January 2022

Spotlight on Success header


Superintendent’s Message


Hello Olympia School District families,


Patrick Murphy headshot

As we reach the midpoint of the 2021-22 school year, it coincides with the time on the calendar when our schools and district annually celebrate the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., proclaim our annual recognition of Black Lives Matter at School Week, and launch Black History Month. And at the same time, we know that combating racism and promoting racial equity is not something relegated to a specific federal holiday or a singular week or month. It is an ethical imperative that we must commit to every day, every month, throughout the year.


When racial incidents take place, like the one that occurred recently at one of our basketball games (see January 19 message to families), they must be investigated thoroughly, accountability must be firm, and restoration pursued. Given the protected privacy (FERPA) of student discipline for all students, it is understandable that some may feel unsatisfied without knowing particulars. It is also easy to understand why that level of dissatisfaction and/or skepticism may be heightened for those who distrust our system and leadership because they have their own past or present experiences with racist behavior that appeared to be dismissed or brushed “under the rug.”


I have heard many of those voices and experiences over the last week. And I heard them before this week. We have a bigger cultural, systemic and adaptive problem that our school district and our community faces, and it is not unique to Olympia. This is not new news. We’ve known this. And while this is an essential, national and global responsibility, Olympia is where we live; this is our sphere of influence, and here is where we can make a difference every day in our actions and interactions with everyone in our community.


The fact that students and community members feel empowered today to share their experiences and that they expect change is a sign, I believe, that we are in a better place than we were before. Exposure, accountability and transparency are the keys to creating an anti-racist school district and school environments that recognize, honor and respect all children, families and staff.


My sharing in this column of what we are doing in the Olympia School District to promote racial equity is not meant to be taken as some ultimate remedy or “fix'' to the problem of racism. Rather, it hopefully gives you an idea of the ongoing work we are doing to make a difference in our “sphere of influence” to better ensure that racial actions and ideas have no fertile ground in our district in which to grow.


The following is a non-exhaustive list of steps we are taking in response to this particular incident and responses to past incidents, and also some ongoing districtwide equity work and initiatives:


