Better together: Our staff, community continue to step up to help students as they return full time, in person

By Josh Garcia
Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent

Welcome back to another school year!

Finally, for the first time in a long time, we have our students back in person and full time.

That’s worth a celebration.

I also realize that we all—our families, our students and our staff—have come through a lot over the last 19 months.

Many in our extended school family have lost loved ones to the pandemic or have had close friends and relatives severely affected. Our hearts break for the loss and pain in our community.

Our staff teams across the district have prepared to look out for the social and emotional well-being of those students closely impacted by the pandemic, and all students. We continue to monitor how they’re feeling and coping and what support we can provide for them.

Our entire school community—especially our parents— have adjusted to teaching and learning in new ways. As a parent of three teenagers, I know what a challenge learning from home has been.

But you know what? All those things we learned during the pandemic about remote learning, engaging students virtually and introducing new, electronic teaching tools will continue to pay off this year.

Thanks to the 2018 technology levy supported by local voters, all our students still have their own laptops or devices. We won’t throw all that away just because we have students in the classroom. In fact, our teachers are learning to leverage advanced technology to improve learning for students in every school.

For students and families who discovered that virtual learning at their own pace worked incredibly well for them, this year Tacoma Online is its own K-12 school. Almost 1,700 students opted for Tacoma Online—another TPS innovation funded in part by the technology levy.

We plan to ask voters next February to renew the technology levy so we can maintain equitable access to technology for all our K-12 students to use in class and at home, provide our school staff with new instructional tools and upgrade the online safety, security and data protections for students and staff.

Aside from the technology, here at Tacoma Public Schools we know the best thing we can do for our students is recruit, hire, train and retain world-class teachers—and we are continuing that work. To support our teachers and schools, we have expanded the number of counselors and health support staff this year using some one-time funding from the federal government earmarked to help support students through the pandemic.

To maintain our ongoing investment in staff, instructional materials and the basics, we will ask voters in February to also renew our four-year Educational Programs and Operations levy, which provides approximately 15 percent of our district’s funding. We have had tremendous community support for our schools over the years.

To undertake a transition of this magnitude requires certain beliefs. We believe that every student should challenge themselves at the highest level. We believe that with the right support, every student can be successful. This school year, we'll share a number of “we believe” stories as staff, partners and students share their personal reflections.

To change the lives of our students, we can’t do this work alone. As a career educator who started off teaching in high school, I have too often seen schools that wall themselves off from parents and community partners. One of the coolest things I have experienced in Tacoma is the growing parent and community support and the district’s desire to embrace that support.

We also know that being a good partner means we have to listen. So this school year we have invested in a new engagement tool called ThoughtExchange. Throughout the school year, you’ll have the opportunity to engage with us and each other on a range of topics that will help our district team improve and build on a strong foundation.

Finally, I want to assure you that as we have done from the beginning of this pandemic in March 2020, Tacoma Public Schools will follow the orders, guidance and recommendations of our state and local health authorities. It’s all about keeping our students and staff safe.

Those measures include wearing masks and social distancing. And, by order of the governor, we’re working to get all our staff vaccinated—or to file one of the allowed exemptions.

We’re all in this work together for our students, and I am confident of one thing: We are better together.



Media Contact

Dan Voelpel, Executive Director of Communications | 253-571-1015 |

About Tacoma Schools

Tacoma Public Schools is the only district designated an Innovation Zone by Washington State. A leader in implementing innovative schools and programs to meet the diverse needs of every student, every day, TPS serves approximately 30,000 students from preschool to grade 12 and at nearly 5000 employees is one of the largest employers in Tacoma. Learn more...


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