Large districts see chance to draw more kids; smaller ones work to find solutions

The uncertainty surrounding the creation of transitional kindergarten has not only affected parents unsure of what to do come fall, but school districts wondering how to create a new program in a difficult financial climate.

Some districts in Sonoma County are using the new program as a way to draw parents looking for more academics and possibly an escape from child care costs. Others are wondering how their lower enrollment numbers will support a unique and separate program.

Santa Rosa City Schools has widened its enrollment window beyond the initial state-mandated threshold. Sonoma County's largest school district will offer a differentiated curriculum and separate teacher to children who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2, said Gail Eagan, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Santa Rosa City Schools.

"We are fortunate that we can do that because we have those kinds of numbers," she said. "It would be really challenging to have it be a combination, because it's really so dramatically different from regular kindergarten."

In Sonoma County, where there are 40 separate school districts, some districts with lower enrollments will have no choice but to offer a transitional kindergarten within the traditional kindergarten classroom.

In the Alexander Valley School District, where there are about 130 students at Alexander Valley School and classroom space is at a premium, only three children fall within the state's transitional kindergarten enrollment window, Superintendent Bob Raines said.

"We don't have another room anywhere" so officials are considering creating a combination transitional-traditional kindergarten class with additional staff.

"I think in general it's a good idea to roll those dates back so we are not enrolling kids who not going to be 5 until December," Raines said. "I certainly understand why folks would advocate for that program, but it certainly contains some challenges for little districts."

Windsor School District is using the mandate as a way to draw new families wanting to take advantage of the law with an array of options for the district's youngest students, Superintendent Tammy Gabel said.

The district has for years offered a two-year kindergarten program for some students, but lost 39 kindergarten families last year -- an exodus Gabel blamed on ballooning class sizes forced by budget cuts.

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