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Elementary #19 gets a new name!

The Naming Committee for Elementary #19 was comprised of parents, community members, district office administrators, and principals. The primary objective of the Naming Committee was to propose names that would stand the test of time while resonating with current and future generations. Input for Elementary #19’s name was gathered in a wide variety of ways from a number of stakeholders within the community, inclduing staff, parents, students, and community members. In November, the committee offered two finalists to the School Board for consideration. The Board selected Expedition Elementary as the name of the new school.

The name Expedition conveys a sense of exploration and adventure, suggesting that the elementary school is a place where students embark on a journey of discovery and learning that captivates their natural curiosity and creativity. An expedition often involves teamwork and collaboration, and using this term for an elementary school can emphasize the importance of working together. It suggests that students, staff, and parents are all part of a unified team, traversing the educational landscape together to achieve common goals and success.

Finally, the term expedition implies a comprehensive and well-rounded educational experience that has the ability to surpass traditional academics and suggests a focus on holistic development, including not only the intellectual growth but also social, emotional, and physical development. Expedition reflects the school’s commitment to providing a complete and enriching educational journey for its students.

Construction crews are already hard at work on the 66,000-square-foot building, which will be located in the Lipoma Firs Community. When it’s complete, the school will house about 500 students in 27 general classrooms and various shared spaces.

Read about our other bond projects by clicking here!

2023/24 Facility Advisory Committee convenes

Our new Facility Advisory Committee met for the first time in November to begin the process of examining the current state of our district facilities and planning for future improvements, expansions and new schools.

The team is made up of parents, community members, business owners, school and district staff, as well as School Board members. Students will also be part of future meetings to ensure they have a voice in the future of the district.

The group’s focus will be on the needs of students — their health, safety, security, and athletic opportunities, as well as the growth our district is experiencing. As more houses and high density apartments are built in our area, more families and future students will move into our district, and the need for new or expanded schools will continue to grow.

School Board Policy 6900 regarding Facility Planning states that the district should work to provide the, “best possible physical environment for learning and teaching.”

The input the Facility Advisory Committee will provide on future capital projects and facility improvements will be essential to our future planning.

The team will continue to meet monthly starting in January, and plans to bring their recommendations to the School Board in the summer.

Culinary students give back

The Pierce County Skills Center's Culinary Program is working with the Bonney Lake Food Bank to help feed local families in need. The food bank isn’t equipped to process turkeys and chickens, so it’s giving them to the Skills Center. The culinary students break down the birds and turn them into delicious meals or stock, which are then given back to the food bank to distribute to families in need. It's a wonderful partnership that allows the culinary students to learn about butchering and processing chickens and turkeys, while also helping to feed families in need.
Becoming better humans

School counselors are known for helping students through tough times, whether it’s loss, grief, or just a tough day at school. But counselors like Naches Trail Elementary’s Sarah Avila are showing that their work not only touches on the social and emotional growth of students, but can also assist with their academics.

“I knew I wanted to find an area that had an opportunity gap for some of our more historically marginalized student groups,” she said. When Sarah looked at our English Language Arts state test scores, she noticed that students of color were scoring lower than their white counterparts. “I wanted to do something about it. And so I identified those students and I placed them into a small group."

Over ten weeks she worked to build the students’ confidence using positive self-talk and having them practice test-taking strategies.

“I am not qualified to teach them math or teach them English,” she said. “I've got amazing coworkers who can do that. But I want our kids to have skills that they're going to use for the rest of their lives to become better humans.”

The results were huge. Of the fourteen students, eight of them moved out of that lower level, four of them are at grade level now, and one is above grade level. Along with the academic growth, the students now have great strategies they can take with them as they move on to middle school and beyond.

This is just one example of the many small groups Sarah runs. She also teaches classroom lessons and does individual sessions with students, many of which help shape their emotional growth.

“It's okay to say you're mad. It's okay to say you're sad. There are no bad feelings. It's how we handle those feelings. And as long as we're handling them in a safe way, in a respectful way with others, then we're doing the best we can.”

Sarah also runs the leadership group and a kindness club at Naches Trail. And with all that on her plate, she still finds time to greet students as they come into school each day.

