Superintendent Messages

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Olympia School District Superintendent Patrick Murphy routinely sends messages to Olympia School District families and the community. His messages are sent monthly as part of the school district's Spotlight on Success e-newsletter, as well as via occasional direct emails.


December 14, 2017 (Spotlight on Success)

Hello Olympia School District Families,

It is hard to believe that 2017 is almost over. As we head into the holiday season and look to welcome  in a new year, I wanted to express my gratitude and thankfulness to all of our students, staff, families, 
for all of their dedication and hard work since school started back in early September.

As I have transitioned into the role as your new superintendent, I feel fortunate to have had support and feedback from so many of you to help me better understand the district and the community. Some of you may recall, I crafted an entry plan upon being hired last spring. I recently reported out to the board on the culmination of the entry plan and that report can be found here.

While I believe that I’ve learned much in a short period of time, I know that I have much more to absorb to better understand the needs of our schools. At the same time, I did hear some recurring themes in my conversations with students, parents, and community that I think will be helpful as we begin the work in the second half of the school year of crafting a new Strategic Direction and Plan for the district. I heard loudly and clearly that strong student achievement is an expectation and that it is the paramount obligation of our schools to do all we can to prepare our students for college and careers so they can lead healthy, satisfying and productive lives. I also heard that this work must be done while simultaneously meeting the social and emotional needs of our children. Producing compassionate children who are physically and mentally healthy is of paramount importance.

Parent/Family/Community partnership is built into the fabric of the Olympia School District. Partnering with parents, who are our student’s first and most important teacher was another core belief that came through in my conversations with folks. I heard that there is a strong desire to work together across the district to meet common goals while honoring the individuality of each school community.

Finally – in many visits, I heard people express their desire to more effectively address the consistent and nagging disproportionate student outcomes that are present throughout our nation, our state, and in our school district. Students of color, students impacted by poverty, or those enrolled in special programs, too often lag behind their peers in both achievement and opportunity. How we can collectively plan and address those gaps was a consistent theme. These themes align closely with the goal set by the board of directors this past summer to create a new Strategic Plan focused on equity, student achievement, mental health support and early learning.

I will be working with the school board to take what I have learned and commence on Strategic Planning beginning in January of 2018. More information will be coming out to the community about opportunities to participate so please stay tuned.
 
Until then, I wish you all a wonderful winter break and holiday season. We will see you all next year, on January 2!

Sincerely,
 

Patrick Murphy


November 21, 2017 (Spotlight on Success)

 

Hello Olympia School District Families,

As we head into the holiday season, I want to again express my deep appreciation and thankfulness to the students, parents and staff of the Olympia School District. Our public schools are crucial to the future of our community, our state and our country. I feel so fortunate to have landed in a place with wonderful students, supportive families and dedicated staff. 

For example, we want to applaud the efforts of Marshall Middle School students, staff and families, as that school was recently named a winner of the 2017 School of Distinction Award — an honor only about 20 middle schools statewide can claim. The award recognizes improvement over five years in English language arts (ELA) and math. The neat thing about this award is it recognizes achievement in student growth and is not just a measure of how many students met an arbitrary benchmark. Meeting students where they are and helping them meet their potential is what education is all about. 

Our final graduation counts for the Class of 2017, as well as the Class of 2016, are further testament to the district’s commitment to education. These numbers include the on-time rate (those in the Class of 2017 who graduated in four years) and the extended graduation rate (those in the Class of 2016 who graduated in five years). When looking at measurements, like graduation rates, we disaggregate the data to determine who is being successful, who is not, and what practices might need adjustment to ensure greater success for all. 

There was a fractional decrease (six-tenths of one percent) in our on-time rate compared to the previous year from 90.0% (an all-time high) to 89.4%. In terms of ethnicity, we saw a slight dip in the on-time graduation rate for our Asian, Hispanic, and two or more races populations. At the same time, we saw a slight increase for our African American students from 79% to 80%. Our low-income students moved up 3 percentage points from 77% to 80%, and students in special education in the Class of 2017 saw a 6 percentage point increase. 

Perhaps more telling, and in many ways more promising information, is the data for our extended (5-year) graduation rate. We moved from 91.6% to 94.9% of all students graduating within five years. That is among the highest in the state! When we hit percentages like 95%, that is when goals like 100% are truly reachable. We have learned through the years that one size does not fit all anymore, and it never did. We want all students to finish in four years, if that is achievable. However, finishing in four years might not be reasonable or even advisable for some. For an English language learner who arrives in our country during the high school years, graduating in five years may be completely appropriate. Health or family circumstances may also warrant an extended time in high school for some students. Additionally, students who receive special services sometimes have plans of service through age 21.

