After two years of asking school officials for a commitment to cultural sensitivity, members of the Yurok community whose children attend Margaret Keating Elementary School learned more about a grant that would benefit the district’s Native American students.

At a meeting held at the K-6 school in Klamath on Thursday, parents and Yurok community members commended Margaret Keating’s new principal, Kristian Stremberg. They said they were excited about the opportunities that would come with a four-year, $3.5 million U.S. Department of Education Grant, but called for more transparency when the Del Norte County Unified School District begins formulating its Local Control Accountability Plan for the next three years.

“I would like to see a different method of collecting data,” parent Chrystal Helton said. “As a parent, there needs to be a community (meeting) where we are face to face telling you our needs and way before the last minute.”

Helton said she and other Margaret Keating parents want to make sure the grant the district received to offer academic and cultural support to its Native American students.

“We want to make sure that grant is serving our kids and I want to know specifically how it’s going to be used at this school,” Helton said.

According to Jim McQuillen, the Yurok Tribe’s education director, the grant comes from the Office of Indian Education in the U.S. Department of Education. The Yurok Tribe, Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation and Resighini Rancheria partnered with the school district to obtain that grant, McQuillen said.

“It’s a real opportunity for us to help, over the next four years, our native students,” he said. “Test scores are lower than what they should be, definitely. The dropout rate, it’s very high for the student population. It’s an opportunity for us to work together.”

The grant would be used to create six new positions focusing on supporting native students and would help bring culturally relevant programs into schools, according to Superintendent Jeff Harris. The district will be looking to advertise a few of those new positions in the next few weeks, Harris said. These new jobs will be full time classified positions with benefits.

“We want to get as many local folks involved in the matter as we can,” he said.

As for the Local Control Accountability Plan, which outlines how the district spends extra state funding it receives for English language learners, foster and homeless youth and low-income students, Harris said the district will start the process of gathering public input in October and November.

The district, along with a local advocacy group will hold meetings in Smith River, Klamath and Crescent City for the community to provide input for the LCAP, Harris said.

“We’re going to continue to gather information, we’re going to put some data together, we’re going to listen and we’re going to come back and do another round in Klamath, in Crescent City and in Smith River to talk about what all the input has been up to that point and where we’re going with the LCAP,” Harris said. “It’s a much more community-oriented process and we’re talking about starting in October/November instead of March and April.”

During the public comment period, one parent, Georgiana Gensaw, said communication between the district administration and Klamath community still needs improvement.

Meanwhile, Klamath resident Josh Norris said he’s heard from students and tutors that they’re returning to school from attending ceremony or fishing but behind in their studies.

“They end up failing classes because of their attendance,” he said. “This continues to be an issue and I’ve seen no real solution proposed other than we provide independent study packets that they can do at ceremony, which is ridiculous, or once they return.”

Gensaw, chair of the district’s Title VI Indian Parent Committee, said the community needs to be informed when the district makes “fundamental changes” at Margaret Keating.

“This year we have several key staff members who are brand new to our area, to our school and to our families and it was like meeting strangers on the first day and sending your kids off with people we never got a chance to meet,” Gensaw said. “After years of building relationships with past staff, it kind of felt like a slap in the face to not have time to get to know these people. I think it could have been done like a meeting in the summertime, saying this is what’s going to be happening. Hey, parents, you’re going to have a new principal, you’re going to have new teachers...”

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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