Superintendent Messages

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April 2024 (Spotlight on Success)

Emailed to all OSD employees, families and Friends of the OSD

 

Hello Olympia School District Families and Community,

By now, most of you have probably heard that all of our schools will be staying open next year. For more than a year, many people throughout our community have engaged in the incredibly challenging process of considering school closures/consolidation. Some served on committees; many others communicated with the school board and district leadership through emails, public comment, community cafes, phone calls and one-on-one meetings. While voicing their feelings about neighborhood schools, many simultaneously supported the collective good of the district by supporting the four-year Educational Programs and Operations Replacement Levy and petitioning the Legislature to better fund our district. I do believe that all members of our community, wherever they stood on the proposal, at their core, want the same thing; to provide the absolute best education and support for our students.


While financial challenges can be daunting, we know that they also present opportunities for creativity, innovation and community collaboration. Not surprisingly, in a community like Olympia that greatly values public education, we are creating and refining ways to optimize resources while preserving the quality of education that our students deserve. Your feedback, ideas and engagement have always been invaluable in creating a stronger, more responsive Olympia School District. While budget reductions and a redistribution of duties will allow us to move forward in the near future, we still need everyone’s collective energy to seek out new revenue streams as enrollment continues to be monitored.


Looking ahead, I am optimistic about the future of our school district. Together, we have and will continue to overcome challenges, embrace opportunities and build a brighter tomorrow for all our students.


Sincerely,

Patrick Murphy

 

March 2024 (Spotlight on Success)

Emailed to all OSD employees, families and Friends of the OSD

 

Hello Olympia School District families and community,

There is something about the arrival of spring in the Northwest that causes many of us to slow down, even for a brief moment, to appreciate the color and warmth around us. Olympia is filled this time of year with blooming daffodils, blossoming cherry trees and the welcome songs of migratory birds that have been absent during the cold, gray winter months.


Spring is also a busy time in our schools. In addition to learning taking place during the school day, our campuses are filled after school with students involved in extracurricular activities including the arts, athletics and academics. Staff are also busy beginning to prep for the next school year, including welcoming incoming kindergartners and their families at our annual Countdown to Kindergarten event on Saturday, April 13 (read more about this event in a separate article in this newsletter).


I hope you all take some time over Spring Break to pause and appreciate the beauty of the season. We will see everyone back in our schools on Monday, April 8!

 

Sincerely,

Patrick Murphy

 


 

February 2024 (Spotlight on Success)

Emailed to all OSD employees, families and Friends of the OSD

 

Hello Olympia School District families and community,

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.

 

Sincerely,

Patrick Murphy

 


 

January 2024 (Spotlight on Success)

Emailed to all OSD employees, families and Friends of the OSD

 

Hello Olympia School District families and community,

  

As January comes to an end, we again find ourselves in the middle of another legislative session. As the Legislature marches on with its work, we likewise monitor and advocate for bills that can help us here in the Olympia School District. Like many school districts, we are simultaneously grappling with enrollment decline and its accompanying fiscal challenges. Throw on top of that the upcoming Replacement Levy proposal on the February 13, 2024, Special Election ballot and there are plenty of important issues in which we can focus our energy, and rightfully so.

 

And yet, at the same time, when we do that, it is as important, if not more so, to give attention to the remarkable, inspiring work going on in our schools each and every day. Our dedicated teachers and staff work alongside our amazing, talented students and they continue to achieve at high levels. The residual effects of the pandemic persist, but our resolve has not waned. Through tireless effort and continued compassion our staff help our students grow, make new discoveries, create beautiful music and art, and strongly perform on the playing fields and in our gyms. One celebratory note that was shared during a recent board meeting was the graduation results of the classes of 2022 and 2023.

 

The on-time graduation rate for the Class of 2023 is among the highest in the history of our district at 92%, and the highest in our region. The state rate is 83.6%. Capital, Olympia and Avanti all saw increases from the previous year. When we look at extended graduation rates for the Class of 2022 that is graduating within 5 years, again we saw nearly a record high of 94.1% – well above the state rate of 86%. Additionally, Avanti High School once again had a 100% extended graduation rate.

 

If we dig deeper into the data, there is a lot more to celebrate. When we break down the Class of 2023 graduation rate data, all races/ethnicities saw increases. One of our largest gains was for those identifying as Black/African American with rates rising 14.4 percentage points from 81.3% to 95.7%. We saw double digit increases in graduation rates for students experiencing homelessness and students receiving special education services with rises from 67.6% to 79% and from 63.4% to 73.5% respectively. Both of those are well above the state averages.