Avanti High School’s graduation data is also noteworthy. The school is unique compared to our two large, comprehensive neighborhood high schools. Some students arrive at the school credit deficient due to life circumstances. The school’s on-time graduation rate is 64%. However, the school’s extended graduation rate is 92%. While initially credit deficient, with the support of staff and families, those students become connected. While they take a little longer, they get across the stage at a similar rate as our traditional comprehensive high schools. 

Without knowing each student’s individual circumstances, there are many other positive data points in our districtwide extended graduation rate data. The on-time rate for African American students, as mentioned earlier in this message, is 80%, but the extended graduation rate is 100%. Similarly, our students who identify as Hispanic had an extended rate of 93%, special education 76%, and low income 86%. These all represent significant increases when compared to their on-time graduation rates.

During some recent district staff trainings, we presented the idea that equity in schools is about eliminating the predictability of educational outcomes based on demographic factors while raising achievement levels for all students. As we continue to re-think the best ways to meet students’ needs in our schools, we will continue to be data-driven in our work.

I hope all of our families have a restful and joyous Thanksgiving break and holiday season. 

Sincerely,

 

Patrick Murphy


October 18, 2017 (Spotlight on Success)

 

Hello Olympia Families and Community,

 

While it has only been a few months since my arrival, each and every day I become more and more impressed by the Olympia School District and am grateful to serve the students, families and staff of this community. I have visited each of our district’s schools this first month and have seen caring teachers engaging students in meaningful and relevant lessons to prepare them for the next stage of their learning and for life. Each school has its own unique identity; its own flavor if you will. But the common factor is a compassionate community that cares deeply for kids and strives to get better each day.

 

Similarly impressive to me is the amount of community support from parent groups, philanthropic organizations and other educational partners in the area. Whether it’s the local universities and colleges, school districts, Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCA, Big Brothers and Sisters, Tribes, Chambers of Commerce, Morningside, and countless others; it is truly a team effort in Olympia and in Thurston County for all of our children. I am humbled and grateful to be a new member of the team. 

 

With the beginning of the school year, we have also had an opportunity to better understand the impact of the last state legislative session and its new funding formula for school districts. You may be hearing contradictory reports about whether the outcome is good or bad for school districts. That is not surprising that you would get inconsistent testimonials, because it seems quite apparent that some school districts benefitted, and some did not. Unfortunately, Olympia appears to be in the latter category. At this time, our district is looking at a significant shortfall in revenue heading into the next school year unless there is some fix from the Legislature.  We are not alone in this regard, as you may have heard that districts like Seattle and Tacoma are in the same boat.

 

While the complexities of the new funding formula are difficult to sift through, Olympia seems to be particularly and negatively impacted for a few reasons. First, in the past, our voters generously approved a higher local maintenance and operations (M&O) levy (28%) to augment district services, programs and salaries that were not being funded by the state. The new legislative funding formula assumes voters statewide had approved M&O levies at the 24% level making it appear, erroneously, as if the new finance system drives more money to the Olympia School District. Second, the state inserted something called “regionalization” funds into the new budget to account for a higher cost of living in some school districts that may have necessitated more local dollars to pay for its employees out of the M&O levy. Perplexingly, Olympia did not receive any of this funding, while a neighboring school district and many others statewide did. Third, the state-mandated increased compensation for teachers, which was overdue, simultaneously ended a funding formula practice that provided increased funding for districts with more senior and experienced staff who fall at the higher end of the salary schedule. In Olympia, we hire strong dedicated teachers who have a tendency to stay here. As such, we have one of the most experienced and committed staffs in the region and the state. This new budget penalizes districts like ours. Finally, the state has mandated a reduction in class size at primary grades (K-3) but has not fully funded the cost of hiring teachers at those grades for the reasons described above. The new so-called “ample” funding system is not ample; the Olympia School District would have been better able to meet student needs and hire excellent staff under the old funding system.

 

While this does not paint a pretty budgetary picture, we have been and will continue to do all we can to inform and educate our state leaders on the unexpected impact of their most recent effort to fully fund public education in Washington state. As those discussions continue, our staff are dedicated to making sure every day is successful for our nearly 10,000 students that we feel so fortunate to serve.


Patrick

Patrick C. Murphy, Ed. D.

Superintendent

Olympia School District


September 15, 2017 (Email to families)

 

Dear Olympia School District families,

One week ago we opened our doors to nearly 10,000 students. This week, we welcomed kindergartners to their opening day of school. As our newest students stepped off the school bus for the first time, found their class lines in the morning, hugged their parents goodbye, and made friends with classmates, I saw such hope and promise in the Class of 2030! I had this same feeling of optimism last week as I rode one of our buses to school. Students boarded the school bus and arrived at school with smiles on their faces, genuinely excited to be back. Since then, during visits to each of our 19 schools, I have witnessed students eager to learn, parent volunteers quick to jump in and lend a hand, and dedicated and caring teachers and support staff focused on helping our students to succeed.