“Morning greetings are my favorite part of the day. It's the first opportunity for students to feel seen and heard,” she said. “I like to be out there to let them know that I see them, I hear them, and I value them.”

Hawaiian education leaders tour Central Kitchen

Educational leaders from Hawaii have turned to our district’s pioneering Central Kitchen for inspiration to feed their own students.

A delegation of Hawaiians, led by the state’s Assistant Superintendent for Facilities, Randy Tanaka, flew in last week to work with our Child Nutrition team and learn more about how we run our Central Kitchen.

Hawaii legislators passed a law requiring at least 50 percent of all school meals to be locally produced by 2050. They appropriated $35 million to build facilities, and Tanaka and his team have been researching options for building their own Central Kitchen. They have traveled the country to learn from industry leaders and tour various kitchen facilities. They’ve seen a lot of successful operations, but Tanaka said he was most impressed by ours.

“After looking at all of that, I said, if we could lift [Bethel’s Central Kitchen] and put it in Hawaii, that’s what we’d do,” Tanaka said.

While Tanaka came away incredibly impressed by the equipment and facilities in Bethel, he said the best thing about our operation is our Child Nutrition team. He had especially high praise for Child Nutrition Director Leeda Beha, saying she “has more Aloha than most people in the state.”

Beha said the reason her department is so successful is because her Child Nutrition team is so special.

“It’s the people who work here,” she said. “It’s our own kids. It’s our own neighbors. It’s our own relatives. They work hard because they’re working for each other. We have the best team of people.”

In the end, Tanaka said Bethel’s Central Kitchen has become something bigger than just a food processing center for a school district.

“The path that you guys have taken, and the path that we’re going to take, fulfils our responsibility to our community. This facility is not the providence of the school, it’s the providence of the community,” he said.

Tackling Tunes and Touchdowns

Spanaway Lake High School students Davenick Harris and Owen Johnson aren’t your typical football players – when they're not scoring on the field, they're hitting high notes with the school band.

Harris and Johnson, both sophomores, recently had the unique opportunity of performing with their bandmates at a football game that both played in. The night was all the more special because they performed while wearing their full football uniforms.

“It was pretty cool, because I got to use both of my strengths – music and football – all in one night, so that was pretty neat,” Johnson said.

Harris and Johnson’s stories serve as great reminders that talents don’t have to be boxed into categories. Whether it's on the football field or in the band, these two have shown that with passion and dedication, the sky's the limit.

“I think education is about discovering oneself,” said Spanaway Lake High School Band Director Bruce Leonardy. “I think education is about them figuring out what they’re passionate about, what gets them going in the morning that they're excited about. If we have kids that come to school excited about some aspect of their day, they come every day and they do well in school.”

Harris, who plays tight end and clarinet, said there are some similarities between both of his passions.

“You have to work on your air in both,” he said. “You really have to have good stamina and good lungs to do both efficiently.”

Leonardy has been teaching for nearly 30 years and has seen a number of his musicians excel in athletic pursuits. He, too, sees similarities between the two pursuits.

“We work hard and we strive for excellence,” Leonardy said. “It’s like any other team – I’m like a coach. I push them hard, but I love them.”

That work is already paying off for Johnson. Even though he's only a sophomore, he is already regarded as one of the best bassoon players in the state, according to Leornardy.


National Principals Month is wrapping up and we wanted to give a huge shout out to the men and women leading the charge at all of our schools!

Being the principal of a school is a difficult job with many layers of responsibilities. Not only are they focused on their teachers and staff, they're working with students, parents, and are even the “go to” person when there are building issues that need to be dealt with. 

Lisa Whitmire, Principal at Evergreen Elementary, said being a principal is just as challenging, and rewarding as you would think.

“Being a principal is actually immensely rewarding and challenging, more so than I had ever imagined,” she said. “I create and maintain systems and schedules of operation for safety and effectiveness, I spend time with students, I support staff, engage in family communications and connections, and work through budgeting. I work with committees, create professional development, fulfill district responsibilities, but now I also get to work on the modernization of our school and this new construction project which is super exciting.”

