The Mountain View Whisman School District is planning an expansion of transitional kindergarten this fall, spreading the program across five campuses rather than centrally locating all classes on one site.
Transitional kindergarten is a free program that parents can opt to enroll their children in for the year before kindergarten. This school year, kids who turned five between Sept. 2 and Feb. 2 were eligible to attend. A state law passed in 2021 will ultimately require that districts offer transitional kindergarten to all four year olds by the 2025-26 school year. Next school year, any child who turns five between Sept. 2 and April 2 will be eligible to sign up.
Currently, Mountain View Whisman has five transitional kindergarten classes at Theuerkauf Elementary School, which serve children from throughout the school district. Next school year, the district plans to offer eight classes split among Theuerkauf (two classes), Monta Loma (two classes), Castro (one class), Mistral (one class) and Imai (two classes).
Transitional kindergarten isn't a requirement, but any parent whose child will turn five by April 2, 2024 is eligible to sign up. Classes run from 8:15 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. and are taught by credentialed teachers. Registration is ongoing and parents can register on the district's website.
The district's goal will generally be to enroll students at the school nearest to their home, but that isn't guaranteed and will be dependent on space. The district will also prioritize placing students at the same school their siblings attend. Imai will also have a "co-taught" classroom with both a general education and special education teacher, who can support students with disabilities.
"Our goal is to try to keep the neighborhoods together as much as we can, but it will boil down to space," Superintendent Ayindé Rudolph said in an interview. "Right now I think we're in a good position that we have enough space, but we'll know once the numbers are (finalized)."
Once transitional kindergarten serves all four year olds, Rudolph predicts that the district will offer transitional kindergarten at all schools.
In the shorter term, the district hopes that by offering the program at five schools next year, that it will be accessible for more families, particularly those who walk their children to school.
The district selected the campuses in part based on where students could benefit most from an extra year of education. Monta Loma, Theuerkauf, Castro and Mistral have lower literacy rates for students entering kindergarten than the district's other elementary schools, according to a presentation to the school board earlier this month.
The district also hopes that the campuses with transitional kindergarten programs may see a boost to enrollment, as parents get used to the school and decide to keep their child there for elementary school.
Space was also a consideration. Transitional kindergarten classrooms need to have a dedicated bathroom, Rudolph said, limiting where they can be placed.
Although Imai doesn't have low literacy rates, the campus has available classrooms, Rudolph said, and covers a different geographic portion of the district. Imai is at the southern end of the district, while Castro, Mistral, Theuerkauf and Monta Loma are all to the northwest.
With the expansion of transitional kindergarten, the school district also plans to make changes to its preschool program. Mountain View Whisman offers preschool on a sliding fee scale at three sites: Graham Middle School, Theuerkauf Elementary School and Latham Preschool – which is adjacent to Mistral and Castro elementary schools. Graham also houses the district's Special Education Preschool.
Next year, the district plans to move Graham's preschool classes, including the special education program, to Theuerkauf. Rudolph told the school board that parents often don't want their preschoolers to be sharing a campus with middle school students.
With the expansion of transitional kindergarten, the district has seen lower enrollment rates for preschool, according to the presentation to the school board. The district's preschool program serves children ages three and up, meaning that some kids are eligible for both transitional kindergarten and preschool. Rudolph said the district will need to study the issue and determine the future of the preschool program.
Another challenge for the district is that while transitional kindergarten is now becoming a state requirement, the district doesn't get extra funding for the program due to the way Mountain View Whisman is funded. Unlike most school districts in the state, which receive funding based on the number of students, Mountain View Whisman (and many other Silicon Valley districts) are funded through local property taxes.
The state has allocated money for students funded on a per-student basis, but not for property tax-funded districts, Rudolph said. The district is applying for some grants, but isn't likely to be chosen as a recipient, Chief Business Officer Rebecca Westover told the board.
To learn more about Mountain View Whisman's transitional kindergarten program and to sign your child up, visit mvwsd.org/schools_and_programs/transitional_kindergarten.