"I would certainly like to see it started for the upcoming school year," said Sarah Donohue, whose son, Robert, will turn 5 on Oct. 26 next year. If the school district were to introduce the whole program at once in the 2011-12 year, Robert will be eligible for the new program. If, however, the board of trustees takes the superintendent's recommendation, Donohue will not be able to register her son for transitional kindergarten, as his birthday will fall one week before the Nov. 2 cutoff date.
Transitional kindergarten is described by the California Department of Education as "the first year of a two-year kindergarten program that uses a modified kindergarten curriculum that is age and developmentally appropriate."
According to Mary Lairon, assistant superintendent of Mountain View Whisman, transitional kindergarten is aimed at better serving children born later in the year. Because of their early birthdays, under the current system these children begin kindergarten at a very young age. Many of these children — especially boys — lack the social skills needed to fully participate in a standard kindergarten classroom curriculum, she said.
"I think it has incredible benefits," Lairon said of transitional kindergarten. Children who enter kindergarten before they are ready may have trouble adjusting and risk falling behind. Transitional kindergarten programs allow for a smoother transition from preschool or home into the elementary school setting.
Last year, in an effort to address the issue of children entering kindergarten too early, California passed Senate Bill 1381, also known as the Kindergarten Readiness Act. The act will eventually move the kindergarten enrollment cut off date up from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, and require all elementary schools in the state to make transitional kindergarten available to all students born between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2.
Next school year, the cutoff date will move up to Nov. 1. The following year, the cutoff date will move up once more — to Oct. 1. And finally, in the 2014-15 school year, the cutoff date will move up one last time to Sept. 1, where it will remain indefinitely. Each year the cutoff date moves forward, the eligible age for transitional kindergarten enrollment widens.
Despite her support for the concept of transitional kindergarten, Lairon recommended that the district ease into the program, noting that the state has given schools flexibility for a reason and that Mountain View Whisman should take advantage of that flexibility.
"Whenever you do something for the first time, it is easier to do it with a smaller group," Lairon said. "It gives us a chance to iron out the kinks."
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