September 2021

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Superintendent’s Message


Hello Olympia School District families,


Patrick Murphy headshot

As we end the first month of the 2021-22 school year, I am grateful to all of our students, staff and families for their continued hard work, resilience, flexibility and patience. The start of school this year, like so many things these past 18 months, was unprecedented in so many ways. Thankfully, we have our students back in school, in-person, five days a week full time. This was only possible due to the amazing work of our teachers, paraeducators, principals, nurses, office professionals, custodians, food service workers, bus drivers, mechanics and so many others. They ensured that safety measures were in place, buildings were cleaned and equipped, buses were inspected and ready to go, schedules were created and adjusted, and classrooms were ready to invite our students back. Our students and families have supported our safety measures like our universal masking requirements, washing hands more frequently, and staying home when sick; and that has made a big difference.


I was able to ride the bus to school on our first day (on a new grant-acquired electric bus with no carbon footprint) and, along with our amazing driver, greeted elementary students on board the bus, all excited for their first day of school. Over the first few days of school, I saw students happily reconnecting with friends or making new ones, after some had not been in school for more than a year. I watched teachers and staff make extra efforts to make that first week special and give time and acknowledgment to the trauma we have all experienced as a community over these last several months. Our Virtual Academy of Olympia, which had a large surge of enrollment just prior to the start of school, is overcoming those challenges and is up and running and serving families seeking full-time remote learning.


The Olympia School District has always championed the belief that our students cannot perform at their best if they are not healthy, both physically and mentally. Thanks to the infusion of resources from federal and state grants related to COVID relief, we have more support and staff in place this year than ever before to support our students and families. More social workers, family liaisons, and staff from the TOGETHER! organization are in our schools helping families in crisis and supporting staff in that work. For more information, please visit our Academic and Student Well-Being Recovery Plan if you have not already done so.


School might not look exactly like it did prior to the pandemic, yet, but kids are in school, and for that I am so appreciative to all of you.



Patrick Murphy Signature
Patrick Murphy


Jefferson Middle School musical theatre


Fun and laughter in new musical theater class at Jefferson

At 9:30 a.m. on weekday mornings, the hallways are usually quiet at Jefferson Middle School. All the locker doors are closed and the students are in their classrooms. A lone person’s footsteps can be heard echoing off the walls.


But in one hallway, the sounds of gleeful shouting and uncontrollable laughter can be heard through a classroom door. That’s Steve Danielson’s musical theater class.


Musical theater is a new course offered at Jefferson this year that combines elements of choir, theater and dance. So far it’s just a couple of weeks in, and the students love it.


“I just really like the environment,” said seventh grader Corin Gamble Webster. “It’s always fun. Everyone is super nice, and everyone has a sense of humor.”


In the first couple weeks of class, students learned vocabulary words and practiced improvisation during fast-paced games on the theater stage.


Improvisation skills are useful in theater games and in regular life, Gamble Webster said. “It’s useful if I’m speaking in front of other people and I forget what I’m supposed to say,” she said. “There’s a lot of conversations like that. This conversation now, I didn’t prepare for this. I’m improvising right now.”


In addition to quick-thinking, musical theater students also practice creative skills and storytelling. These skills are useful beyond the theater classroom. “It will help them across the curriculum,” Danielson said, “They’re making connections to culture and activity. It will help them in English and math. It will help them in social studies. It’s a very cross-curricular activity.”


The musical theater course is designed to help students explore all aspects of theater from acting to directing, and from creating to producing. By the end of the course, the students will write, design, direct, produce and act in their own brand-new musical to be performed.


