Del Mar trustee wants to find room for transitional kindergarten in district’s strategic plan

A DMUSD modern learning studio,
(Karen Billing)

The Del Mar Union School District is on the home stretch of its strategic plan process, developing a vision that will guide the district through the next five years. The last community input session on the strategic plan will be held on Thursday, May 25 at 5:30 p.m. at Ocean Air School and will be followed by a staff and community-wide survey, The board is expected to approve the strategic plan in June.

Community meetings have been held over the last few months to gather input on the strategic plan, meant to be a set of priorities to inform how the district focuses its energy and resources to meet the needs of all students. Input has also helped shape the Portrait of a Learner, spelling out the community’s aspirations for Del Mar students by the time they graduate sixth grade.

For the record:

2:50 p.m. May 12, 2023There are 133 districts that are TK eligible in the state. Eight, not 11, don’t offer it and five are in San Diego County.

At the April board meeting, DMUSD Trustee Katherine Fitzpatrick voiced several concerns about the strategic plan process. She was “disheartened” that there was no childcare provided at the community meetings and that there was no opportunity to provide input on the district website or any information about what is happening—she wondered if the district was getting as much public participation as it could.

There are short recaps posted online on the district’s website and Assistant Superintendent Shelley Petersen said that after-school childcare staffing continues to be challenging, sometimes they are able to offer childcare but sometimes not.

A long-time advocate for transitional kindergarten, Fitzpatrick also strongly argued that universal transitional kindergarten should be part of the strategic plan discussion.

“That’s a huge deal,” Fitzpatrick said. “The whole state is implementing this program and it’s nowhere to be found here. It’s like we’re keeping the blinders on.”

Transitional kindergarten (TK) refers to the first year of a two-year kindergarten program that uses a modified kindergarten curriculum that is developmentally and age-appropriate. TK is expected to be fully phased in for all 4-year-old children by 2025-26 statewide at no cost to families.

According to the California Department of Education, upon apportionment, all school districts with the exception of charter schools are required to provide TK to age-eligible children. The current California Education Code law is written to say that school districts shall admit pupils into TK “as a condition of receipt of apportionment”. The Del Mar district, as a community-funded basic aid school district supported by property taxes, has stated as they do not receive state funding for TK they are not required to provide it.

Of the 133 TK-eligible elementary school districts in the state, eight don’t offer TK and five of them are in San Diego County. TK is not offered in the Del Mar, Encinitas, Cardiff, Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach school districts.

Fitzpatrick said the district should be asking DMUSD parents if they want universal TK—she said the question hasn’t been asked since 2015 when the district stopped offering it.

Trustee Doug Rafner said he 100% supports TK and if asked, he believes most parents would also. The question is how do they fund it.

During the board’s last TK discussion in 2021, the program was projected to cost $5.6 million a year, assuming 25 classrooms, 26 teachers and 26 aids. Looking at the district’s enrollment projections and the available birth data, 596 students would be eligible in the 2023-24 school year.

Updated estimates have not been prepared since 2021. In past discussions, staff has said that funding TK could come at the expense of small class sizes and other district programs.

With Fitzpatrick’s comments about transparency and public involvement, Trustee Alan Kholos agreed that the district should challenge themselves to bring as many people into the process as possible before the May meeting. He encouraged the district to find creative ways to inform more people about the strategic plan so they are “primed and ready” when it comes time to participate in the survey.

“We want as much public input as possible,” agreed DMUSD Board President Gee Wah Mok.

In her request for future agenda items, Fitzpatrick also wanted the board to revisit the topic of full-day kindergarten. Currently the first six weeks of school are minimum days for kindergarten students—they are out at 12:30 p.m. rather than 2:30 p.m. in order to provide time for teachers to assess their new students.

Last year, Fitzpatrick made the request for the district to consider an alternative schedule with full-day kindergarten from the start of school. In October, the district surveyed parents and of 978 responses, 57% of parents preferred the kindergarten schedule to begin with a full day on the first day of school and 43% said they were satisfied with the current kindergarten schedule.

A survey of district kindergarten staff showed 100% of teachers strongly recommended keeping the six-week minimum day schedule and, in February, the board decided to keep the schedule the same.

Having recently learned that student assessments only take three weeks, Fitzpatrick wanted the district to again share the results of the kindergarten survey with the public and to discuss ways to merge what parents and staff prefer. The rest of the board did not support it as a future agenda item.