  • School administration has reached out directly to students, families and the greater community at CHS and spelled out initial steps.
  • CHS has reached out to student leadership at River Ridge High School and is planning for student leaders from the two schools to meet, build a stronger relationship and partner on collectively coming up with ways to create schools free of racism.
  • Principals in other schools have shared video messages and posts on school social media platforms to promote anti-racist work.
  • Schools have held schoolwide assemblies and/or grade-level meetings around ending racism.
  • There have been student cafes, and community cafes (conversations with students, staff and community members such Black Alliance of Thurston County) in response to incidents of racism.
  • An ethnic studies class was created at Olympia High School about 5 years ago, which is a product of discussions held during the student and community cafes (see bullet point above). The addition of this class, which is open to Olympia High School seniors, was a student-led initiative and we are working to make this available districtwide.
  • Avanti High School’s Social Justice Institute sponsors monthly workshops and book studies for students and staff to examine an array of topics including race, gender and class.
  • Guest speakers are invited annually to campuses across the district to specifically address racism. They have also returned to campuses to support students when specific incidents of racism occur.
  • Olympia School District partnered the past three years with North Thurston School District and some other school leaders in the region to organize the Stay WOKE conference. The event gives students of color opportunities to talk and support one another and increase leadership opportunities. This year’s conference will be in May.
  • The Olympia School District launched a student mentorship program that provides peer mentoring and leadership opportunities with an emphasis on supporting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) across the district.
  • The district also has an affinity group “OSD Educators of Color” for staff throughout the district to share experiences and generate ideas to support, recruit and retain more staff of color.
  • During homerooms and advisories, including at the middle school level, there are consistent lessons that raise awareness about ongoing racism and confronting racial bias.
  • Staff throughout the district have participated in book studies related to the creation of anti-racist institutions. Additionally, the district Teaching & Learning team has supported OSD educators with participating in a statewide book study on equity that launches this month. Teaching & Learning has also worked with principals to help schools plan for and celebrate Black Lives Matter at School Week and Black History Month.
  • With board approval, Restorative Justice Centers and Practices have been put in place in our schools, in part, to respond to the historical disproportionality of school discipline and school exclusion.
  • Schools have established Equity Teams, and districtwide equity teams, including students. These equity teams are earmarked to be in our new equity policy.
  • OSD works with Panorama Education to annually survey students, families and staff on a variety of social-emotional topics including questions around climate and racial equity. The data is analyzed to inform future planning for the school and the district.
  • The District Improvement Plan contains a commitment to more diverse hiring in order to have staff and educators who more proportionally represent the races and life experiences of the children we serve.
  • Our district coordinated a Whole Child Conference for OSD staff last August, including a breakout session focused on social justice.
  • The Olympia School Board has held work sessions and most recently devoted time at its January board retreat to finalize planning for the creation of an OSD Equity Policy with an emphasis on authentic community engagement to inform and collaboratively create the policy.
  • OSD hired a Native Education and Tribal Relations Program Manager this year and has initiated government-to-government relations with local tribal leaders. Our tribal partners have worked directly with schools like the Nisqually Tribe at Capital High School in October.
  • The District Leadership Team continues to participate in trainings as they have over the past few years around creating an anti-racist organization working with organizations like Cultures Connecting and the Puget Sound ESD Equity in Education Team.
  • Elementary family liaisons are participating in training specific to supporting students of color and anti-racist work moving forward.
  • The district uses processes when adopting curriculum and instructional materials to identify and eliminate bias.
  • We adopted the use of an OSD Race and Equity Impact Decision-Making Tool last year that is used by staff across the district to help make district and school decisions. The purpose of this tool is to engage everyone involved in the Olympia School District to learn, think and address how race and equity impacts choices in instruction, programming, staffing, funding and policy.


Again, this list is only meant to give an overall idea of some work that is going on in the district and not meant to be comprehensive. I have heard suggestions from some this last week and previously, that so much talk and teaching of the impact of racism by the Olympia School District actually contributes to more racist events occurring; because it is divisive. There are national debates about that. If that were true, and I don’t believe it is, then I can’t help but wonder why we are hearing from people from years and decades ago about their experiences with racism in our school district and greater community. If we were less likely to have unfiltered candid conversations about racism then, it did not help. Putting our heads in the sand or choosing to ignore our past and present realities is never a good teaching or learning strategy. We won’t do that in the Olympia School District.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other icons of our nation's Civil Rights movement literally gave their lives to ensure that the world knew of the injustices that plagued our nation and were inflicted on Black citizens. It was their courage and tenacity that resulted in legislation and cultural change to help us get closer to our national ideals of becoming a “more perfect union.” We celebrate them in the weeks ahead, but more importantly, to fully honor their legacy, I ask that we take this time to recognize we are not there yet, and commit ourselves, or recommit more fervently to never giving up in that pursuit.



Patrick Murphy Signature
Patrick Murphy



Remember to Vote


Remember to vote in February 8 Special Election

The Olympia School District has one measure on the February 8, 2022 Special Election ballot: a proposed four-year Technology and Safety Replacement Levy.


The levy would raise an estimated $52.4 million over four years (2023-2026) to help pay for increased student access to technology, as well as safety projects districtwide.


The proposed levy is not a new tax. The measure would replace an expiring four-year technology and safety levy approved by voters in 2018 and adds safety and technology resources.


To learn more specifics about the levy, visit a Technology and Safety Replacement Levy Election information page on the Olympia School District website. The page includes a link to an informational video about the proposed levy.


The Thurston County Auditor’s Office Elections Division mailed ballots to registered voters on January 21. To be counted, ballots must be postmarked or dropped in postage-free ballot drop boxes by 8 p.m. on Election Day, February 8.


