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School districts in San Jose gear up for transitional kindergarten

05.03.2012 | San Jose Mercury News | Carol Rosen


State legislators took transitional kindergarten out of limbo in mid-April, rejecting Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to cut the program in light of state budget woes. Now Cambrian, San Jose Unified and Union school districts are putting their planning into practice and starting their TK programs this August.

The legislators’ decision means an additional 125,000 students throughout the state, born between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2, 2007, will move into the public education system. It also provides about $100 million for special education services, including ADA funding.

The Kindergarten Readiness Act, passed by the Legislature in 2010, mandates that children whose fifth birthdays occur between Sept. 2 through the end of November be eligible to attend a public transitional kindergarten (TK) to prepare them socially and academically for school.

The program is set for implementation over the next three school years, beginning this year with children whose fifth birthdays are in November.

All three school districts are offering weekday programs, most similar to their current kindergarten schedules.

Union is using the three-year phase-in “to get a handle on how it will work and to start slowly, and work out the bugs and kinks,” said Michael O’Laughlin, assistant superintendent of educational services.

Cambrian and San Jose Unified are opening TKs this year to all children whose birthdays fall within the three-month time frame.

“Those whose fifth birthdays occur in September and October have a choice. Parents can either enroll them in transitional kindergarten this year or regular kindergarten next year,” said Jodi Lax, San Jose Unified’s manager of elementary curriculum.

Union’s program will feature one TK class at Athenour preschool center and likely will include about 16 to 20 students, according to O’Laughlin. School starts for the district on Aug. 20.

The district is pulling together administrators and current kindergarten teachers to work with the young students.

“The whole idea is to provide kids an extra year for social growth. It’s almost like kindergarten when the boomer generation was in school.”

San Jose Unified will offer a full day of TK at 11 schools: Allen at Steinbeck, Canoas, Empire Gardens, Galarza, Grant, Los Alamitos, Reed, Simonds, Williams, Willow Glen and Horace Mann.

Parents can enroll their students now at the Burnett Enrollment Center at 110 E. Hedding St. or in August at the Allen at Steinbeck campus, 820 Steinbeck Drive. SJUSD will begin its school year on Aug. 15.

Cambrian plans to offer TK at all four of its elementary schools: Bagby, Fammatre, Farnham and Sartorette when its school year begins Aug. 27. The district will offer a morning program with kindergarten enrichment classes in music and art, but building on preschool skills and fostering independence, social skills and confidence.

Officials from all three districts expressed excitement and eagerness to begin the program.

“We’ve hired a lot of really qualified and talented people for these classes,” said Lax.

Funding for transitional kindergarten comes from the average daily attendance money the state pays schools for each child attending TK, according to school officials and state Sen. Joe Simitian, author of the bill. One of its benefits is to put children in school with their peers instead of putting them into kindergarten as the youngest and often the smallest and slowest members of the class.

Research also has shown that children who are not prepared for kindergarten–which 10 years ago taught the same curriculum as today’s first grade–don’t do as well in school and could later drop out.

In the past, some children started school without being socially or intellectually ready. In some cases this caused these students to be held back for an additional year of kindergarten.

TK is also designed to help parents. Families won’t be forced to pay for an additional year of child care or preschool, about $6,000 for part-time day care and $15,000 for a full day.

For more information about TK, check San Jose Unified’s website at www.sjusd.org or call Lax at 408.535.6000; check Cambrian’s website at www.cambrian.k12.ca.us or call the district office at 408.377.2103; check Union’s website at www.union.k12.ca.us or call the district office at 408.377.8010.

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