Jessica Cejnar / Friday, Oct. 25, 2019 @ 6:01 p.m. / Education

Margaret Keating Parents Challenge District, Say They Feel They Compete With In-Town Schools

Noting that test scores at Margaret Keating Elementary School are some of the worst in the district, parents decided to air their frustrations to administrators Tuesday rather than hear an overview of the Local Control Accountability Plan.

Though they were supportive of their teachers and principal, parents at the Klamath school say they feel they are competing with campuses in Crescent City when it comes to student supports.

This includes denying the campus a cultural coordinator — a request the community has made of Del Norte Unified School District for roughly three years — a reading specialist to replace one that left, and someone who could provide students with extra help in math.

“We feel like broken records,” said Sara Barbour, who has been on Margaret Keating’s school site council for three years. “It loops back to the same thing — we want more staff. This feels very ‘Groundhog Day’ to me.”

The second of three district LCAP meetings came about two weeks after the DNUSD Board of Trustees met at Margaret Keating Elementary School and heard a presentation from its principal, Kristian Stremberg.

Under the multi-tiered systems of support model districts in California use to determine the level of academic support students need, Stremberg said 54 percent of his students need specialized help in English and language arts. In math, 48 percent of Margaret Keating students need specialized support, he said.

Reading intervention is most needed among kindergartners, first- and second-graders at Margaret Keating, Stremberg said.

During his presentation to the School Board on Oct. 10, Stremberg praised the school’s parent-teacher organization and the support it receives from the Yurok Tribe, which operates its Head Start program nearby.

The school receives tutoring through the Northern California Indian Development Council once a week, while instructors with the Yurok Language Program works with students twice a week, Stremberg said.

During his presentation, Stremberg told the school board that Margaret Keating needed professional development in English-language arts and math. He said he is hoping to incorporate more trauma-informed practices and curricula in the classroom.

“I’d like to see Margaret Keating students being celebrated and being paid attention to and just encouraging that culture of success here at Margaret Keating,” Stremberg said.

On Tuesday, Chrystal Helton, whose children attend Margaret Keating, said it’s the district’s responsibility to ask parents what their students’ needs are. She noted there is a 20-mile “gap in services,” between the district offices and the Klamath school.

The school board votes on how money is spent in the district, Helton said. Though Margaret Keating had a reading specialist, she said, parents were told this year that person wouldn’t “be coming back because we don’t have a need.”

“We haven’t been told why,” she said. “I happen to know our English-language arts scores have always been low.”

Georgiana Gensaw, who has a second-grader at Margaret Keating and a sixth-grader at Crescent Elk, said she’s concerned that Klamath students are in crisis. She said her older student is behind other kids at Crescent Elk and is not the only Margaret Keating graduate to be struggling.

And though her second-grader has good attendance, Gensaw said, reading is difficult for him.

“The gap is happening here,” she said. “If kids did better here, they’ll do better at Crescent Elk and the high school.”

Because of the number of students needing targeted support in English-language arts and math, Margaret Keating qualifies for $120,000 in state Comprehensive Support and Improvement dollars, DNUSD Superintendent Jeff Harris told parent. That money is granted to schools that show low academic performance and can be used for professional development and materials, Harris said, but not for extra staff.

Harris told parents that the district can use that funding to explore why youngsters aren’t meeting grade-level standards.

Tom Kissinger, the district’s new assistant superintendent of instruction, offered to spend time with Margaret Keating’s school site council to help determine how those Comprehensive Support and Improvement dollars are spent. He said he would also speak to parent groups.

“I don’t have the depth of historical knowledge on the things we need to do, but I have been in education long enough and am able to spend more time here to effect some of those changes,” he said.

Kissinger said he would work with Stremberg and Leslie Machado, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, to look at the needs of the school and put a blueprint together.

Jim McQuillen, the Yurok Tribe’s education director, said he was concerned about students leaving Del Norte High School and Crescent Elk Middle School. He said his department is watching the attrition rate closely.

According to Harris, the rate of students leaving Del Norte High and Crescent Elk decreased in the 2017-18 school year. During the 2018-19 school year, however, that number went up.

At the high school, the attrition rate increased by up to two students last year, Harris said. Fifteen to 16 students left Crescent Elk and enrolled at Castle Rock Charter School or Uncharted Shores Academy last year following an incident where students overdosed on a generic form of Benadryl thinking it was the cough medicine, Dextromethorphan, Harris said.

The Local Control Accountability Plan is a three-year outline on how the district will spend extra state dollars it receives for English language learners, low-income, homeless and foster students.

The Margaret Keating meeting was the second of three meetings DNUSD held to go over the 2019-2020 LCAP, revisiting what’s working and what needs improvement. On Thursday, Harris told the Board of Trustees that the district will hold at least six more community meetings and will engage with students and other groups as it develops its 2020-2021 LCAP.


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