Santa Cruz school districts’ transitional kindergarten plans taking shape, but much still left to do

Children play math games at an elementary school
(Liz Moughon / Los Angeles Times)

While summer is just now officially kicking off, the school year already feels around the corner for Santa Cruz County school districts preparing to add a new grade level to their campuses: transitional kindergarten for 4-year-olds. Several districts have already submitted their TK plans — to meet a June 30 deadline — to the California Department of Education. 

As the state of California’s deadline for school districts to finalize their transitional kindergarten (TK) plans approaches at the end of this month, Santa Cruz County school district officials are feeling more and more confident about the growing options for families seeking early childhood education for their children.

“I’m sure there’s going to be some challenges as we implement [the plans],” County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah told Lookout on Wednesday. “But overall, I feel really confident that our schools are going to be offering a very supportive learning environment for our students.”

This past year, school districts prepared to start offering transitional kindergarten to younger students starting in the 2022-23 school year, to eventually include all 4-year-olds by the 2025-26 school year. The plans must be approved by local boards by June 30, and several districts have already adopted them, including the San Lorenzo Valley Unified, Santa Cruz City Schools and Scotts Valley Unified School districts.

Pajaro Valley Unified School District, which serves about half of the student population in the county, approved its plan Wednesday at its regular board meeting. It’s one of the several districts that had already been offering transitional kindergarten to eligible students turning 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. For some districts, this will be the first year they offer transitional kindergarten at all.

Among the varying challenges districts continue to face is knowing how many families will choose to enroll their children in TK or instead choose preschool or other early childhood education programs. Sabbah said it’s still not clear what percentage of eligible students will be enrolling this fall, which makes planning for classroom sizes and staffing difficult.

For that reason, many districts, including PVUSD, will be offering combination TK and kindergarten classes this academic year, with the option to offer TK-only classes once enough age-eligible children are enrolled for a full 24-student class.

PVUSD will offer both full-day and part-day TK classes which will be combination classes with kindergarten and California State Preschool Programs, according to its TK plan. Based on its projections, the district is expecting 225 TK students this fall. Those are students who turn age 5 between Sept. 2 and Feb. 2.

San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District will offer part-day TK classes, and depending on enrollment, those might be TK/K classes, according to district chief academic officer Jennifer McRae. She said once enrollment gets high enough, the district will offer TK-only classes. The district will also start offering full-day kindergarten classes starting this fall, she added.

The state established a timeline to phase in all 4-year-olds by the 2025-26 school year by including younger 4-year-olds each year in two- to three-month increments. However, some school districts — like Scotts Valley — are expanding eligibility to include all 4-year-olds turning age 5 between Sept. 2, 2022, and June 2, 2023, to ensure a large enough enrollment to sustain a class.

If this seems confusing, school officials say it can be just as confusing for them, too. Sabbah said the best way to find out what your children are eligible for and what options are available to them is to call your local school directly. Families can find out which school district they reside in by clicking here.

To enroll a child in a transitional kindergarten program — which will be located in the district of residence of the family — enroll at the school office or main district office. To get in touch with the school, visit the website of the school or school district, go directly to the office or call the office by phone.

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