Learning about and, more importantly, experiencing musical theater helps in many aspects of a student's academic and social lives. Some of those areas include:


  • Self-Confidence: Taking risks in class and performing for an audience teaches students to trust their ideas and abilities.
  • Empathy and Tolerance: Acting roles from different situations, time periods and cultures promotes compassion and tolerance for others.
  • Concentration: Playing, practicing and performing develop a sustained focus of mind, body and voice which helps with other areas of life, including school.
  • Communications Skills: Drama enhances verbal and nonverbal expression of ideas. It improves voice projection, articulation, fluency of language and persuasive speech.
  • Problem Solving: Students learn to communicate the who, what, where, when and why to the audience. Improvisation fosters quick-thinking solutions, which leads to greater adaptability in life.


Musical theater is the first course offering of its kind at Jefferson. In years past, students in the Reading Enrichment and Arts Cohort for High-Achievers (REACH) program have incorporated theater into their studies. A collaboration between the two programs for future performances is in the works.  



Thurgood Marshall MS orchestra


First Week of School 2021: Photos, Albums & Videos

The first few weeks of the 2021-22 school year are in the books and students (and staff) are beginning to settle into new routines, wearing masks and getting back to all the fun learning!


Included below are links to Facebook posts and photo albums (as well as a few short video clips) from all schools across our district, taken during the first few weeks of the school year and shared on social media. It was such a pleasure to be back in the buildings to see all the amazing student energy. We did our best to capture that for you...enjoy!


Elementary Schools



Middle Schools



High Schools


If you have not yet had a chance to follow us on any/all of our social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube), please do! We would love to help keep you in the loop of what is taking place in and around our district.



District Recovery Plan


Join us on October 6 to learn about the OSD recovery plan

The community is invited to a Zoom webinar on Wednesday, October 6 to learn about the OSD Academic and Student Well-Being Recovery Plan and ask questions.


Superintendent Patrick Murphy will be joined by Executive Director of Student Support Ken Turcotte and Chief Academic Officer Hannah Gbenro. After a brief introduction from the panel, they will address questions about the recovery plan posed by participants during the webinar.


The Zoom webinar will be held from 6-7 p.m. If you are unable to attend, feel free to email questions in advance to: [email protected]. Upon completion the webinar will be recorded and posted on the district website.




Capital HS IB Teacher Ken Joling


CHS’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program nationally recognized

Capital High School’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program was recently recognized for expanding the program to include IB classes for all juniors and seniors at the school. Capital IB Coordinator Ken Joling has been invited to speak about the program next month at the 2021 IB Global Conference of the Americas.


Capital began “IB for All” in the 2019-20 school year with all juniors and seniors automatically registered for IB classes for language arts. In 2020-21, the program expanded to include social studies.


Juniors take either IB English Literature or IB English Language and Literature, as well as IB History of the Americas. At the senior level, all students remain in IB English. In Social Studies, there are two sections of IB History of the 20th Century and three sections of IB Theory of Knowledge during the school day.


“The idea is not only to create equality of outcome (especially for students and families who are less familiar with navigating the system), but also to raise the standard of pedagogical outcomes for all students,” Joling said.


“There are many tangible benefits of the program such as developing academic skills, being prepared for college and receiving college credit. But perhaps it is the IB Learner Profile -- the soft skills which are developed which align so closely with the OSD's strategic plan -- which provide the most value,” Joling said. “The traits of an IB learner, which are emphasized in every IB class, are to be inquisitive, open minded, knowledgeable, reflective, courageous, communicative, balanced, principled and thoughtful. Who wouldn't want their child to exhibit those characteristics?”


Most students at Capital say they are happy to participate in IB classes because it prepares them for college-level rigor and allows them the opportunity to earn college credit while in high school.


“I want people to see me as a leader, and taking IB classes will show I'm curious, hard working and a critical thinker,” said 11th grader Rahma Gaye.


Senior Shaynan Montenegro added, "I took IB classes to be better prepared for college, cultivate my knowledge and perceptions, and have a better chance of getting into a selective university. Also, the IB will provide me with a solid foundation of skills for my higher education."