 

I’ve always considered the graduation rate metric to be a preschool through 12th grade measurement. Students don’t miraculously figure out how to navigate high school and earn credits when they become teenagers. Certainly there are increased efforts and supports in high schools to get our youth who are struggling over the top, but the bulk of our success in Olympia comes from the systemic efforts of our preschool, elementary school, middle school and high school staffs. All of our employees work collaboratively with families year after year to fill in gaps and find the spark to learning that can be as unique as the distinctive students we serve.

 

So while we continue in our due diligence in challenging times of seeking out resources to support our schools, I hope you can also take time to celebrate the exceptional achievements of our students and staff.

 

Sincerely,

Patrick Murphy

 


 

December 2023 (Spotlight on Success)

Emailed to all OSD employees, families and Friends of the OSD

 

Hello Olympia School District families and community,

 

Over the years, I may have mentioned that I was a “navy brat.” My dad was in the U.S. Navy and we moved around quite a bit throughout my school age years. Our final landing spot was in the Pacific Northwest when my dad took a position at Naval Submarine Base Bangor on the Kitsap Peninsula in the early 1980s. It was near the height of the Cold War as the United States vied with the then Soviet Union for global influence. Then a fascinating thing happened at the end of the decade. The Berlin Wall came down and shortly thereafter the Soviet Union collapsed. It was a time of celebration for many, but it was also a time of uncertainty and wondering about what the world might look like next. The military had to change to adjust to the new geo-political realities and one of the things to be reconsidered was how many military bases were truly necessary.

 

In 1991, the U.S. Department of Defense recommended closing 31 “major domestic” military bases, including some right here in Washington state. In an April edition of the Seattle Times that year, then Defense Secretary Richard Cheney is quoted, “As a result of changed world circumstances, we are now pursuing a new strategy with respect to U.S. forces.". Cheney later told reporters at a Pentagon news conference that the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the demise of the Soviet empire and fiscal constraints at home were the reasons for the scaled-down military and requirement for fewer bases. I remember being scared that my dad’s job might be in jeopardy, or they might have to move again. Fortunately for our family, his base was secure and everything worked out okay.

 

Here in the Olympia School District, we are experiencing a similar time of uncertainty and worry. While our changing dynamics certainly differ from those of the U.S. Department of Defense at the end of the 20th century, our concerns are just as valid, and the anxiousness many are feeling is equally warranted. Lower birth rates, enrollment decline, a changing landscape in education coupled with our own fiscal constraints have been the drivers to our own re-evaluation of our facilities.

 

The high-water mark for enrollment in the Olympia School District was during the 2019-20 school year, just prior to the pandemic. Since that year, our district is down 723 full-time equivalent students or approximately 6%. The bulk of that decline is at elementary school that accounts for 571 of those fewer students. In fact, elementary enrollment has declined by almost 11% since 2019-20.

 

This past week, our school board made the incredibly difficult decision to consider Madison and McKenny elementary schools for possible closure/consolidation. There is an article in this newsletter that goes into more specifics of that process, but no final decision has been made. There will be hearings and feedback opportunities over the next couple of months and a final determination should come in March 2024.

 

This entire process has been wearying and draining for many. Our schools are integral parts of our neighborhoods and communities. Understandably, we’ve heard from so many, heartfeltly imploring district leaders to look for other ways to make up any future fiscal shortfalls. As stated previously, surely we will look for further reductions above the significant cuts made last year, but we still have a declining enrollment problem that must be addressed. We need to do this while ensuring that basic services, programs and supports remain intact for students and families in all schools.

 

In addition to considering our facilities and further reductions, this is also the time of year when we gear up for the upcoming legislative session to fight for state funding for our district. As one of our board members said at our last meeting, historically we’ve used our local levy as a major funding source to fund a larger share of smaller schools than other districts our size. While declining enrollment is the major driver to our closure/consolidation analysis, the fact that we must use significant portions of our local levy to fund things like special education, exacerbates the problem. Our community has always risen up to make our voice heard in the Capitol, and I fully expect we will do so again this session.

 

It seems like the world is in a constant state of change compared to when I was in school. Maybe it is just the information age that we are living in and having all the news at our fingertips 24 hours a day. We’ve probably all heard it said that “the only constant is change.” Change can be good. But we also know that change can be scary and unsettling. During times of change, it helps so much to have family and friends and loved ones to support you. I’ve learned throughout my time in Olympia that this community steps up during trying times and supports one another. We will work with our communities to support them. As I stated previously, while I don’t know the final outcome of this process, I do know wherever our kids go to school they will be surrounded by caring classmates, supportive families, and competent and compassionate staff.