Thanks to our voters, Evergreen Elementary will be expanded by an additional 10,000 square feet. That will include a new commons and eight additional classrooms. And more classrooms means more opportunities for Lisa to do what she loves most. 

“I will say the best part of my job is working with students and teachers on classroom practice,” she said.

And while principals always have the role of dealing with behavior issues, Lisa has a specific mindset when working through those. “I always try and approach them with an air of gratitude,” she said. “It's an honor for me to be in a position to help find a positive solution to those situations.” 

Thank you to Lisa and ALL of our amazing principals who wear so many different hats each and every day! If you haven’t taken time yet this month to #ThankAPrincipal, take a moment to cheer them on with us today!

Science Club gives students a chance to shine

One of the best things about our district is the array of unique and exciting extracurricular activities we make available to our kids.

One group we’re especially proud of is the Cougar Mountain Middle School Science Club, which has been singled out inside and outside of the district for their amazing scientific work in the field.

The club regularly teams up with the Nisqually River Education Project and Nisqually Land Trust to plant trees and to help rebuild salmon ecosystems. The students have also done water quality testing at the Morse Wildlife Preserve and planted their own native plant pollinator garden on campus.

The club is led by science teacher Kim Williams, who has been with Cougar Mountain for 12 years. Williams organizes the club’s many field trips, which means she regularly sacrifices her own time to be with her students.

“I keep doing this year after year because it gives our kids opportunities that they wouldn’t normally have,” Williams said. “We have students who haven’t left the Spanaway/Graham area, and they’re able to go experience places they wouldn’t be able to go normally.”

One place students don’t normally get to go is indoor skydiving, which the club got to do last year when they were studying aerodynamics.

“It was terrifying for me,” a student named Edith said. “I thought I was going to fall through the net below us. I have a slight fear of heights, so I didn’t know what was going to happen, but it was a good experience. I wouldn’t do it again, but it was good for the time we did it."

Portrait of a Graduate

In 2018 the district adopted a five-year strategic plan that involved the work of staff, students, parents and community members. 

Five years later the plan was still going strong, so while it was time to update it, district leaders didn’t think starting from scratch was necessary, especially with the positive results we were seeing, and how students were benefiting.

“The goals in the strategic plan, they’re still relevant and they endure,” said Kelley Boynton, Executive Director of Elementary Schools.

After further study, the decision was made to "refresh" the Strategic Plan, not to do an overhaul. One specific new thing they wanted to add was called, “Portrait of a Graduate.” That’s where the team reached out again to get input from students and families.

“We wanted to hear from students and parents about what they would hope for in students,” said Chad Honig, Executive Director of Secondary Schools, “the qualities and attributes they have when they graduate.”

They narrowed that list down to five qualities that enhanced things that were already in the Strategic Plan, and those became the Portrait of a Graduate: Communicator, Critical Thinker, Confident, Competent, and Compassionate. 

With the plan updated for the next five years, Boyton said the district is moving forward in a good direction, making sure students graduate, “college and career ready,” and that as a district we are, “forever learning.”

“These are big lofty goals,” he said. “We’ll just continue to work towards those and learn about better ways to help our students and staff be successful.”

Bond Project Update: October 2023

Thank you, voters!

Thanks to your support, the following projects are all now complete!

NEW Challenger High School

NEW Katherine G. Johnson Elementary School

NEW Naches Trail Elementary School

EXPANSION Graham-Kapowsin High School

Our next four projects are underway! Here’s the latest:

Elementary #19

Construction crews are already hard at work on the 66,000-square-foot building, which will be located in the Lipoma Firs Community. When it’s complete, the school will house about 500 students in 27 general classrooms and various shared spaces.

The school’s official naming committee has already solicited potential names from students, parents and community members and will be presenting their top three choices to the School Board in the coming weeks.

Evergreen Elementary Expansion

The much needed expansion of Evergreen Elementary is now in permitting. This project will add 10,000 square feet to the school, that will include eight additional classrooms and a new commons. The team is planning for prep work to start in spring 2024.

The main part of the construction will take place once school gets out for the summer. The old Naches Trail Elementary will become home to the Evergreen Elementary staff and students for the 2024/25 school year while the renovation and expansion of their school takes place.

