New school grade to roll out in 2012

Auburn-area schools pilot transitional kindergarten programs
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Many Auburn-area schools are ahead of the curve in implementing a state-mandated transitional kindergarten grade by September 2012. Local educators say the new grade will help students who would have entered kindergarten as 4-year-olds develop skills for the more rigorous demands of kindergarten curriculum, but the state isn’t providing any start-up costs beyond what schools already get for kindergarten students. Transitional kindergarten was created by the Kindergarten Readiness Act, California Senate Bill 1381, which was passed in October of 2010. It requires children starting kindergarten to be five years old by Sept. 1, rather than the previous cutoff date of Dec. 2. Students who will turn 5 between Sept. 1 and Dec. 2 have the option of attending transitional kindergarten instead of staying at home or in pre-school for another year. The curriculum is taught by a credentialed K-12 teacher and helps prepare students to meet entry-level kindergarten standards. Could help struggling students Superintendent Gordon Medd of the Loomis Union School District said the district has already implemented a similar Junior Kindergarten program, which they will continue to build upon. The change could help some children perform better throughout their entire academic career, he said. “I think what we found is that some of them struggled in kindergarten and some of that might have been due to the fact that we were pushing these kids into kindergarten at 4,” Medd said. “Every child is different. For others, they struggle in kindergarten and they struggle their entire lives.” Medd said some 4-year olds who enter kindergarten do perform well, but many aren’t ready to learn what has become more of a first-grade curriculum. Transitional kindergarten gives students a place to learn foundational skills, without being pushed past their maturity level. “That’s hard to just generalize. Overall from my experience a lot of times the students that were born in the latter part of the year struggle, but again I wouldn’t characterize them all that way,” Medd said. “Some of them are our highest performing students. It’s going to take time, but I think having that two-year option is very beneficial.” Each school district will get the standard amount per student for attendance, but districts are left to absorb the cost of starting the programs in their current kindergarten budgets. Medd said schools are already operating at least 20 percent below the budget they should be operating on. So far, there will be one transitional kindergarten class in the Loomis Union School District, which serves about 2,500 students. “Its genesis is from the state, but the state doesn’t provide the entire amount to fund the program,” Medd said. “There are no funds for facilities or curriculum. Will we make it work? Absolutely, because it’s a good thing.” The state will save $700 million annually from having fewer students in kindergarten, according the summary of Senate Bill 1381. First phase of late-birthday students to start next year Auburn Union School District started a junior kindergarten program last year at Skyridge and Rock Creek elementary schools, according to Superintendent Michele Schuetz. Originally it was started for students that were developing at a slower pace. Next year, it will open up to students who will turn 5 between Nov. 1 and Dec. 2. Students born in October and September will be phased in over the next two years. “It isn’t mandatory, but it is mandatory that every district provide a transitional kindergarten,” Schuetz said. “Some students just are not ready. We are doing now in kindergarten what we used to do in first grade. California is one of the few states that has such a late cutoff.” Schuetz said 3-year-olds and the majority of 4-year-olds who won’t turn five in the fall are still considered of pre-school age. “Pre-school is still for 3 and 4 year-olds,” Schuetz said. Auburn Union will be sending home letters to parents notifying them of the changes, Schuetz said. Jan Hyatt, a kindergarten teacher at Skyridge Elementary has been a teacher in the Auburn Union School District for 34 years. She said kindergarten standards have definitely become more rigorous. “The standards have definitely changed. Now the children are basically expected to read. We have writing centers,” Hyatt said. “Although we incorporate it in our curriculum there is just less time for the arts and crafts. Kindergarten is no longer just graham crackers and art and nap.” Hyatt said while she still incorporates art and music students in transitional kindergarten will have the chance to become more acclimated to school before so much is required of them. She said transitional kindergarten doesn’t have to be the only avenue for that. “It’s just good to have the children in a school situation before they enter kindergarten,” Hyatt said. “The mandates are so difficult now that it’s just good for them to have that routine and to get used to the structure. Any educational setting is effective. The preschools in the area do a fabulous job as well.” Reach Sara Seyydin at