Olympia is a special place to work, and a wonderful place to live and learn. Students, families and our employees have so much to be proud of. As our district becomes more diverse each year, we continue to perform at levels among the highest rates in the state in so many areas. At the same time, we all are aware that some of our students do not achieve at the levels we would hope for. It is that relentless pursuit of meeting the needs of all children that drives us as educators each and every day. In the end, we know there is nothing more satisfying and gratifying then helping students, especially those with more to overcome, to reach their potential.

Students who have significant barriers to overcome in our system include those from undocumented immigrant families. If there is no legislation to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program/executive order, then thousands of students across the nation in our K-12 schools will be impacted. DACA was necessitated because the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, failed to pass the U.S. Congress in the past. It was brought up before the U.S. Congress again this summer. I want you to know, with the support and direction from our Olympia School District Board of Directors: Mark Campeau, Justin Montermini, Eileen Thomson, Joellen Wilhelm and Frank Wilson; we will be signing a petition, along with other area district leaders, urging our congressional leaders to immediately pursue and approve decisive, bipartisan legislation that will ensure all the children we serve continue to have the same constitutional rights, no matter their immigration status.

Thank you for your ongoing support of our students and schools. I look forward to seeing you at our many school events and activities throughout the year.

Patrick

Patrick C. Murphy, Ed. D.
Superintendent
Olympia School District


August 31, 2017 (Spotlight on Success)

 

Hello Olympia School District families, staff and community,

We are excited to begin another school year in the Olympia School District. The start of school is a time of renewal and optimism. It is an opportunity to set and pursue new goals, dreams and aspirations. As I have mentioned before, I am honored and humbled to be your new superintendent. Each day in the position, I come away more impressed with the enthusiasm and the commitment from the students and families I have met. Our supportive community has allowed us to progress and move forward on many school bond improvement projects, including five new classroom mini-buildings in our elementary schools and a turf field that will be lit and open year-round at Capital High School.

I've been equally impressed by the obvious compassion and dedication of our Olympia School District staff. They are looking forward to welcoming our students back on the first day of school. We know that our students are set up to do their best when they are in school every day. September is Attendance Awareness Month across the country, and unless students are sick, we really hope to see them every day in the classroom where quality teaching and learning happens. Student success is also largely dependent on our nearly 5,000 volunteers. We welcome you to become involved as a volunteer in our classrooms and in our schools. It makes a big difference.

As the new superintendent, I also want you to be aware that the 2017-18 school year marks the final year of an expiring 5-year Olympia School District Strategic Plan. The results of that plan have been stellar over the past four years. The Olympia School District has never been more diverse ethnically and socio-economically, and in 2016 it boasted an on-time graduation rate of 90% — an achievement that can only be claimed by a small group of districts in the state of Washington. And as you probably already know, the Olympia School District accounted for 40% of all schools in the region recognized with the State's Academic Achievement Award for student growth. Seven of our schools in all were recognized, with the next closest district receiving two awards.

This type of excellence is an expectation in Olympia that must continue with our next strategic plan. At the same time, we must look closely at our student data and outcomes and determine who is not being as successful as we would hope in our system. In our next strategic plan, we must determine what steps and practices must change to reach a 100% on-time graduation rate so that all students reach their academic potential. The school board has set goals for the year around this and given specific direction to me on how to move forward.

By the end of this year, with community engagement, we will create a new strategic plan for the purpose of managing the future work of the district. The work will include establishing agreement among Olympia School District stakeholders around shared core beliefs and student outcomes, setting priorities, focusing resources, strengthening operations, and ensuring that all staff are working toward common goals. The plan will include the continued development of a district vision for equity and the organizational development required to enact the vision; consideration of the social/emotional, and mental health of our students and how best to support them; a continued focus on early learning while incorporating the recommendations from the 2017 Early Learning Report; and relentless pursuit of closing the achievement/opportunity gaps. Stay tuned for upcoming information in future Spotlight on Success newsletters around how you can be a part of the development of the new strategic plan.

Enjoy family and friends during these last few days of summer break. Our teachers and support staff are hard at work preparing their classrooms and buildings for that all-important first day of school. Whether you have a kindergartner new to our system, a senior embarking on their final year, or a student in one of the grades in between, we hope you have a wonderful and memorable start to the new school year.

Sincerely,

Patrick Murphy