East Olympia Elementary wins National School Change Award

lpemberton@theolympian.comMay 8, 2014 

On Friday, East Olympia Elementary School will be presented The National School Change Award.

“No other school from Washington has ever earned this,” said principal Patty Kilmer. “It’s put on by the National Principals Leadership Institute and national Department of Education.”

Only three schools in the country received the award for 2014. The other winners are Evergreen Elementary School in Whittier, Calif., and Union Communication Arts Magnet school in Texarkana, Arkansas, according to a news release from the Institute.

Each school will receive a $5,000 grant and the opportunity to participate in a national research project about school change. In addition, each school’s principal receives a trip to the National Principals Leadership Institute, July 11-17, in New York, to share their success stories. 

The award is a far cry from news about East Olympia issued about six years ago, when Kilmer received a letter stating that the rural school southeast of Tumwater was “in failure” according to federal regulations of the No Child Left Behind Act.

At that time, only 64.9 percent of the school’s third-graders had passed the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. A closer look at subcategories such as those who had limited English speaking skills painted an even worse picture for the school, in terms of the federal rules for yearly progress rates.

“As a staff, we said, ‘We can make excuses, and one can say we only missed it by a little bit,’” Kilmer recalled. “But it’s kind of like a hand grenade. It doesn’t feel good, and it’s still going to explode.”

The 500-student school received some extra support, including two teachers on special assignment who were hired by the Tumwater School District to help examine issues at several schools.

East Olympia overhauled its reading curriculum, added more reading intervention services in its schedule and began collecting and analyzing data on every student on a weekly basis, according to instructional facilitator Angie Gourley. That way, if students missed a concept, it could be covered again quickly.

Gourley said teachers and staff members at the school rallied around the idea that change was going to happen, even if it meant sacrificing their non-teaching hours, known as planning periods, or trying new approaches to reach students.

“We embraced it,” Gourley said “We wanted to do better.”

Added parent teacher organization president Alisa Grimm: “They just came together and said, ‘You know what? This is not working. Let’s try something different.’” 

The school’s test scores have made strong gains since 2008; last year, 83.4 percent of its third-graders met grade level on standardized tests. The school’s subgroups have made impressive gains, too, Kilmer said. 

“Other schools are looking at our model,” Grim said. 

The National School Change Award is East Olympia's 11th major award. Kilmer said their work isn’t done, and there’s always room for improvement.

“Sometimes you have to fail before you succeed,” Gourley said. “Had we not done that, we would not have received the help.”


What: Lew Smith, founder and director of the National Principals Leadership Institute will present The National School Change Award during an assembly which is open to the public.

When: 1 p.m. Friday. (May 9)

Where: East Olympia Elementary School, 8700 Rich Road SE, Olympia.

Information: Call the school at 360-709-7150.


Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com @Lisa_Pemberton

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