Yelm, North Thurston and Olympia schools prepare for more kids

Staff prepares for the Sept. 7 opening of the North Thurston Public Schools' new Salish Middle School.
Staff prepares for the Sept. 7 opening of the North Thurston Public Schools' new Salish Middle School.

Over the last 15 years, Thurston County’s largest public school system, North Thurston Public Schools, has added about 1,950 students to its rosters.

That’s roughly the same number of kids who attend North Thurston High School and Woodland Elementary School in Lacey.

“We just have an incredible amount of (new home) building that’s taking place in our district,” said Monty Sabin, North Thurston’s assistant superintendent of operations.

“Homes just keep being constructed, and they’re being bought up fairly quickly.”

Six out of the county’s eight public school districts have added students during the past 15 years, and North Thurston, Yelm Community Schools and the Olympia School District have grown at a faster pace than the state’s overall public school population, which added about 79,516 students, or 7.91 percent more students, during the same time period, according to an analysis by The Olympian.

The fastest growing district is Yelm, which spills into a small portion of Pierce County, and has grown by about 1,340 students, or a whopping 30.7 percent, since 2000.

“We’re growing like crazy,” said Yelm superintendent Brian Wharton.

The largely rural district is a popular bedroom community for JBLM’s military families and people who commute to jobs in Olympia, Tacoma and Puyallup, Wharton said.

“There’s a lot of houses being built right now,” he said. “And we know we’re an attractive community, and we’ll take all of the kids.”

But the district has experienced growing pains, too.

In February, for the second year in a row, voters in the nearly 5,700-student district shot down a $59.5 million bond measure that would have raised money for capital projects including a rebuilt Southworth Elementary School, modernization upgrades at Prairie Elementary School, a replacement of Yelm Middle School, and construction of a new building that would have served as a ninth-grade campus next to the high school.

Yelm Superintendent Brian Wharton shows where a large, pre-fab classroom building specifically designated for freshmen will be located on the high school campus. Steve Bloom

The district has grown by more than 850 students since voters approved its last construction bond in 2003, officials say. That funding package paid for the construction of Ridgeline Middle School, remodelling at McKenna Elementary School and Yelm High School, and the purchase and opening of Lackamas Elementary School.

Now, district officials are working with a new plan to help address the nearly 900 “unhoused” students and hundreds of more school children who are expected to arrive when current housing developments in the district are completed.

“We predict that we’re going to be bigger this year than last year,” Wharton said. “And it won’t be long before we’re talking about planning for 6,000 students.”

During the summer, the district added two portable classrooms at Southworth Elementary School, which was built in 1970 for 378 students, and served 565 last school year.

The school already had 14 portable classrooms on its campus. Space is at a premium: Last year, a table and chairs transformed a storage area filled with boxes and bins into a learning space for reading groups, and lunches were served in seven different shifts.

This year, district officials are looking at other ways to create space at Southworth and other elementary schools, including deconstructing computer labs and turning them into general classrooms, Wharton said. They’re also looking at isolating portions of school libraries so they can be used for classrooms.

“We are running out of classrooms at the elementary level,” Wharton said.

The district also is waiting on construction permits to bring 12 more classrooms onto the Yelm High School campus. Four will be portables, and eight will be housed in a one-story multiplex.

The district currently serves grades K-6 at the elementary level, 7-9 at its middle school, and 10-12 at the high school. Beginning in fall 2017, it will bring ninth-graders to its high school campus, and sixth graders to its middle schools.

“Doing that will free up 17 classrooms at the elementaries across the district,” Wharton said.

The estimated $2.5 million to $3 million for the 12 additional classrooms at the high school will be paid for with capital money the district planned to spend if the bond had been approved, Wharton said. The idea is to create more capacity to accommodate the ninth-graders next year.

“It’s not as self-contained as we would have had it in the ninth-grade campus, but they’ll probably be in that core area for six periods of the day,” he said.

The commons area and cafeteria near completion as staff prepare for the Sept. 7 opening of the North Thurston Public Schools' new Salish Middle School. Steve Bloom

The Olympia School District is the third-fastest growing district in the county, adding about 825 students, or just more than 9 percent, in 15 years.

“We’ve really picked up, particularly in the past few years — enrollment has exceeded our expectations,” said superintendent Dick Cvitanich. “We’re happy about that.”