Ballot drop boxes are open 24 hours a day and close promptly at 8 p.m. on Election Day. For a list of ballot drop box locations, visit the Thurston County Elections Division website.


The following are voter registration deadlines for the upcoming General Election:


  • January 31, 2022: Last day to register to vote or update your current voter registration by any means other than in person.
  • February 8, 2022: Register to vote or update your current voter registration in person and drive-thru only until 8 p.m. on Election Day February 8, 2022. In-person/drive-thru voter registration is done at the Thurston County Elections Division, 2400 Evergreen Park Dr. S.W., Olympia.


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 February 8, 2022 Thurston County Voters’ Pamphlet.



Avanti urban gardening program expands with addition of chickens!


Avanti urban gardening program expands with addition of chickens!

When many people think of a soothing and snuggly animal to pet, puppies or kittens come to mind. But at Avanti High School, students are learning that chickens can be just as fun, thanks to a new chicken project which began at the school this year.


The chicken project is the brainchild of Avanti senior Ruby Catterson, who was able to convince school and district leaders that chickens would be the perfect addition to the school’s already established urban agriculture program. Catterson’s family has been raising chickens since they were 8 years old. One school day, they brought a chicken to Avanti to show their peers in the urban agriculture program and an idea began to form.


“Everyone in the class seemed so happy and it brought a lot of joy,” Catterson said. “They were laughing, they were petting the chicken, they were asking all these questions and they seemed calmer and more comfortable and more receptive to learning just having the chicken there.”


When Catterson was assigned a student-driven independent project this year, they saw an opportunity. “I realized now is the time. I’m going to make my vision a reality,” they said. “It took me a few months to get everything for it. And in November, we started out with two chickens.”


“There is nothing more awesome than a student-initiated project,” said Avanti Teacher Quasar Surprise, who oversaw the project. Project Chicken began as a pie-in-the-sky idea for Catterson when a 9th grader at Avanti. Now a senior, Catterson was determined to make it happen after being given the opportunity to implement an 'Inquiry Ag' project for the Sustainable Agriculture class. Caterson immediately launched into Project Chicken. “They reached out to local experts and businesses. They put together proposals, budgets, timelines. They got school-board approval. And then....Project Chicken became a reality,” Surprise said.


After the chickens arrived in November, students noticed the coop seemed a little dilapidated. Avanti junior Hope Miller had some construction experience, so she volunteered to build a new chicken coop. With a slightly larger chicken coop, the program had space to add a third chicken.


The next step was to establish a care routine for the chickens and get more students involved. Catterson recruited a team of students to serve on the chicken committee and coordinate their care.


“The whole point of the chicken committee was to get students involved, especially students who don’t have experience with livestock and animals,” Catterson said.


Catterson also hosts a meeting every Friday for any Avanti student who wants to come hold the chickens and learn more about them. So far, there’s been a lot of interest.


“The pandemic has been really difficult for everyone and especially teenagers. Chickens can be really calming and grounding,” Catterson said. “Students who are involved in the chicken project can be a part of something bigger and feel like they have a larger purpose.”


The plan for the chickens is to move the coop around weekly so that different areas of the garden can be fertilized. Chickens also serve as good pest control by eating harmful bugs that can get onto plants. Catterson will appoint a new leader of the chicken committee before graduation this spring.


For now, the chickens have all the comforts that they could possibly need. “They’re eating organic food, they’re getting grub and supplements, they are on grass all the time, they have plenty of space,” Catterson said. “The chickens, I would say that their quality of life is great.”


Surprise has been a big supporter of the chicken project along the way — even volunteering to take the chickens home during the summer, Catterson said.


“It is inspiring to see such drive, motivation and commitment,” Surprise said. “The chickens are good for our gardens, they provide an educational opportunity for students, and they even act as emotional support; encouraging students to bond with non-human creatures.”