 

I wish you all a joyous, restful holiday season. 

 

Sincerely,

Patrick Murphy

 


 

November 2023 (Spotlight on Success)

Emailed to all OSD employees, families and Friends of the OSD

 

Hello Olympia School District families and community,

 

Almost seven years ago, my family and I moved to Olympia. Having a school-aged daughter at the time, who has since graduated, we foremost sought a strong school system for her along with a vibrant, dynamic community in which we could work, learn and live. Not only were our expectations met, they were surpassed in so many ways.

 

Olympia schools strong reputation has been forged over decades and is well deserved. Our students are remarkable and our staff are extremely skilled and dedicated. Over the last few years, our graduates' destinations are as exceptional as the students themselves. Some have gone on to serve their country either through enlistment or admitted into prestigious military academies. Some have entered the world of work and immediately placed in high demand fieldsOpening in a new window thanks to their experience in our schools. Many have gone on to higher education in universities across the country and the world, including Ivy League schools. Annually, the Olympia School District produces more national merit scholarsOpening in a new window than any other school system in our region. The Class of 2022 continued a long tradition of outstanding achievement with an overall on-time graduation rate of 92% — among the highest in the state. Olympia and Capital high schools saw increases, and Avanti High School once again achieved a 100% extended graduation rate for students who stay for an extra year. And these remarkable achievements are happening at a time when we continue to work diligently to manage the harmful, residual impacts of the pandemic.

 

Even with our strong overall performance and the remarkable support for public education from our community, the Olympia School District faces a difficult dilemma that many are facing across our region and the country; enrollment declineOpening in a new window. What many thought was a temporary anomaly due to the pandemic was actually, in retrospect, a trend that was making itself known prior to COVID in the form of declining birth rates. While other factors have contributed to lower enrollment since the pandemic like greater numbers homeschooling; over the last decade we’ve seen an average decline of about 50 births per year from the first five years to the last five years in OSD. That directly correlates to lower kindergarten classes that gradually make their way up through our system producing smaller enrollment each year.

 

Year

Birth in OSD (5 years earlier) 

Actual size of Kindergarten class

2017-18

646

700

2018-19

657

706

2019-20

642

753

2020-21

622

571

2021-22

630

612

2022-23

615

576

2023-24

612

567

2024-25

585

TBD

2025-26

557

TBD

2026-27

576

TBD

 

As smaller cohorts work their way through our system it results in smaller enrollment in our schools overall. Costs per pupil decrease as school sizes increase. Conversely, costs per pupil increase as school sizes decrease. Given the state’s funding models, when elementary schools are smaller than 300 students they are difficult to operate financially, and when middle schools are smaller than 600, they too, are more expensive to run. Schools need administration, food service staff, office support, custodians, etc., regardless of school size. We often lose efficiency in instructional staffing as well with smaller schools due to less flexibility. If we only had a couple of small schools in Olympia, the cost to run them could be offset by running larger schools. We don’t have one or two smaller schools in Olympia, we have several.

 

School Level

Enrollment Full Time Equivalent (FTE) as of October 1, 2023

Elementary School

 

Boston Harbor ES

171

Madison ES

189

Montessori (ORLA)

195

McKenny ES

274

Lincoln ES

282

Garfield ES

304

LP Brown ES

310

Middle School

 

Reeves MS

396

Jefferson MS

430

Thurgood Marshall MS

491

High School

 

Avanti HS

188

 

*Montesorri is a program within ORLA and the school has an overall enrollment of 473

 

Understandably, as we have waded deeper into this challenge and are now strongly considering the possible closure and consolidation of some schools to match our enrollment and fiscal realities, we’ve heard loud and passionate feedback from our community. The comments are varied but the core theme is universal, “Don’t close schools (especially my school).” Some have said that we shouldn’t look at this challenge like a business because we are talking about children and their well-being. I agree with that initial sentiment, that schools are not businesses. We are not here to make a profit, but rather to serve our families by teaching and helping our children to become happy, healthy and productive citizens. And yet, at the same time, we are under the same fiscal restraints as any business in that our revenue has to be equal to or greater than our expenditures. Funding pays for the staff we employ and the resources we provide to serve our children. Enrollment drives funding.

 

The board started this conversation in earnest during the 2022-23 school year and closure/consolidation was much discussed during last year's difficult budgeting process. The decision was made and shared out last spring to table any possible school closures or consolidations until 2024-25 at the earliest. We are in a better fiscal position this year due to the tough decisions made last year. That was a grueling process that was traumatic for many. Some have understandably said we should look to make cuts elsewhere before ever closing a school. I agree that we should revisit proposed reductions from last year that were inevitably not cut and look first at the central office and areas farthest from the classroom, and yet our enrollment dilemma and small school sizes will still challenge us fiscally.