“Capital alumni who took IB classes tend to perform well in college and many of them credit the IB program for preparing them for success,” Joling said. IB students build critical thinking skills, learn to manage their time, practice academic writing, and experience long research and writing projects that are common in college.


“IB instruction is rigorous, but it’s exactly that rigor that kept me engaged throughout my last two years of high school,” said 2016 Capital High graduate Samia Saliba, who later earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Washington University.


She continued, “IB classes also set advanced expectations for students, which is extremely beneficial in preparing students for college instruction. They are challenging, but never in a way that feels discouraging. What I remember most clearly from my time in IB is that every single one of my teachers was so engaging and the subject matter was challenging and interesting.”


Capital alum Olivia Wittenberg graduated in 2016 before earning her bachelor’s degree from University of Colorado Boulder. She then earned a Fulbright Grant to study and teach in Argentina.


“I loved the IB program and I do feel like it gave me excellent preparation for college, especially when it came to essay writing,” Wittenberg said. “I'll never forget getting a perfect score on my first International Affairs paper and thinking -- wow, so it was worth it. I watched my peers struggling to make the transition from high school to college, but I felt at several points that my freshman year classes were easy.”


Wittenberg added, “Critical thinking was the most valuable thing IB taught me - how to analyze information and respond through effective written communication. If you don't have that skill down pat, you will really struggle to be successful moving forward.”


IB teachers and coordinators are looking forward to seeing the benefits of IB for All now that school is back in session full time at Capital, Joling said. “If the IB for All model has the impact we hope, we should see numbers climbing in History and English tests. This is particularly important as we seek to improve equity of outcome by making the IB program available to all students.”



Casey Church headshot


OSD Instructional Coach joins ASCD Emerging Leaders program

Congratulations to Casey Church, OSD Secondary Math Instructional Coach, for being selected as a member of the 2021 Class of Emerging Leaders for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). Church was one of 24 distinguished ASCD members to be selected for the honor from a pool of 125 international nominees.


The ASCD Emerging Leader program is a community of rising leaders in education who undergo a rigorous selection process. They are welcomed into a two-year program where they can amplify their work on important education issues and find opportunities to lead from wherever they are in education.


Church is one member of a team of instructional coaches hired by the Teaching and Learning (T&L) Department this year as part of the district’s Academic Recovery Plan.


“Instructional coaches have the unique position of being available to support and plan alongside teachers and teams, without being evaluative,” Church said. “The work of an instructional coach is like the work of any other kind of coach. Most of it occurs behind the scenes in collaboration with those being coached. It is that collaboration that is at the heart of coaching.


“Just as athletic coaches do everything in partnership with skilled, passionate athletes, instructional coaches rely on partnerships with skilled, passionate educators. Good partnerships between athletic coaches and athletes lead to improved athletic outcomes. The partnerships our instructional coaches are forging with educators in Olympia will lead to improved academic outcomes for students.”


OSD Chief Academic Officer Hannah Gbenro said that Church’s participation in the ASCD Emerging Leaders program will benefit students and staff throughout the district. “I am so excited to learn from Casey as he leans in and grows professionally through this program, and as that professional growth formally and informally ends up helping us live into our T&L Vision and Mission.”


“I have the utmost confidence in Mr. Church's leadership to equip, empower and collaborate with stakeholders, with a priority focus on teachers as an instructional coach,” Gbenro said. “Church’s leadership will benefit the Whole Child, Whole Educator and Whole Community. I am confident in Mr. Church's motives, skills and abilities to make a difference within Olympia.”



Madison ES Adopt a Grade


Adopt-a-Grade program provides supplies for each Madison ES student

As the school year begins to unfold, students at Madison Elementary School are joyous about their shiny new school supplies. Parents are happy too. All required school supplies at Madison are provided by the school, thanks to donations from Madison’s Adopt-a-Grade program.