Save the Date - Countdown to Kindergarten March 5, 2022


Save the Date - Countdown to Kindergarten March 5, 2022

The Olympia School District has scheduled its annual “Countdown to Kindergarten” informational event starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 5, 2022, via Zoom.


If you know of neighbors or friends who have a child entering kindergarten in the fall and live within the Olympia School District boundaries, please share this information with them and encourage them to attend.


Countdown to Kindergarten will include a presentation for all parents /guardians of children entering kindergarten in September 2022. Participants will hear from Superintendent Patrick Murphy, Executive Director of Elementary Education Autumn Lara, and school principals.


The Zoom link will be posted on the Olympia School District website preceding the event. Enrollment information can be found on our student enrollment page.



‘Mr. Mo,’ improves Garfield ES attendance with walks to school


Mr. Mo, improves Garfield ES attendance with walks to school

It’s a half-mile walk from the local apartment complex to Garfield Elementary School. Sometimes, especially on the rainiest and windiest days, students aren’t quite motivated to bundle up and head outside early in the morning. Sometimes they oversleep. And sometimes, while getting themselves ready for school in the morning, they don’t manage their time quite effectively.


Thanks to Garfield Family Liaison Mo El-Sokkary (“Mr. Mo”), most of those students make it to school on time anyway. If the students aren’t ready to begin their walk in the morning, Mr. Mo has been known to go knock on their door or call their parents. Sometimes, he’ll begin singing loudly outside their apartment door, which usually causes kids to run outside in a mixture of giggles and good-natured embarrassment.


Younger students report that they feel safer walking to school with Mr. Mo. “Walking without an adult makes me sad and scared,” said a kindergarten student, who added that he doesn’t know the rules about when to cross the street.


At the beginning of this school year, one of the first steps Mo took in his new role as family liaison was to begin daily walks to school for students. In the past, Garfield students participated in a monthly Walk N Roll event hosted by Intercity Transit. Those events were always well attended and Mo thought, why not do it every day?


“Mo walks students all the way to school – creating a parade of students singing songs, learning different languages, and having conversations about music, art and activities our students engage in,” said OSD Director of Whole Child Success Char Franz. “Families and students have reported feeling excited when Mo comes to the apartments in the morning as they eagerly wait outside of their doors. Mo’s visits in the morning have also been a pleasant reminder for families on those days when the alarm clocks don’t go off.”


On a recent chilly and foggy morning, spirits were high among the 20 or so students who followed the path to school with Mr. Mo’s group. The older students led the pack, with Mo playing the role of caboose to guide the younger students and corral any stragglers.


“The 10-minute walk has created a positive spectacle in the community,” Franz said. “Many of our students and their families who join in on this walk have shared a feeling of community that many are yearning for in today’s climate. Neighbors have come out to wave to our students, former Garfield students who are in middle and high school have joined the parade, and a special little cat mascot has joined a portion of this magical trek.”


Students have dubbed the neighborhood cat Garfield and often pet him or carry him along the way. “As soon as Garfield spots us, he runs to the group and he walks with the kids all the way to school,” Mo said. “Kids get to love on him and right before we get to that last crosswalk you’ll see him turn around and go back. He’s been a great cat and the kids look forward to seeing him.”


Staff members at Garfield report an improvement in school attendance since Mo began his daily walks. But attendance isn’t the only improvement that Mo’s made since he began work as a family liaison. Community and family connections with the school are being strengthened every day. Mo is the familiar and friendly face of the school. And with his charismatic and easygoing nature, families are eager to engage with him. Parents know who to call if they have questions about the school. And Mo is skilled at recommending local resources for families in need, including delivering food himself from the school’s food pantry.


“It’s just that bridge between families and students and the school. Sometimes, there are barriers and families need that person that can advocate for them and speak for them,” Mo said. “It’s also a desperate time. Families are more in need. It’s nice to have someone to visit them and sometimes bring them food. We are lucky that our school has a food pantry.”