 

You may already know, but much of this information and more is on our School Facility Efficiency Review webpage. A committee was convened this fall, and now the board is in the midst of considering that group’s work along with other data and community feedback with a goal to narrow a list of possibly impacted schools at the December 14, 2023 regular board meeting.

 

This is extraordinarily difficult work. In a strange twist of irony, the outpouring of concern and even anger about the potential closing of schools has made one thing abundantly clear. Our families overwhelmingly love their schools. Being in a position where I am often more inclined to hear about a problem or complaint, there is some solace and even consolation in hearing the overwhelming affirmation that all of the work our staff have been doing to serve our children well is making a huge difference. I’ve always known that, but many of you have made that even more obvious to me. And because of that, while I don’t know where we will stand at the end of this process, I do know that no matter where in the Olympia School District a child attends school, they will be served by amazing educators and staff who deeply care for all the children in their building and school community.

 

Sincerely,

Patrick Murphy

 


 

October 2023 (Spotlight on Success)

Emailed to all OSD employees, families and Friends of the OSD

 

Hello Olympia School District families,

 

Fall is a time of year when our eyes are drawn in appreciation and wonder to the brilliant colors of the trees as they gear up for winter. It's also the time of year when our students, families and staff begin to find their groove and get more comfortable with the routine of school. I hope that is the case for all of you.

 

Each year at this time, I like to update everyone about some of our current district initiatives:

 

School Facility Efficiency Review

Some of you may recall last spring when we were trying to address our budget challenges, there was discussion about declining enrollment and the number of schools in our district. Given the national decline in birth rates, this phenomenon is being experienced in many school districts across the region and nation. This is especially true in areas with higher housing prices which makes it difficult for new families to purchase a home. Enrollment essentially drives all revenue for school districts. Relatively speaking, Olympia has a large number of schools compared to other districts.

 

We have 19 schools for approximately 9,400 students. North Thurston Public Schools, for example, has nearly 6,000 more students and has 21 total schools. Smaller schools do not generate the same amount of staffing as larger schools and thus are more expensive to run when we try to similarly staff them, regardless of enrollment. You are probably aware that our board commissioned a Citizens Advisory Committee to look into this and charged it with making a recommendation to the board next month on possible solutions. You can keep track of that committee’s work on this webpage. After receiving the committee’s recommendation, the school board intends to have feedback opportunities for the entire community in the month of November before deciding on the proper course of action. Stay tuned for more information on that.

 

School Safety

Recently our school board commissioned a Citizens Advisory Committee to conduct a holistic review of safety in our schools that includes the possibility of a renewed partnership with the City of Olympia. That holistic approach to school safety is outlined in recently board-approved Policy 4311Opening in a new window.

 

The committee charterOpening in a new window charges that group with advising the superintendent on creating accompanying procedures to Policy 4311 that would be a guide for any future memorandum of understanding between the City of Olympia and our district related to school safety. The work of that committee will be kept up to date on its own dedicated webpage. One of the first pieces of data that will be reviewed by the committee are the results of our recent School Safety Survey. We had more than 3,000 responses to that survey with about two-thirds of respondents being students. Those results are posted on our website.

 

As temperatures continue to drop and you bundle up for walks in your yards, or through your neighborhoods, I do hope the excitement of the new school year transitions to a nice steady academic rhythm for all our students, staff and families.

 

Sincerely,

Patrick Murphy

 


 

September 2023 (Spotlight on Success)

Emailed to all OSD employees, families and Friends of the OSD

 

Hello Olympia School District families,

 

As we end the first month of the 2023-24 school year, and the wind gets a little more brisk, I want to take a moment to thank all of our staff, students and families.

 

I want to thank all of our bus drivers, mechanics and dispatchers in our Transportation department for making sure our buses are in good working order and our children arrive at school safely each day. I want to give a special thanks to Bus Driver Wendy on Route 25 and all the wonderful student riders from Centennial and McKenney elementary schools, Washington Middle and Olympia High for such a fun ride to school on the first day back. Even more fun was seeing the family celebrations on the street corners of various blocks as moms, dads, grandparents, guardians and friends blew kisses and wished their children well as they rode off to begin a new year.

 

As mentioned in a previous message, we are narrowing our major focuses this year in our schools to the two key areas of inclusive practices and culturally responsive education. We want every student to have a rigorous, appropriately challenging educational experience where they feel welcome and honored in our schools.

