Local school districts are preparing for the influx of 4- and 5-year-olds who will be joining elementary campuses next year for transitional kindergarten, a new public school system grade.

State Senate Bill 1381 — introduced by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown — added transitional kindergarten beginning with the 2012-2013 school year. The program is aimed at children who turn 5 between Sept. 1 and Dec. 2, after the previous cutoff for kindergarten.

Santa Barbara Unified School District trustees have already approved early implementation for next fall, instead of using a three-year phase-in period as the state law suggests. Those students would otherwise have to wait a whole year to start, said Cynthia White, the district’s director of curriculum and categorical programs.

The plan should be financially neutral with 25 students per class, White added, but district trustees may consider extending the eligibility to students born between Dec. 2 and Dec. 31.

Other local elementary districts are still developing their plans for implementing transitional kindergarten for the 2012-2013 year. The Hope Elementary School District will likely phase in new students over three years, Superintendent Dan Cooperman has said, and the Goleta Union School District is still formulating its plan.

The two-year kindergarten experience gives everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, the chance to get a younger start in school, Adams School Principal Amy Alzina told Noozhawk.

A strong advocate for “TK,” Alzina previously served on the Santa Barbara district’s Kindergarten Council and her school, at 2701 Las Positas Road, is the only one to have a classroom ready to go. The portable classroom was previously used for after-school programs and, luckily, has its own bathroom and sink. As the model classroom, which will be put to use in the fall, it’s newly painted and filled with brand-new supplies and education toys.

The school day and school year schedule for transitional kindergarten will be the same as kindergarten, but the curriculum is referred to as “nonacademic” since it focuses on skills more than content. These youngsters will be learning letters, numbers zero to 20, language and sensory skills.

“It’s an opportunity to be young and to play and to experience all the hands-on learning,” Alzina said as she showed off the different play stations.

There’s a puppet show, “dino dig,” kitchen, dress-up corner, painting easel and a listening center with read-along books. There are also perhaps Alzina’s favorite thing: blocks, which she says help children learn shapes, stacking, how to share, and basic sentence framing like “please pass me.”

The transitional kindergarten class will be Montessori-infused as well, since the district’s Teacher of the Year, Sela Viscarra, will be teaching the class and is trained in the methods, Alzina said.

Alzina, who formerly taught kindergarten and first grade, says she is a firm believer that early intervention makes a world of difference. She said the free, two-year kindergarten program makes that chance available to more children than ever.

“I feel strongly if you have a student early on, you don’t have the problems you have in high school now, like high dropout rates,” she said.

Click here for more information about transitional kindergarten and the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s implementation plan.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Adams School Principal Amy Alzina proudly shows off her campus' new transitional kindergarten classroom. The room is in a portable structure that was previously used for after-school programs.

Adams School Principal Amy Alzina proudly shows off her campus’ new transitional kindergarten classroom. The room is in a portable structure that was previously used for after-school programs. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

SBUSD Transitional Kindergarten