GUSD preparing for kindergarten age shift

12.02.2011 |

GUSTINE – A shift in the state-mandated age requirements for kindergarten eligibility means fewer youngsters will be able to start kindergarten as 4-year-olds starting next year.

But the state law which shifts the kindergarten age requirements over a three-year period also requires school districts to offer a “transitional kindergarten” option to students who would have met the current cut-off date for turning 5 but don’t meet the new, earlier dates.

The transitional kindergarten is a full-time class taught by a credentialed teacher, but offers more emphasis on development skills as well as academic basics.

“I believe that we probably need a little more of that in kindergarten anyway,” said Superintendent Gail McWilliams.

In today’s standards-driven educational setting, students are expected to learn material in kindergarten which in years past was presented in first grade, according to material presented by the district, which can leave students entering kindergarten at a young age at a particular disadvantage.

Currently, children who turn 5 by Dec. 2 are eligible to enter kindergarten – which means that some are 4 years old through almost the first full semester of their formal education.

Beginning next year, children must turn 5 by Nov. 1 to be eligible for kindergarten. The eligibility date advances one month each of the following two years to make the eventual cut-off date Sept. 1.

Students whose fifth birthday falls within the September-November months will instead be placed in the transitional kindergarten – essentially creating a two-year kindergarten program.

“Teachers say they do see differences in school readiness,” McWilliams said of the maturity of students who enter kindergarten at a young age. “There needs to be a bridge that gives them more time for developmental purposes but also has the academic component.”

McWilliams said the district must work through a number of questions and policies as it shapes its transitional kindergarten course.

One is creating a classroom setting with an adequate number of students for transitional kindergarten.

As a relatively small district, Gustine Unified can expect to see few students with November birth-dates next year when the age cut-off begins phasing in.

McWilliams said one option is to offer transitional kindergarten as an alternative for students with September and October birth dates as well in hopes of boosting the class size while offering an option for students who may benefit from the program.

But one question in that scenario is whether a student voluntarily placed in transitional kindergarten has the ability to skip directly to first grade if they appear ready. “If so, what is the criteria as far as readiness and who makes the decision?” McWilliams pointed out.

At Romero, she envisions a combination transitional kindergarten/traditional kindergarten class being offered because of the school’s small size.

Transporting the young students to a single-site transitional kindergarten is not an option McWilliams said she would recommend.

“Our plan is to have a transitional kindergarten at each site,” she reiterated.

The district must also develop a curriculum for the transitional class – and develop a host of policies which guide the program.

“There are questions we don’t have answers to yet,” McWilliams stated. “There is a lot of work to go through to get the legal answers, and then craft where we need to go for our district.”

One thing that is not a question: Beginning next August, the district will have to have a transitional kindergarten program in place to serve students whose fifth birthday falls in November.

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