 

We have a couple of other key initiatives happening related to those goals. Our school board continues its work in crafting an equity policy based on all of the data gathered last school year and beyond. That work is led by students, staff, community members and our school board. Information about that process can be found here.

 

We also have a School Facility Efficiency Review Committee exploring ways to ensure our students have access to the resources and staff they deserve in an environment with declining enrollment. I encourage you to read the article in this issue of Spotlight on Success to get more information on the status of that work. I want to extend my deepest appreciation to the dozens of staff, community members and students serving on that important advisory body.

 

I want to say thank you to our partners at Intercity Transit and our friends at the City of Olympia including the police department for another year of supporting and sponsoring Walk to School Month in October. Intercity Transit’s Walk N Roll program is an especially fun initiative where students parade to school on bikes and walking, sometimes with a police escort, to encourage healthy habits and physical fitness.

 

Thank you to all of our families for sending your students to us. All of the children of the Olympia School District are beautiful, amazing, talented and kind; each in their own unique way. We want to continue to work to make our schools places of belonging. If you have not already done so, please take the Panorama Family SurveyOpening in a new window that helps us gauge how we are doing in making sure our schools and places where students feel safe, welcome and valued. If you have any survey related questions, please reach out to your school office.

 

I was at one of our elementary schools today and a kindergarten teacher was reading a book titled Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn. Indeed, the end of the warm days can be a little bit of a downer. But when I see all of the smiling faces of our students in our schools, back and eager to learn, to play with their friends, to write creative stories, to solve complex problems, to play instruments, to run around on our fields and in our gyms; when I witness that, then these cooler days don’t seem so bad. Rather, the fall season is the indication of a new year of powerful learning.

 

I wish a wonderful 2023-24 school year for everyone!

 

Sincerely,

Patrick Murphy

 


 

August 31, 2023 (Spotlight on Success)

Emailed to all OSD employees, families and Friends of the OSD

 

Hello Olympia School District Families,

 

It has been 1,266 days since our schools first closed due to COVID-19. While we have made significant strides in our recovery, we are still feeling the impacts, and will for many more years to come. That being said, something feels different this year as we ramp up for the start of school. Yes, we continue to follow the guidance of our county health officials, but a greater emphasis this year is being placed on those more long-established duties of our school district; ensuring academic growth and achievement for all of our students.

 

The research is clear that those who attain higher levels of education have greater life outcomes related to health, life expectancy, earnings and more. The bottom line is the more education one has, the happier one tends to be. That is powerful. I believe that education is the world’s most important work, and we’ve done it well in Olympia for a long time. By most traditional measurements, the Olympia School District is the highest performing in our region and among the highest performing in the state. That is a reflection of not just our amazing students and supportive families, but a testament to the dedication and skillfulness of our staff.

 

While Olympia performs very well relative to others in the state, we, like other school districts, find ourselves challenged year after year with painful, historical disproportionalities. Demographic factors like race, disability and income level are way too predictive of academic outcomes. Disciplinary rates and exclusions, which directly correlate with academics, are likewise all too predictable based on the same factors.

 

It is in this light that we invited Dr. Adeyemi Stembridge to our District Leadership Team Institute earlier this month. Some of our staff have had the privilege of working with him directly at their schools to improve practice. His two bestselling books, Brilliant Teaching, and Culturally Responsive Education in the Classroom, speak to the difference between equality and equity. In an interview with Education Week, he said:

 

“Equality is an input-focused measure meaning opportunities are determined to be fair based on everyone having the same resources at the starting line. Equity, however, is output-focused meaning fairness is determined by patterns of performance at the finish line. We will know we’ve accomplished equity when students’ backgrounds are no longer reliably predictive of school achievement.”

 

That type of “predictability” must be disrupted. He went on to say that if educators can be more responsive to the assets and needs of their students, then that will result in more rigorous and engaging learning opportunities for all. Our students are capable of great things. Having high expectations sends a message of respect and caring. We show our compassion and kindness by creating inclusive, culturally responsive schools, classrooms and spaces. That is and always has been our most important work.

 

As you read through this district newsletter, which has a variety of articles featuring students, staff and programs, please take note of an article inviting OSD community members and school staff to apply to serve this fall on a “School Facility Efficiency Review Committee.” I encourage you to consider joining us for this important work, which is also outlined on our district website. The deadline to apply is Monday, September 11, 2023, and the committee will hold its first of eight meetings two weeks later.

We are so excited to launch this new school year.  I wish you all the very best.

 

Sincerely,

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy headshot