We are incredibly excited for the 2021-22 school year. First, we return to our traditional school schedule and in person learning every day. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tremendous challenge for everyone. We have to acknowledge that fact. And, COVID-19 safety protocols continue to have an impact this year, and we will continue to communicate quickly and accurately with families whenever the protocols are amended. However, I am completely optimistic that our efforts this year will result in high levels of student achievement, strong supports for students and their families and a return to those activities that remind all of us that schools are great places for students.
The most obvious change from last year is that our new Yelm Middle School building opens for students. We are truly excited for students and staff to move in and enjoy that amazing learning space. At the same time, the Southworth Elementary community has moved into the old Yelm Middle School for this school year while their new building is constructed. The new Southworth building will be ready to go in September of 2022. This summer also resulted in new HVAC systems at Mill Pond, Fort Stevens and Prairie Elementary Schools. We also upgraded athletic facilities at Ridgeline and Yelm High School and renovated the sound system in the YHS Performing Arts Center. Lastly, our bond safety projects were completed at Lackamas and McKenna. YHS, RMS, Fort Stevens, Prairie and Mill Pond safety projects were completed the previous summer. This has been an incredible year of school construction.
Graduate Yelm! continues to grow and expand. First, with the help of our student board representatives, we completed our “Portrait of a Graduate.” It extols our quest that our graduates are leaders, learners, collaborators and critical thinkers. Additionally, our Graduate Yelm! network exceeds 200 businesses, organizations, churches and civic groups. Many of our new partners focus on employment opportunities within Thurston County. Our goals for 2021-22 include direct engagement with schools and students, expanding our network of partners, and painting the region with our new graphics and information.
Our school board continues to work extremely hard to support the learning and developmental needs of each student. We have an ambitious work plan for the coming year. Our recovery plan is designed to fill any learning or social-emotional gaps as a result of COVID-19 impacts. The board will unveil our new “Portrait of a Graduate” work that supports both Graduate Yelm! and the Strategic Plan. Our current Strategic Plan expires this year, and we will be seeking community feedback on its revisions. That plan will guide our planning and decision making for the next five years. I am very proud of how our board has consistently reviewed student achievement data to guide its governance over the past year and half. The board and I will remain highly vigilant on our ongoing construction projects. After the new Southworth building is completed, the final step will be to remove the old Yelm Middle School and replace that space with the athletic fields for the new middle school. During the pandemic, our board earned its second consecutive “Board of Distinction” honor from WSSDA for its work bringing student representatives onto the board. Our representatives have added valuable student voice to the table.
I also want to acknowledge and celebrate our collaboration with the Nisqually Tribe. The design for the new Yelm Middle School contains themes of the mountain, the river, the cedar tree and prairie grass developed with the help from our tribal partners. There will be similar themes representing the canoe journey in the design at the new Southworth. Lastly, we are incredibly proud of the restoration of Marvin Oliver’s “Big Bird.” This native artwork was originally installed at Yelm High School when it reopened in 2006. It had become weathered but was restored through a partnership with the tribe and the Washington State Arts Commission. It is now prominently displayed indoors in the high school commons for students and the community to enjoy.
I am really looking forward to seeing all of our students and staff back on campus this year. I also hope that our community will enjoy traditional school events like plays, concerts, sporting events, celebrations and competitions on our campuses. Our students need these activities to complement their classroom learning and their social well-being.
Together, we can make 2021-22 a great year of learning.
Brian Wharton became Superintendent of Yelm Community Schools in July of 2016. His education career started as a high school English teacher and coach in Spokane. He moved to Western Washington in 1988 and worked with the North Thurston Public Schools until 2010. His administrative roles included Nisqually Middle School Principal, River Ridge High School Principal, and Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources.
Brian began working in Yelm Community Schools in 2010 as principal of Yelm High School before being appointed Superintendent. His education background includes his bachelor’s degree from Whitworth University, master’s degree from Western Washington University, his Principal Credential from Central Washington University, and his Superintendent’s Credential from Washington State University. In the past two years, Brian led the board in re-designing the Strategic Plan guiding the district's work around four core beliefs: Student Centered, Learning Focused, Results Oriented and Community Connected. Through that work, the district has developed numerous partnerships with the City of Yelm, South Puget Sound Community College, Together! of Thurston County, JBLM, Nisqually Indian Tribe, Behavioral Health Resources (BHR), and Yelm and Thurston County Chambers to support the board goals. In 2017 the District launched Graduate Yelm!, a community impact initiative designed to support graduation for all district students.