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Report documents decline in kinder readiness

Transitional kindergarten offered at Kenwood School; discontinued at Dunbar
Report documents decline in kinder readiness
A sign on Sonoma Highway celebrating Dunbar Elementary School’s 150th anniversary. Dunbar is one of the oldest schools in California. It will not offer transitional kindergarten in 2022.Photo by Paul Goguen.

By Emily Robledo

Sonoma County has seen a consistent decline in students prepared for kindergarten in the past five years, according to a report issued in late June by the Road to Early Achievement and Development for Youth (READY), an initiative of the Sonoma County Department of Human Services and First 5 Sonoma County.

The report says that since the 2016-17 school year, there has been a decline in kindergarten readiness among the READY cohort of Sonoma County school districts. The report’s cohort does not include Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD), which includes Dunbar Elementary School in Glen Ellen, or the Kenwood School District. The Kindergarten Student Entrance Profile (KSEP) is used to determine readiness; a paper on development of the KSEP notes that, “school readiness is no longer thought of as merely a chronological benchmark, but rather a composite of cognitive, social-emotional, behavioral, and physical elements that are associated with successful transition to elementary school.”

“READY has also observed large disparities in kindergarten readiness between white students and students that identify as Black, Indigenous, Latinx, or from a community of color (BIPOC), as well as dual language learners (DLLs),” the local report states. “The disparities between white and BIPOC students do not stop at kindergarten readiness, [but] rather persist in family income and educational attainment, access to early learning opportunities and education, and many more factors beyond the individual and family level.”

The past five years have also seen disruptions in school attendance due to wildfire evacuations and the global pandemic. The impacts of both have included layoffs and forced relocation. These things considered, the report’s findings are qualified.

The Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 was the foundation for establishing transitional kindergarten, also known as TK. TK is the first of a two-year kindergarten experience meant to bridge the gap between preschool and kindergarten, giving young students time to build a strong foundation for future school success.

However, if the TK opportunity is not accessible to residents, it seems unlikely that the report’s findings will change.

Kenwood is a single-school district serving students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Nate Myers, the district superintendent and principal of Kenwood School, explained that while Kenwood School offers transitional kindergarten for Kenwood residents, “unfortunately, we do not have the facilities for a stand-alone TK classroom … we will be blending our TK students with our kinder students.”

Due to the limited space, Myers said “additional TK students from out of the district would overload our TK/K classroom, so TK interdistrict transfers will not be allowed.” He is hopeful that situation could change over time, to accommodate kinder students from neighboring Glen Ellen and elsewhere, noting that, “[as] the next four to five years go by, and the TK age requirements shift to fully encompass all four-year-olds, we will have had time to create the specialized TK space and will have enough four-year-old students to fill a classroom.”

TK has been available for several years at Dunbar School for Glen Ellen residents but has been discontinued for the upcoming 2022/23 academic school year. In a statement to the Kenwood Press, Dr. Adrian Palazuelos, superintendent of Sonoma Valley Unified School District, stated, “The Sonoma Valley Unified School District employs centralized enrollment for transitional kindergarten. The transitional kindergarten offerings are at those sites where there is the greatest number of students in the neighborhood. A transitional kindergarten class has been offered at Dunbar Elementary School for several years, and the class has never been full.”

Palazuelos did confirm that, for TK students in the Dunbar attendance area, transportation to school sites that will offer TK, along with after-school care programs, will be available.