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Santa Rosa school board moves ahead on pre-kindergarten; questions remain

10.26.2011 | Press Democrat | Kerry Benefield

Santa Rosa City Schools moved forward with a transitional kindergarten program to be launched next fall by approving the hiring of an administrator to develop curriculum for the state-mandated program.

At its meeting Wednesday, the board voted 5-2 to spend $22,600 for an administrator to work the remainder of the school year to establish what the new transitional kindergarten program will look like.

The program is of critical interest to parents whose children would turn 5 just after the start of the school year in September.

Currently, students who turn five before Dec. 2 can enroll in traditional kindergarten, but those students are considered “young 5s” because they actually would be 4 years old when they start school. Currently, California’s late birthday cutoff means that students well past their 6th birthday can be seated next to 4-year-olds in kindergarten.

The law calls for creation of pre-kindergarten classes for students born between Nov. 2 and Dec. 2 beginning next fall. In 2014, when the program is to be fully implemented, born between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 would be eligible.

But board members expressed interest in opening the three-month window next August, rather than doing a gradual implementation over three years.

“I think it’s really important that we get the program up and running, not only quickly, but most effectively,” said board member Donna Jeye, who supported hiring an administrator to guide the development.

Trustees Larry Haenel and Ron Kristof voted no, saying they support transitional kindergarten but calling the hiring of another administrator while class sizes have grown larger across the district a morale issue for teachers and other staff.

Board President Frank Pugh said establishing such a program presents an opportunity for Santa Rosa City Schools to draw students from other districts, which because of their small size might be forced to run transitional kindergarten classes in the same room and with the same teacher as the regular class.

“I would assume small elementary districts are going to be in a real jam,” he said. “I think there is an opportunity here that we can capitalize on that other people just can’t.”

Trustee Bill Carle said state-mandated program, signed into law last year by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, could violate equity requirements by restricting entry to only those children now considered “young fives,” born in September, October and November.

“As much as I love the program, I have a serious concern,” he said. “I can’t opt my March baby into the transitional kindergarten.”

“There is a real bind here and I’m not understanding it. This can’t be the first time this has been raised,” he said. “Maybe there is an incredibly easy answer.”

Board members directed district officials to make legal inquiries into the equity issue of limiting the program to only certain students.

Similar programs have been offered for years in Mark West, Healdsburg and Windsor districts.

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