Despite its origins in Palo Alto, a new law compelling California school districts to offer "transitional kindergarten" has attracted few students here.
Just 16 children signed up for Palo Alto's new transitional kindergarten program -- a number so small that the enrollment has been combined into the school district's pre-existing Young Fives program.
But Superintendent Kevin Skelly said some teachers have commented that the new law may be working because this year's kindergarten crop seems more mature than before.
State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, sponsored the legislation -- moving the fifth-birthday cutoff for kindergarten from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1 -- after he was petitioned by a group of Palo Alto teachers who said too many late-birthday children were entering school unprepared for the increasingly academic demands of kindergarten.
Simitian estimates 40,000 California 4-year-olds -- kids with November birthdays -- are eligible for the new T-K program this fall. Once the law is fully phased in, 125,000 children -- those turning 5 between Sept. 1 and Dec. 2 -- each year will qualify for the pre-kindergarten year.
Statewide enrollment figures for the new T-K program will not be available until next summer, said Tina Jung, spokeswoman for the California Department of Education. Jung said the department collects enrollment data in October but that updates are not completed until the following summer.
Local school officials speculated that demand for transitional kindergarten could be low here because Palo Alto, unlike most school districts, already offers a "Young Fives" program and is rich in high-quality private programs.
In fact, the 16 Palo Alto children who signed up for transitional kindergarten "weren't even enough to run a class," said Sharon Keplinger, who directs a range of pre-school programs for the school district on the Greendell School campus adjacent to the Cubberley Community Center.
Instead, Keplinger accommodated the new students in one of three Young Fives classes.
For 37 years Palo Alto has offered the Young Fives program, emphasizing social-emotional and school readiness for children on the immature side of 5.
"The (transitional kindergarten) curriculum is easy for us -- kindergarten readiness is still kindergarten readiness," Keplinger said.
The new T-K offering did attract "some kids that probably wouldn't have come to us otherwise," Keplinger said.
The enrollment boost from T-K also means Keplinger has no space to accept last-minute referrals -- as she has in the past -- of children who begin the year in kindergarten but are found to be not ready.
Skelly told the Board of Education Tuesday, Sept. 18, that some teachers have remarked on positive effects from the new law.
"One unsolicited comment from a teacher at Escondido was the fact that teachers are noticing they have older kids in their classes, which has positively affected kids' readiness, maturity and ability to learn," Skelly said.
In addition to Young Fives, which serves more than 60 children, Keplinger in 2010 launched the pilot "Springboard to Kindergarten," aimed at kids about to enter Palo Alto schools with no previous preschool experience. Children are recruited when they register for kindergarten in January, and offered a five-day-a-week preschool experience from February to June.