Transitional kindergarten program in the works

Transitional kindergarten program in the works

Michele Ellson

Alameda schools leaders are preparing to offer a transitional kindergarten program to young 5-year-olds next year, though many details are still being worked out.

State legislators voted in 2010 to put the program in place starting this school year, though some districts, including Alameda Unified, opted to wait a year due to cuts and deferrals in state funding.

The program will be available to children who will turn 5 between October 2 and December 2 next year and between September 2 and December 2 during the 2014-2015 school year and beyond. So far, the district has applications for 49 students, and administrators expect to enroll 75 children in transitional kindergarten next year.

District staffers are recommending the classes be held at Henry Haight Elementary School, though they told the Board of Education on Tuesday that they haven’t made a final determination about the location of the classes. Assistant Superintendent Sean McPhetridge acknowledged that some parents have expressed concerns about the location of the classes – and their ability to transport their children to them – though he said the district needs to consider where space is available, in addition to where families will be coming from.

McPhetridge said many of the applications have come from families in the Haight and Donald D. Lum Elementary attendance zones, though another administrator said the district has gotten applications for the program from all over the Island.

District staffers said they see transitional kindergarten as an opportunity to better prepare young children for school, particularly as the curriculum for kindergarten becomes more academically oriented. The transitional kindergarten curriculum would blend kindergarten and preschool materials, offering language development, structured play and parent education, they said Tuesday.

They said they haven’t worked out a budget for the program yet, though they expect the state would provide transitional kindergarten students the same per-student funding the district gets for its existing students. The district is also still working out the program’s hours.

One major issue to be worked out is whether families will be able to get a waiver from the district allowing their young 5-year-olds to skip the transitional program and move straight into kindergarten. McPhetridge said the board will be asked to review its waiver policy later this year.

Trustee Mike McMahon asked whether the program could be opened to all of the Island’s 4-year-olds instead of just students whose birthdays fall in a three-month window, though he also said he’s concerned the state could pull the funding for the program even after mandating it be put in place.

Other board members asked whether the program is targeting the students the educators who put it together said would benefit the most from it. McPhetridge said the applicants so far are socioeconomically diverse. District staffers couldn’t say how many applicants had attended preschool or how many are English language learners.

District staffers are working on a frequently asked questions document to be placed on the district’s website that would answer questions about Alameda’s transitional kindergarten program. More general information is available on the California Department of Education’s website.