District officials predict Olympia’s enrollment will increase by 1,400 students over the next decade. In February, voters approved a 20-year, $160.7 million construction bond measure to help fund several remodeling projects and create additional classrooms at several sites.

As part of the capital improvements, two-story permanent mini-buildings with 10 classrooms each will be added at Pioneer, Hansen and Centennial elementary school campuses. They’re currently in the permitting process, and construction is likely to begin in January, Cvitanich said.

After that, mini-buildings are planned for McLane and Roosevelt elementaries as well, said district spokeswoman Susan Gifford. The bond also will fund the addition of a two-story building of 22 classrooms at Olympia High School and several other projects around the district.

Not only will the building at Olympia High feature new science labs, it also will help the district eliminate some of its dependence on portable buildings and ease crowding at the school, officials say.

“Those hallways are really packed when the bell rings,” Cvitanich said.

Meanwhile, crews in North Thurston are tackling several projects aimed at addressing growth, with money raised through a $175 million bond measure that voters approved in February 2014.

The 14,869-student district began reconfiguring its middle schools to grades 6-8 a couple of years ago, and the final piece of the plan goes into place this fall with the opening of Salish Middle School in Hawks Prairie. It’s the district’s fifth middle school.

Salish Middle School in Lacey is "99 percent" finished

The nearly $48 million Salish Middle School in Lacey opened its doors on June 6, 2016, for families, school staff and community members to get a sneak peek.

Lisa Pemberton

The two-story, 109,000-square-foot school cost about $48 million, and will serve as many as 750 students mostly from Meadows, Olympic View and Lacey elementary schools.

Salish is on 19 acres in the Meridian Campus development, and features a baseball field, an athletic track and a multipurpose field for football and soccer.

In some ways, Salish “kind of epitomizes” the district’s fast growth, said principal Karen Owen.

“When you drive in and you see the neighborhood and it looks different than it did last June,” she said. “It’s pretty phenomenal, the buildout in this part of town.”

But to populate Salish and even population at its other middle schools, North Thurston went through some controversial boundary changes last school year.

The new attendance zones also will help establish students for the district’s next new elementary school, which will open up sometime after Aspire Middle School moves into the former Bally’s Fitness Center next to North Thurston High School in fall 2018, Sabin said.

Owen said she enjoys working in a growing district. She said some of her colleagues in Eastern Washington work in districts that are shrinking.

“Then they close schools; staff lose positions,” she said. “We’re continually growing. To me, the growth has been nothing but great.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton

What’s new in Thurston County schools


Estimated student population: About 6,400

School starts: Sept. 7 (Sept. 12 for kindergarteners)

School ends: June 16

2016-17 general fund budget: About $75.4 million

Administrative changes: Brian Hardcastle, district curriculum supervisor; Tanya Baker, project manager for district construction and remodeling projects; Marty Reid, assistant principal at Tumwater High School; Jim Anderson, assistant principal at Black Hills High School; Cally Stroud, transportation supervisor.

What’s new: The new Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School opens, with a public ribbon-cutting event at 9 a.m. Oct. 4. Site work is underway at Littlerock Elementary School, with a new school building scheduled to be completed in a year.

New classrooms are being added at Tumwater and Bush middle schools to accommodate the district’s decision to reconfigure its middle schools to grades 6-8 beginning in 2017-18. The science wing and “Building B” are being remodeled at Tumwater High School, and security cameras are being added around the district.


Phone: 360-709-7000


Estimated student population: About 9,970

School starts: Sept. 7

School ends: June 20

2016-17 general fund budget: About $115.4 million

New administrators: Donna Atkinson, supervisor of student information systems; Wendy Couture, safety and risk reduction manager; Kristy Grinnell, assistant principal at Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA); Lauri Klancke, executive director of K-12 teaching and learning; Scott Niemann, executive director of human resources; Rhonda Morton, director of transportation; Beau Neilson, project manager; Ken Turcotte, director of student support; Curtis Cleveringa, principal at Capital High School; Mark Connolly, principal at Pioneer Elementary School; Celeste Waltermeyer, principal at Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA).

What’s new: Numerous construction projects are underway, including field improvements and a new play structure at Lincoln Elementary School; resurfacing of tennis courts at Capital and Olympia high schools; and a new heating and cooling system at McKenny Elementary School. Several 10-classroom “mini buildings that will be built on several campuses — including Pioneer, Hansen and Centennial elementary schools — are in the permitting process, and construction is slated to begin in January.

