning model that allows its art department to collaborate with some of Olympia's most brilliant artists and arts organizations. The initial pilot model is based upon the work of Lane Arts Council's "Product of Eugene Arts.”


The six Avanti seniors that have been accepted into the program completed an application, submitted a sample of work and met all the necessary requirements. Horback shared a metaphor of the program and the process; “Imagine the apprentices as the pilot of an aircraft, and they are being paired with a copilot. That copilot is a local artist who shares similar art interest and style. For 10 weeks the pilot will learn about method, organization, planning and marketing from their co-pilot.” While they prepare for flight the pilots are working closely with Schmidt and Horback as a support team for the apprentices. This sets the lens of expectations and how each student can grow as a pre-professional artist. Once the pilots have completed the pre-flight checks they will lift off in January 2023, to begin this 10 week program which will equate to roughly 25 hours of work.


At the conclusion of this program both the apprentices and artists will hold an exhibition to showcase what they have learned and created. The program goals include an emphasis on career-oriented experiences and developing an equity lens. This project reflects many of our OSD student outcomes, including; compassion, pursuit, advocacy, hope, courage, discovery and contribution.


Horback and Schmidt are making a direct investment in the youth of our community, which not only directly benefits Avanti High School, but our community as a whole. We can’t wait to see what this apprenticeship program looks like moving forward. Great work Boxers!



OSD Winter Break schedule


OSD Winter Break schedule

All Olympia School District schools and the Knox 111 Administrative Center will be closed to the public during Winter Break.


  • Winter Break is from Monday, December 19, 2022 through Monday, January 2, 2023. School resumes on Tuesday, January 3. School and administrative offices also reopen on January 3.


The Knox 111 Administrative Center offices will be closed to the public throughout Winter Break. Any deliveries should be made at the lower level of the Knox building, 111 Bethel St. N.E., Olympia on business days (December 19-21, and December 27-29).


Please plan ahead and contact staff before the closures if you need assistance.



Oceans, orcas and integrated learning at ORLA


Oceans, orcas and integrated learning at ORLA 

Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA) takes every opportunity to make learning engaging and relevant to its students. In Anne Hankins’ seventh grade “Integrated Projects” class, the excitement of innovative learning is front and center.


The project and advisory class meets twice a week, and students learn the skills needed to be academically and emotionally prepared for middle school, high school and beyond. The class offers additional support, goal setting and social emotional skill building while integrating English Language Arts (ELA), social studies, mathematics, science and the arts.


This year, the schoolwide theme of study is ‘Oceans,’ and Hankins’ Integrated Projects students are passionate for ocean life and conservation. One of their current projects involves applying ratio lessons they learn in math class to scale a photograph using the grid method. They did this by creating a life-size hallway portrait of a 25-foot orca named Tahlequah (J35 in the Orca J pod). In 2018 Tahlequah became world famous when she carried her stillborn calf for two weeks around the Salish Sea. This heartbreaking response to the grief she was experiencing helps highlight the complexity of our region's endangered orcas.


Seventh grade students Henry Pestinger and Athalia Porter gave us a peek inside their process using the grid method for their artwork. “We chose an image of Tahlequah and her new calf Phoenix (J57) and then researched the size of a full grown orca. After comparing the sizes we determined that a full grown orca was 36 times bigger than our photograph, so we separated the original image into a grid of half-inch by half-inch squares. We used 55 different 18"x18" squares on the wall to make our giant orca. Then we teamed up to draw each square and assembled them like a puzzle.”


The project has provided numerous opportunities for collaboration between classes and community entities, including students in the school’s homeschool (hConnect) program."We learned how to recognize orca calls and tracked an orca while it was chasing salmon!" explained Lilly Pestinger, a fourth grader in the hConnect program. Students tracked orca Sonic (J52) using real-time data collected from a D Tag tracking device as he dove in pursuit of chinook salmon, which comprises the majority of the whale's diet.


Sixth graders also contributed by making 27 brightly colored salmon to represent the number of fish it took to feed Tahlequah and her calf every day.


Seventh grader Wade Jansen spoke passionately about how this project has encouraged him to do more advocacy for orcas. “Orcas are majestic creatures. Honoring them and their habitat is very important. But before we can go out in the world and directly cause change, we have to bring attention to the cause. The orca mural is a great start and it should help bring realization to what we're doing. The mural is a life-size representation that helps people visualize the amount of food intake that these whales require. Hopefully this will convince people to get in on the action and assist the whales, whether it's by donating money, or going out in the real world and making a difference.”


Jansen also shared his thoughts on the numerous orca related discoveries being made today. “Animals are a lot like humans, they care, they have compassion and we witnessed that when Tahlequah carried her calf. It is interesting to me to see how we are now discovering facts about animals and how they are more like humans than we thought!”


Hankins' class will continue adding to their project with the help of various community resources and connections. In spring 2023 the class will rearticulate a pectoral fin in partnership with the Westport Aquarium, and Shoalwater Tribe. The school’s ‘Oceans’ theme will be brought to the stage in a June 2023 production of ‘The Arts Alive Performance of The Little Mermaid.’ Mark your calendars, as performances are scheduled on June 2, 3, 10, 16 and 17. Come support the ORLA community and celebrate the work of these remarkable, hard working students and staff!



Equity Policy Focus Groups set to launch in mid-January


Equity Policy Focus Groups set to launch in mid-January

Stay tuned for an announcement in early January about how students, staff, families and community members can sign up to participate with in-person or online focus groups to provide feedback that will help inform the development of an OSD Equity Policy.


More than a dozen staff, students, families and community members, including several Olympia School Board members, gathered with Equity Policy Steering Committee Facilitator Dr. Kimberlee Armstrong on Saturday, December 10 to plan next steps.


The Equity Policy will be collaboratively designed with the community to ensure a more inclusive school and work culture that promotes equity and addresses systemic and institutional barriers that have historically marginalized students, staff and families.


To learn more about the committee’s work, visit the Equity Policy Development webpage.



Upcoming Events

December 2022

  • December 19 - January 2: Winter Break - No School (Knox Administrative Center closed to the public)


January 2023

  • January 3: School Resumes

  • January 4: 50-Minute Early Release

  • January 5: School Board Work Session in-person and on Zoom at 6 p.m.

  • January 11: 50-Minute Early Release

  • January 12: OSD Board Meeting in-person and online via Zoom at 6:30 p.m.

  • January 16: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day - No School

  • January 18: 50-Minute Early Release

  • January 25: 50-Minute Early Release

  • January 26: OSD Board Meeting in-person and online via Zoom at 6:30 p.m.



OSD Notice of Nondiscrimination

The Olympia School District will provide equal educational opportunity and treatment for all students in all aspects of the academic and activities program without discrimination based on race, religion, creed, color, national origin, age, honorably-discharged veteran or military status, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, marital status, the presence of any sensory, mental or physical disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability. The district will provide equal access to school facilities to the Boy Scouts of America and all other designated youth groups listed in Title 36 of the United States Code as a patriotic society. District programs will be free from sexual harassment. Auxiliary aids and services will be provided upon request to individuals with disabilities.


The Olympia School District offers many Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs/courses in the following areas:  Skilled and Technical Sciences/STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics); Agriculture/Natural Resources; Business Marketing; Family and Consumer Sciences; and Health Sciences. For more information about CTE course offerings and admissions criteria, contact 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.