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Lodi Unified School District to move ahead on transitional kindergarten

Program would help kids born before cut-off date keep up with their peers

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Posted: Thursday, April 19, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 11:29 am, Thu Apr 19, 2012.

In a bold move, the Lodi Unified School District board of trustees has decided to forge ahead with plans to create a transitional kindergarten program at Tuesday's meeting.

"Kids are expected to leave kindergarten reading and writing. Like it or not, that's the reality. It only makes sense that California go full bore with this," said Carlos Villafana, principal of Lawrence Elementary School, one of two schools to offer the program.

District officials had worked on the program for weeks when they learned funding for students who turn five after Nov. 1 had not been included in Gov. Jerry Brown's January budget proposal.

But legislators want to fully support transitional kindergarten, said Tim Hern, chief business officer. School districts are receiving strong recommendations to go ahead and count on funding in the fall.

Currently, a child can enter kindergarten in August if he or she turns 5 years old before Nov. 1, a change from previous years. Over the next three years, that date will move gradually to Sept. 1 to keep California students in line with the rest of the nation.

Children who will turn five years old between Nov. 1 and Dec. 1 are eligible for a transitional kindergarten program. The curriculum is a combination of preschool and kindergarten level work, with an additional emphasis on socialization and how to manage in a classroom setting.

As the cut off date changes, more students will become eligible for the class.

Current law states these students have a right to transitional kindergarten.

Legally, a student can enter kindergarten at any time after they turn 5 years old, even if they miss the Nov. 1 birthday cutoff. Children don't usually enter kindergarten mid-year because there isn't enough space and the district prefers that a student receive a full year of education, said Catherine Pennington, assistant superintendent of elementary education.

But funding for that student is available the day they turn five years old. That's the detail the district is banking on.

Hern crunched the numbers. The cost of running a morning and afternoon kindergarten class at two schools is $310,000 for one year.

State funding for the 80 students in these classes adds up to $417,000, if legislators choose to fund these November birthday students for the full year.

If the state chooses to provide funding for students only after they turn five years old, the budget drops to about $278,000, which represents about two-thirds of a year's funding.

In a worst-case scenario, the district would be responsible for $32,000 for one year of transitional kindergarten.

School board members think that potential price tag is worth the benefits of offering transitional kindergarten.

"It doesn't seem like a big difference if you're 24 and a half or 25, but it makes a big difference if you're four and a half or five," said trustee Ruth Davis, who often recommended younger students for an extra year of kindergarten when she taught the class.

The board unanimously approved the proposal to create transitional kindergarten classes at Podesta Ranch and Lawrence Elementary Schools for the 2012-2013 school year.

Villafana is excited to start the class at Lawrence, calling it another important component for early childhood education.

"If I were a parent, I'd be right there signing my kid up," he said.

Parents can register their children for transitional or regular kindergarten at their area elementary schools anytime before Aug. 1, 2012.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com. For more information about local education issues, read our Education Café blog.

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