“One thing I especially appreciate is that Madison is pretty diverse, so having each student receive the same supplies creates an equal playing field for everyone,” said Madison parent Miriam Hathaway. “It is not just a way to reduce the costs of school supplies for families, but it’s also a powerful gesture from the larger community. It’s like a big ‘welcome back to school’ from businesses and organizations. It shows that people care about my kids’ education and success.”


Hathaway has been a Madison parent for five years and currently has a fourth grader and a kindergartner. She, like many parents at Madison, uses the money she would have spent on school supplies to contribute to the school in other ways. “The program makes it easier for our family to contribute money to fundraisers and special events during the school year,” she said. “We also like purchasing supplies for staff as a way to pay it forward.”


Principal Domenico Spatola-Knoll began the Adopt-a-Grade program shortly after arriving at Madison nine years ago. The Madison team reached out to local businesses and non-profit organizations requesting donations of supplies or funding for supplies. It started with kindergarten and expanded each year. These days, the school has secured enough donors to supply the entire school with free back to school supplies. Parents who can afford to are encouraged to donate the money they saved on school supplies to a charitable organization of their choice or to the school.


“Parents have been in tears knowing that they don’t have to buy school supplies,” Spatola-Knoll said. “It’s a struggle at the beginning of the year, especially having multiple kids. It can add up.”


Madison students are also provided with the materials needed for special classroom projects throughout the year. For the Science Expo, students are provided all the materials they need for their chosen project, as well as volunteer staff (pre-COVID) to help them, if needed.


“I don’t want a child choosing a Science Expo project based on their parent’s ability to purchase the materials for that project or their parents’ ability to help,” Spatola-Knoll said. “I just want the Science Expo to be an equitable experience for our kids.”


Spatola-Knoll will never forget the day when, in his office, a mother enrolling her child at Madison burst into tears of joy upon hearing that school supplies were provided. The family was starting over with nothing in Olympia after escaping a domestic violence situation in another state. “She wanted her kids to look smart on the first day of school and to have all the supplies on the list just like every other kid,” Spatola-Knoll said.


Providing school supplies is one way that educators can make success at Madison as easy for families as possible, the principal said. “What you need to worry about here is making sure that your kid is here in the morning and there is someone to get them at the end of the day. From bell to bell, it’s all taken care of.”


Students from schools throughout the Olympia School District can request assistance obtaining school supplies. The Olympia School District Education Foundation makes possible the "Principal's Emergency Fund" at each of our schools. Please contact your school directly if you need assistance accessing school supplies for your child.



Walk to School Month


October is Walk to School Month

The Olympia School District has proclaimed October 2021 as Walk to School Month.


Superintendent Patrick Murphy read the proclamation during the September 23 school board meeting. It states in part that in October, children, families and community leaders from around the world will join together for Walk to School events “to increase awareness about the health and environmental benefits of walking and biking to school.”


The proclamation also states that families, school employees and community leaders “can make a lasting impression among our community’s youth by modeling fun, safe and healthy behavior by accompanying students on Walk to School events.”


International Walk to School Day is a global event celebrated every October with more than 40 countries walking and biking to school on the same day. This year Walk to School Day is on October 6, 2021.


When safe walking is available, students are encouraged to walk or ride bikes to school to improve their health, increase readiness to learn and learn about pedestrian safety.


We also want to remind motorists to slow down and observe the speed limit when driving in and around our schools. Thank you!



Upcoming Events


  • October: Disability History Month

  • October 6: 50 Minute Early Release

  • October 6: OSD Academic and Student Well-Being Recovery Plan Webinar at 6 p.m.

  • October 8: No School (Teacher In-Service)

  • October 13: 50 Minute Early Release

  • October 14: OSD Board Meeting in-person and online via Zoom at 6:30 p.m.

  • October 20: 50 Minute Early Release

  • October 26-29: Half Days for K-8 Fall Conferences (ES & MS)

  • October 27: 50 Minute Early Release (HS)

  • October 28: 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.