Capo to Offer Transitional Kindergarten Class Next Year

09.13.2011 | Aliso Viejo Patch | Penny Arévalo

In California, children who are 5 years old by Dec. 2 are allowed to start kindergarten. Starting next school year, that is all set to change.

The Capistrano Unified School District’s board of trustees voted unanimously Monday to offer a “transitional kindergarten” for students who won’t be 5 by Nov. 1 for the 2012-13 school year.

The change is in response to a new law the Legislature passed in 2010, which requires school districts across the state to enroll kindergartners only if they are 5 years old by Sept. 1, by 2015-16. School districts have three years to roll back the enrollment age in phases and must start by next year.

“California is one of the few states in the nation that doesn’t require 5 [years old] by Sept. 1,” said Julie Hatchel, assistant superintendent of education services. Research shows that students who turn 5 in September, October or November do better waiting a year before starting kindergarten.

The transitional kindergarten, in essence, will give students born in these months two years of kindergarten, Hatchel said. However, parents could choose to just sit out the year.

“It’s optional for parents to enroll their children in a [transitional kindergarten] program, but it’s not optional for us to offer it,” she told the trustees.

Looking at the demographics of this year’s kindergarten class, 281 students would have qualified for the transitional kindergarten with a Nov. 1 enrollment cutoff date, Hatchel said. An Oct. 1 cutoff date would have added 348 more students, while a Sept. 1 deadline would have added 312 more students, for a total of 941 children in transitional kindergarten classes.

Hatchel said the district had the option of immediately switching to a 5-years-by-Sept. 1 requirement next year. However, such a drastic change would require the district to find 31 new classrooms across the district, make large furniture purchases and potentially lose some students to other districts which don’t plan to make a fast changeover.

Trustee Lynn Hatton urged the board to go with the slower transition. “Generally, I feel when things are rushed … it’s not going to be as successful,” she said.

Hatchel said the slower start allows the district to develop the curriculum and pilot the program, which will be taught by fully credentialed teachers.

Trustee John Alpay noted that because the district is starting out with a smaller program, parents who choose to take advantage of the transitional kindergarten class may have to drive to a non-neighborhood school to find one. With just 281 potential students, that means only nine classrooms are needed across the 195-square-mile district.

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