New Bethel High School

There is a lot of excitement around the New Bethel High School Project, which is anticipated to begin in 2024, subject to permitting.

This spring we submitted our conditional use permits with the county. The project went before the Graham Land Use Advisory Commission in September, and the county Hearing Examiner in October. Once it gets underway, the construction timeline will be 27 months.

Cedarcrest Middle School Expansion

Our construction team is currently conducting a Feasibility Study for the Cedarcrest Middle School expansion project. This study will help assess the needs and budget parameters, so we don’t run into any issues along the way. This winter, the team plans to begin the educational specifications for the project.

Win of the Week!

Sports Scores

Dates to Remember

News Bites

Yeah, science! Fifth graders at Camas Prairie Elementary tested the pH level of certain substances with red cabbage water. Stinky and fun!

Last Saturday, 20 of our students made the trip to Highline College to attend the Black and Brown Male Summit. The Students participated in various breakout sessions on campus and were able to hear from presenters and keynote speakers who shared their educational and professional journeys. We’d like to give a big shout out to our Community Connections and Equity and Achievement Departments for sponsoring the trip.

The staff and students at Liberty Middle Schooldid an amazing job in their fall food drive. They collected an impressive 3,261 food items, which were then donated to Harvest House to feed local families in need. Great job, everyone!

Cougar Mountain Middle School Orchestra students had an inspiring workshop at Bethel High School with the world-renowned jazz violinist, Christian Howes!  They delved into the art of improvisation and the power of expressing their emotions through their instruments.

Shout Out to Deputy Bealko, one of our amazing school resource officers, for taking time out of her busy schedule to read to second graders at Centennial Elementary!

Congratulations to our Graham-Kapowsin High School JROTC cadets for winning the Best Military Unit Award at Auburn’s 58th annual Veterans Parade & Observance! 

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so the Leadership students at Spanaway Lake High School thought it would be a great time to thank their amazing bus drivers and school staff. With help from Advisor Corina Smurphat, the kids organized a Gratitude Cart full of goodies as a token of their appreciation. The bus drivers loved their hot chocolate, coffee and cookies!

Saturday is Veterans Day! Let's take a moment to extend our deepest gratitude to all the veterans who have served our country with courage and dedication. Many of our schools hosted Veterans Day assemblies today to thank the veterans in our community!

Congratulations to Graham-Kapowsin High School student-athlete Taylor Tobolski for signing her letter of intent to play college soccer next year at Colorado Christian University. Taylor and her family and teammates celebrated the achievement at a signing ceremony this morning.

We love to see kids setting goals for themselves! Students at Spanaway Elementary worked together in mixed grade level Jag Team groups to think about their goals for the year. Each Jag Team's goals will be put on a team "quilt" that will be displayed in the school cafeteria. Nice work!

We have such amazing community partners! Kevin Lewis, Behavioral Interventionist at Cedarcrest Middle School, recently saw a need for string backpacks for students and reached out to our Director of Community Connections to find resources. Shortly after, Pastor Alex Davis and Jed’s Big Slice Pizza Truck answered the call and donated 216 bags to help students safely carry their things and show up to class ready to learn. Thank you Mr. Lewis, Pastor Alex, and Jed's Big Slice for showing up for our students!

Congratulations once again to Spanaway Middle School Principal Shannon Leatherwood for being named this year’s Washington State Secondary Principal of the Year! Shannon was recently honored in Washington, DC for her amazing work at SMS.

The Cougar Mountain Middle School Science Club went on a field trip to Morse Wildlife Preserve to perform water quality monitoring tests in partnership with Nisqually River Education Project. Students performed tests that will be added to three decades of data that helps local scientists monitor the Nisqually Watershed. Learn more about this amazing club and hear from two of its members in this week’s podcast here:

We hope you all had a fun and safe Halloween! We saw so many amazing costumes from students and staff throughout the district!

Congratulations to everyone who competed in this week’s Middle School pre-Conference and Conference Track and Field Championships! And a big thank you to Liberty Middle School for the great photos!

Podcast: New Episodes Every Thursday!