Wednesday brings another opportunity for community members to tell education officials what they think of a proposal to add a sixth grade to Margaret Keating Elementary School in Klamath this fall.
Students work on an assignment in the computer lab last week at Margaret Keating Elementary School in Klamath. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
In an exploratory meeting Jan. 23, parents, community members and staff from the Del Norte County Unified School District discussed adding the extra grade to the K-5 school, said Superintendent Don Olson. Some community members also brought up the idea of eventually adding grades seven and eight to Margaret Keating, Olson said.
“At that meeting there was a feeling of several people that with Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods vacating Klamath, kids have no local choice any more for grades six through eight,” he said. “Unless (parents) can arrange private transportation to town and back each day, they’re just kind of stuck. Either that or they ride the bus.”
KRECR closed its Klamath campus Jan. 25, transferring most of its students to Crescent City. KRECR’s Klamath campus had served grades six through 12.
Olson said he and Steve Godla, the district’s superintendent of instruction and educational services, are in the process of calculating how many Klamath students enter Crescent Elk Middle School or enroll in charter schools after leaving Margaret Keating. He said he also wants to get student input on what their experiences are.
Olson and other district officials will share their findings at another community meeting at Margaret Keating Elementary School on Wednesday.
Margaret Keating Principal Diane Wiese said the district is still in its preliminary stage regarding adding another grade.
Meanwhile, district officials are concerned about a recent drop in enrollment at Margaret Keating. At this time last year, the school had 86 students, Olson said. Now enrollment has dwindled to 70.
“One member at the community meeting mentioned part of it is possibly due to the trailer park that had water issues where the water wasn’t drinkable,” Olson said, referring to Arbor Glen Mobile Home Park in Klamath. “People had moved out. We thought we lost students because of that situation.”
District officials hope to explore the issues behind Margaret Keating’s drop in student enrollment with the community, Olson said. He added that the district is working with Yurok Tribal Officials as well as Klamath community members.
The Yurok Tribe opposed the 2005 decision that discontinued grades six through eight at Margaret Keating, said Jim McQuillen, director of the tribe’s Education Department. The tribe continues to oppose the idea of shipping Klamath’s middle-schoolers to Crescent City.
“We believe it makes more sense to have a local school and local resources for families to choose from,” McQuillen said. “There are lots of good reasons for that.”
Every day middle-schoolers and high-schoolers in Klamath catch the bus to Crescent City, some leaving as early as 6 a.m., McQuillen said. The bus rides add another two to three hours a day to their schedule, he said. For parents, the 30-minute drive between Klamath and Crescent City also makes it difficult to contact their children during the school day.
Many parents choose to enroll their children in Castle Rock Charter School rather than make that commute every day, McQuillen said. Castle Rock offers an independent study program, requiring students to meet with a teacher once a week. But McQuillen said middle-schoolers need more contact with teachers than once a week.
As district officials research how many Klamath students enter Crescent Elk, Castle Rock or other charter schools, they should also determine how the students are doing academically, McQuillen said.
“It’s been an experiment for seven to eight years,” he said. “Are they succeeding academically? Are they succeeding socially? Are they moving on to Del Norte High or are they disappearing into the shadows?”
Olson said similar concerns about enrollment decline recently developed at Mountain Elementary School in Gasquet, where enrollment dropped to 14 or 15 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Parents who were taking their middle-schoolers into Crescent City on their way to work had been taking their younger siblings to town as well, he said.
After a series of community meetings, community members requested that Mountain School serve kindergarten through eighth grade, Olson said. District officials agreed, but with the contingency that the school maintains an enrollment of at least 25. About 30 students currently attend the school.
“We more than doubled enrollment,” Olson said. “We’re pleased as can be that we were able to change the way we were doing business and really help grow that school.”