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Solano schools begin planning to deal with ‘young fives’

10.18.2011 | Vallejo Times-Herald | Tony Burchyns

FAIRFIELD — As parents prepare for a change in the kindergarten entry age next fall, school districts across the state are planning new pre-K bridge programs to absorb all those displaced “young fives.”

But Solano County educators say the planning process is only just beginning — and it could be months before parents in each district will know exactly what options are available to them.

“Families already are expecting that their kids will go to kindergarten,” Solano County Schools Superintendent Jay Speck said Monday. “So really what we’ll be communicating to them is now (some of) their children will be going to a ‘transitional’ kindergarten.”

The change in the kindergarten age requirement was signed into law last year by then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Authored by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, SB 1381 makes the required age for children entering kindergarten 5 years old by Sept. 1, rather than Dec. 2.

Supporters of the earlier cut-off date include education advocates who contend that beginning kindergarten at an older age improves children’s social and academic development. California was one of just four states — along with Connecticut, Michigan and Vermont — with a cut-off date later than Dec. 1.

For those children whose entry into kindergarten is delayed by the new law, the bill creates a “transitional” kindergarten system funded by anticipated cost savings from having fewer children in kindergarten.

But those programs, including what they’ll teach and who will teach them, are still being developed.

To learn about the law and how to implement it, dozens of school officials from seven Bay Area counties attended a symposium Monday at the Solano County Office of Education in Fairfield.

“The purpose is to get all the educators to think about all the issues, including curriculum … so that they can start finalizing plans by this spring and start talking to parents about what the program will look like,” Speck said.

How quickly the new cut-off date is implemented will be up to districts. The law allows the change to be phased-in over three years beginning next school year — but smaller districts like Benicia Unified School District may see advantages in making the change all at once.

Janice Adams, Benicia’s schools superintendent, said a quicker change could ensure that there’ll be enough youngsters to fill a transitional kindergarten program. Larger districts such as Vallejo Unified, however, may opt for a slower phase-in.

“It’s still early in the process,” Adams said, adding that local school boards haven’t discussed their options yet. “My thoughts are we’ll want to pilot it … start small … but there certainly are advantages to starting all at once.”

Contact staff writer Tony Burchyns at tburchyns@timesheraldonline.com or (707) 553-6831.

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