Mo is one of 11 family liaisons hired at OSD elementary schools this year as part of the Academic and Student Well-Being Recovery Plan. The family liaisons aim to facilitate a deeper partnership among families, educators, community partners and other stakeholders to support students in academic success, social-emotional well-being and college and career readiness.



COVID-19 Information and Updates

COVID-19 Information and Updates

Are you looking for information about COVID-19 community vaccination or testing sites, data dashboards, frequently asked questions, or the latest local and state health and safety guidance, including the Thurston County flowchart for symptomatic students and staff?


Stay up-to-date by visiting the COVID-19 Information and Updates news article posted on the OSD website. We have compiled many useful COVID-19 links all in one place for students, staff, families and community members.



OSD Community Webinar: Legislative Priorities and Budget Planning

OSD Community Webinar: Legislative Priorities and Budget Planning

The community is invited to a one-hour Zoom webinar on Wednesday, February 2, 2022 to learn about OSD Legislative Priorities and 2022-23 Budget Planning.


The webinar will be held from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom (see Zoom details below).


Superintendent Patrick Murphy will be joined in the webinar by Jennifer Priddy, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Capital Planning.


After a brief introduction, Superintendent Murphy and Assistant Superintendent Priddy will address questions posed by participants during the Zoom webinar and/or emailed in advance. If you are unable to attend, feel free to email questions in advance to: [email protected].


The monthly community webinars, which started in October 2021, are recorded and posted on the district website. Listen to past webinar recordings.


February 2, 2022 Zoom details:

Please follow this link to join the webinar: https://osd111.zoom.us/j/81617149259


Or One tap mobile:

US: +12532158782,,81617149259# or +16699006833,,81617149259#


Or Telephone:

Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 253 215 8782 or +1 669 900 6833 or +1 346 248 7799 or +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 558 8656 or +1 301 715 8592


Webinar ID: 816 1714 9259


International numbers available: https://osd111.zoom.us/u/kcwQEMpVO



January is School Board Recognition Month


January is School Board Recognition Month

Every January school districts across the state and nation honor their board of directors during School Board Recognition Month.


The Olympia School District recognized its school board with a special program near the start of the January 13 board meeting.


During the program, Superintendent Patrick Murphy read a proclamation by Gov. Jay Inslee designating January as School Board Recognition Month in Washington state. This marked the 27th year of the annual observance initiated by the National School Boards Association in 1995.


Murphy also presented directors with wooden cutting boards made by several students in the Washington Middle School Tech Arts Enterprises Marketing Class, under the direction of Teacher Brian Morris.


Thank you President Maria Flores, Vice President Justin McKaughan, Directors Darcy Huffman, Hilary Seidel and Scott Clifthorne, and Student Representatives Matthew Scott and Taz McBeth.



Upcoming Events


  • January 31 - February 4: Black Lives Matter at School Week
  • February: Black History Month
  • February 2: 50 Minute Early Release
  • February 2: OSD Community Webinar: Legislative Priorities & Budget Planning
  • February 3: Half Day (MS & HS Grading)
  • February 4: Half Day (ES, MS & HS Grading)
  • February 8: Special Election Day
  • February 9: 50 Minute Early Release
  • February 10: OSD Board Meeting in-person and online via Zoom at 6:30 p.m.
  • February 16: 50 Minute Early Release
  • February 21: No School (President’s Day)
  • February 22: No School (Mid-Winter Break)
  • February 23: 50 Minute Early Release
  • February 24: 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:

Title IX Officers

  • Autumn Lara, Executive Director of Elementary Education: [email protected], (360) 596-8534
  • Michael Hart, Executive Director of Secondary Education: [email protected], (360) 596-8545


Ken Turcotte, Section 504 and ADA Coordinator (Students)


Starla Hoff, ADA Coordinator (Staff)


Scott Niemann, Affirmative Action Officer and Civil Rights Compliance Coordinator


Pat Cusack, Director of College and Career Readiness


All six individuals may also be contacted at 111 Bethel St. N.E., Olympia, WA, 98506.