The district has a new English Language Arts curriculum for grades K-8. The programs are “Wonders” for grades K-5 and “SpringBoard” for grades 6-8.


Phone: 360-596-6100


Estimated student population: About 1,200

School starts: Sept. 6

School ends: June 16

2016-17 general fund budget: About $14 million

New administrators: Charly Harrington, principal at Tenino Elementary School; John Neal, principal for Tenino Middle School; Garry Cameron, principal for Tenino High School; Ellen Cavanaugh, assistant principal at Tenino High School.

What’s new: The district had completed several capital projects this summer, including playground upgrades at both elementary schools, remodeling of entryways at all four schools to provide additional security, and a remodel and new roof in the multipurpose room at Tenino Elementary School, which will be used as a new Boys and Girls Club site.


Phone: 360-264-3400


Estimated student population: About 5,700

School starts: Sept. 7

School ends: June 16

2016-17 general fund budget: About $64.2 million

New administrators: Brian Wharton, district superintendent; Heather Normoyle, director of human resources; Ryan Akiyama, principal for Yelm High School; Michael Slater, dean of students supporting Yelm Middle School, and Fort Stevens and Southworth elementary schools; Kyle O’Neil, dean of students supporting Lackamas, Mill Pond, Prairie and McKenna elementary schools.

What’s new: Two new portable classrooms at Southworth, and an upcoming addition of 12 classrooms at Yelm High School to prepare for grade reconfiguration in the 2017-18 school year. The district is implementing a new literacy program, Core Knowledge Language Arts, for grades K-6, and implementing a new math curriculum, Eureka Math, for grades 6-12.

The district recently received a three-year, $1.25 million Department of Defense grant to focus on elementary literacy, according to Wharton.


Phone: 360-458-1900


Estimated student population: About 14,870

School starts: Sept. 7

School ends: June 21

2016-17 general fund budget: About $168 million

New administrators: Deb Clemens, district superintendent; Heather McCarthy, principal at Mountain View Elementary School; Jason Greer, principal of Olympic View Elementary; Casey Crawford, principal at Woodland Elementary; Deborah Sarver, principal at Komachin Middle School; Serenity Malloy, principal at River Ridge High School; Karen Owen, principal at Salish Middle School.

What’s new: Boundary changes that were approved by the North Thurston School Board last year take effect this school year. There are several construction projects going on in the district, including a remodelling of North Thurston High School and work at Pleasant Glade Elementary School. The district’s newest school, Salish Middle School, opens with the school year.


Phone: 360-412-4400


Estimated student population: About 800

School starts: Sept. 6

School ends: June 16

2016-17 general fund budget: About $9.4 million

New administrators: Bryon Bahr, district superintendent; John Beckman, principal at Rainier Middle and High schools; Jerrad Jeske, dean of students and athletic director at Rainier Middle and High schools; Kim Sacket, elementary student support services and district instructional facilitator.

What’s new: The district has several ongoing construction projects, including work on a baseball/softball complex behind Rainier Elementary School and the remodeling of the “Historical School House” that is projected to be completed in October, according to Bahr.

The district has established a truancy board for each school, and will begin a “College in the High School” program, which is a partnership with Central Washington University.


Phone: 360-446-2207


Estimated student population: About 660

School starts: Sept. 7

School ends: June 16

2016-17 general fund budget: About $9.7 million

Administrative changes: No administrative changes.

What’s new: Security cameras were added and upgrades were made to the district’s security system, paid for with money from a recent capital projects special levy. Three full-day kindergarten classes are being offered this school year. The district won’t be charging any extra-curricular fees (including for sports) during the 2016-17 school year, according to district spokeswoman Kelli Anderson.


Phone: 360-866-2515


Estimated student population: About 2,200

School starts: Aug. 31 (kindergarteners have a staggered start)

School ends: June 13

2016-17 general fund budget: About $27.1 million

Administrative changes: Kelley Bremgartner, principal at Grand Mound Elementary School.

What’s new: The district is implementing “Core Knowledge Language Arts” for grades K-5. During the summer, crews did exterior and interior painting at Rochester Primary School.


Phone: 360-273-5536

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