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State senator honored for kindergarten readiness work

11.08.2012 | The San Mateo Daily Journal | Heather Murtagh

There’s something unique about Susan Stanchfield’s class at Taft Elementary School in Redwood City — almost all the students have birthdays this month. 

The calendar for November is littered with birthday cakes, indicating some little 4-year-old is turning 5. Yesterday, two little ones were wearing a crown noting the occasion. Traditionally birthdays are sprinkled throughout the calendar year in a class. But Stanchfield’s class is one of about 2,000 transitional kindergarten rooms throughout the state serving children who turn 5 late in the year. This year, the first for the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, authored by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, the birthday cutoff date was moved up to Nov. 1. The goal is to ultimately require students to be 5 years old to start kindergarten. 

“I thought I had thought of everything, but I didn’t think of that,” Simitian said of the impact of starting TK during a visit to Taft yesterday morning. 

His visit wasn’t just to see his work in action. Simitian was recognized for his work championing the cause of early childhood education with the Early Learning Lifetime Achievement Award by the nonprofit advocacy group Preschool California. 

“Preschool California is honored to present Sen. Joe Simitian with the Early Learning Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his outstanding policy work and strong voice to promote child learning and educational opportunities,” said Catherine Atkin, president of Preschool California.

The award comes the day after Simitian officially won his bid to join the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, which he’ll start in January after being termed out of the Legislature. 

“I am honored by the recognition,” said Simitian. “Transitional kindergarten is one of the few bright spots in California’s current educational scene. At no additional cost to the state, we’re now starting kids at an age when they’re ready to learn, and providing many of them with a year of TK — a get-ready year — prior to kindergarten. Taken together, these two steps provide the strong educational foundation needed to fulfill the California promise that every kid has the opportunity to achieve his or her potential in school, career and life.”

Taft’s class is one of two within the Redwood City Elementary School District. This year, the deadline for when a child needs to turn 5 to start kindergarten began to be moved up from Dec. 1 to Sept. 1. As a result, more classes will be added in the coming year to accommodate the growing population in the two-year kindergarten program. 

“It’s the gift of time we’re giving them,” said Jan Christensen, Redwood City Elementary School District superintendent. 

Many of the district students are English language learners and from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, she said. Through TK, the children get an extra year of support in academics. 

Getting TK started had some challenges. More recently, it came under attack when Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget proposal called for the elimination of the program. State officials from both Assembly and Senate subcommittees rejected the proposal to eliminate the program. The conversation did put planning in limbo for many districts. 

California actually doesn’t require students be enrolled in kindergarten. Similarly, students are not required to enroll in the TK program. Parents could, instead, wait to enroll their children until first grade.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: heather@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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