This year, public schools across California began work to phase in an all-new grade level.
In the second half of 2021, while COVID-19 was still wreaking havoc on schools and districts, the state approved $2.7 billion to create Universal Transitional Kindergarten (UTK) – a new classroom for 4-year-olds in the state.
Kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten are optional for parents. Children are not required to attend school in California until they turn 6 years old. But from next school year, public schools are to start rolling out UTK, expanding to younger and younger students each year, until it is available for all 4-year-olds. . by 2025-26.
Elementary schools already serve 5-year-olds in kindergarten, and many districts have a transitional kindergarten program for students who turn 5 years old between September 2 and December 2. So that shouldn’t be too much work, right?
“What does it look like when 4-year-olds walk into our schools? What do we want it to look like as we support students in the new transition to primary school? These are considerations school leaders haven’t had to think about before,” explained Dr. Erin Dare, executive leadership coach leading the K-3 alignment team (P -3) at the SDCOE.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to rethink school systems, and what positive changes can be made to support building an equitable system for all students. How are we going to make it welcoming to our new, younger students? How can we help parents and students feel safe? What do we need to be accessible to our families? she shared.
Dare and a cross-divisional team of SDCOE colleagues have been working together since the new law was passed to interpret the mandate and help local education agencies with requirements and timing.
The team includes individuals with experience in educational leadership, human resource specialists and staff with expertise in early childhood education, migrant education, student English learners, extended learning, special education, curriculum and instruction, and communications.
From the start, the team focused on communicating new and rapidly changing information to districts and schools through a webpage and newsletter. Quickly, they added a professional learning series that helps educational agencies with short- and long-term planning, and scheduled office hours for leadership teams to address specific challenges.
“In one session, we talked about multilingual programs and support for students learning English or students from migrant families. In other sessions, we touched on after-school supports, special education, inclusion, community engagement, and bringing an equity lens to this planning,” Dare said. It has been very helpful to have our SDCOE experts at the table, working as a team to be the best support to our county.
The importance of supporting children with high-quality instruction at an early age cannot be overstated, said P-3 Team Member Meghann O’Connor, Director of Early Childhood Education Programs and Services.
“Education is equity. As educators, we can see the effects of quality programming for all children, which supports higher levels of performance,” O’Connor said. “When we think of the UTK and P-3 roster, we see fairness in action. We are committed to how we align quality programs that support inclusion, underserved populations, and those with diverse backgrounds and needs.
This work, if done deliberately and intentionally, could have a lasting and positive impact on our students’ ability to succeed and thrive.
“If we can help local education agencies reorganize using a cross-sectoral framework, educational tools, learning environments, data, engaged families, continuity and pathways, and administrators and teachers who understand the importance of the P-3 early on in response and planning, we will be successful,” O’Connor said.