Cutoff date for kindergarten moving to Sept. 1 next fall

09.16.2012 | Napa Valley Register | Isabelle Dills

The Napa Valley Unified School District is speeding up the implementation of a state mandate to create “transitional kindergartens.”

Until this year, California required kindergartners to turn 5 by Dec. 2 — making it one of the few states in the nation that started students in kindergarten at such a young age.

Research indicates that starting kindergarten at an older age provides children, especially those from low-income families, a significant boost — socially and academically.

This school year, the district moved up the qualifying age for kindergarten to Nov. 1. To qualify for kindergarten in the 2013-14 school year, children must be age 5 before Sept. 1, two months earlier than the current cutoff.

Transitional kindergartens are intended for children who do not meet the cutoff date. It is meant to bridge the gap between preschool and kindergarten.

The state provides school districts the option of slowly phasing in transitional kindergarten over a three-year period, but Napa Valley Unified has chosen to speed up the process.

Approximately 28 students are enrolled in transitional kindergarten this year, said Maren Rocca-Hunt, the district’s director of elementary education. More students are likely eligible for the program, but only 28 enrolled.

Because of low enrollment, those students are in combination classes with regular kindergartners at their neighborhood schools.

“Combination classes are not ideal because ‘transitional kindergarten’ is very different from ‘kindergarten,’” Rocca-Hunt said. “We like to avoid combination classes whenever possible.”

When the cutoff date is moved up to Sept. 1 next year, Rocca-Hunt said she anticipated at least 90 students enrolling in the new program — enough to create separate classes for transitional-kindergarten students.

The classes will be offered at select sites within the Napa Valley Unified School District. The sites will be open to all eligible students born in September, October and November. All other children who miss the Sept. 1 cutoff date will have the option of attending preschool.

The district has not yet determined which sites will offer the transitional program, but it’s likely that at least three sites will be made available, Rocca-Hunt said.

The school district will not provide transportation, so parents will be responsible for transporting their children to and from the program.

The state will pay for transitional kindergarten based on the average daily attendance of the students who participate, Rocca-Hunt said. This saves the school district from taking a financial hit from losing those students to regular kindergarten classes, she said.

Just as kindergarten is not required, enrollment into transitional kindergarten will not be mandatory.

The decision is entirely up to parents, Rocca-Hunt said.

It is not yet known if the transitional kindergarten will be an all-day or half-day program. The program, which lasts the entire school year, is more structured than preschool but less academic than kindergarten. Children who complete the program may continue to kindergarten the following year.

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