#parent | #kids | Distance learning a necessary challenge – Times-Standard

The Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District began its new academic year Thursday under remote instruction, a format that may pose unique challenges for schools in a rural region of Humboldt County, the district’s new superintendent said.

Jennifer Gleuck took the top job earlier this summer after more than three years as a superintendent, principal and teacher in Big Lagoon. She has previously taught in Hoopa and said Thursday that a humility-based approach has helped her become familiar with the needs of Klamath-Trinity students.

Some of those needs will emerge under distance learning. The district will hold off on instruction that requires advanced technology within households, which Gleuck says is an important adjustment for families in rural communities.

“We have a large percentage of kids who do not have reliable internet access, so I feel like our foundation has to be print materials, phone calls and texts,” Gleuck said. “We just simply do not have enough devices right now for every kid, because everything is back-ordered.”

Gleuck expects the format to be a challenge, but a necessary one for a district looking to invest in long-term sustainability amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A significant number of families sending students to Klamath-Trinity schools reside in Hoopa, which saw a sharp increase in positive COVID-19 cases at the start of August.

The cases are recovering, but members of the Hoopa Tribe have advocated for leadership to enforce better social-distancing measures in a close-knit community.

That the school year begins amid a COVID-19 spike is not lost on Gleuck, who said the district had less restrictive plans for reopening just a few weeks ago.

“It’s a challenge because teachers miss their kids and kids miss their friends,” she said. “But at least we’re in a place where distance-learning is possible — can you imagine if this (pandemic) happened 10 years ago?”

Beyond the pandemic, Gleuck has taken a job in a school district that has seen its share of controversies over the years.

Families, especially members of the local Native American tribes, have been critical of past superintendents’ levels of transparency, including in the district’s allocation of grant money intended for high-needs students.

Superintendent Jon Ray left his job in 2019 amid widespread criticism of his handling of an “accountability plan” that lays out future spending of those funds.

A successor who accepted the superintendent job following Ray’s departure abruptly pulled out of the position that summer, citing health concerns. The sudden change of plans left the district scrambling for new leadership.

Gleuck said she followed the controversy surrounding the accountability plan and intends to learn quickly about engaging the community.

The challenge, she said, is keeping families up-to-date when videoconferencing apps like Zoom aren’t ubiquitous — “We can’t just have people show up to the gym for a meeting,” she said.

But Gleuck added that families in the community have uniquely looked out for each other, making sure no one misses out on resources.

“In the short time I’ve been here, people are asking questions like, ‘Hey, what about people who haven’t gotten the message yet?’ ” she said. “The fact that it’s brought up shows this community is very inclusive. People are mindful about wanting to have representation.”

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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