About 100 educators, school officials and community leaders gathered Wednesday at North Thurston Public Schools’ headquarters in Lacey to celebrate a major milestone: The school district’s 60th anniversary.
The event featured a welcome by the Timberline High School cheerleaders and a performance by the River Ridge High School choir.
North Thurston superintendent Raj Manhas was joined by past superintendents Robert Herness, Dr. John Gott, David Steele and Dr. Jim Koval.
“To say I’m proud about this district is an understatement,” Gott told the crowd. “I’m very proud of what it’s become and what it’s becoming.”
North Thurston Public Schools was formed in 1953 with South Bay and Lacey elementary schools. North Thurston High School opened in September 1955, serving grades 7-12. Prior to that, students in the area attended Olympia High School.
“We were the country school back in the ‘50s,” said former Lacey mayor Graeme Sackrison, a 1962 North Thurston graduate. “Lacey didn’t exist as a city. It was largely woods and farmland.”
Retired North Thurston teacher and principal Jim Slosson said some of the district’s biggest growth took place during Gott’s administration from 1971 to 1991.
“It just mushroomed,” Slosson said. “For about 10 years, they build a school every year. At one point, it was the fastest growing district in the state.”
But Gott said the times weren’t easy. There were labor disputes, turmoil on the School Board and the district was so financially strapped in 1971 that it only had three maintenance people – and they furnished their own tools, he said.
“We couldn’t do it, not the district,” Gott added. “We were too poor.”
These days, the district has many reasons to celebrate, such as an 85 percent on-time graduation rate and gains on standardized test scores, Manhas said. He said those are possible thanks to the hard work of past administrators, educators, students and community members.
“We are building the foundation a lot of you have built, and worked on,” he said. “Each of you played a critical role.”
Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433