San Diego teachers raise concerns over transitional kindergarten
A group of around 100 San Diego Unified teachers gathered last week to say they need more support as schools add more 4-year-olds to the transitional kindergarten program.
The event was a listening session between the San Diego Education Association and San Diego Unified Superintendent Dr. Lamont Jackson. Teachers at the union event raised issues about the new grade in California called transitional kindergarten.
Julia Capper, president of the San Diego chapter of the Association for the Education of Young Children, was at the meeting. She said teachers want clearer guidelines on how and what they should be teaching in universal transitional kindergarten, or UTK.
"It was a little bit unclear this year to many of the teachers what they were supposed to be doing," she said. "There just hasn't been real clear communication. There's a district office, the early learning department, giving communication, but a lot of the communication is, 'oh, ask your principals.' So the principals are supposed to know, but the principals haven't gotten training on what the UTK is supposed to be either."
Teachers held the meeting to tell Jackson that schools need more transitional kindergarten teachers, and more space for 4-year-olds to play.
"They need a lot of outdoor learning time and the space in an elementary school is not necessarily set up easily for that," Capper said.
Teachers also said they need more training on this younger age group.
Capper said Jackson was receptive.
"He said, 'I hear what you're saying. I hear your passion,'" she said. "And the thing that he said was, 'I don't know early learning. I'm not trained in that, and I want you to tell me how to do this better.'"
She said he proposed forming a working group to address the issue.
A spokesperson for the school district said in a statement that Jackson and other district officials met with teachers and that the district "is committed to ensuring the success of UTK. The feedback from (the San Diego Education Association) will help the district strengthen UTK for our educators, students, and families. We look forward to ongoing partnership to design solutions for additional support, investment, and training."
The district is now phasing in a statewide expansion of transitional kindergarten. In late 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom trumpeted a multibillion-dollar plan that he said would transform early childhood learning in California by bringing 4-year-olds into the public school system. By 2025, all 4-year-olds will be guaranteed a free spot in transitional kindergarten.
Capper said from the meeting, and from what she’s seen in classrooms, it’s clear that teachers are doing their best during this transition. Her organization is also hosting an early learning conference at Grossmont College next month to focus on teaching the youngest learners in transitional kindergarten.
"The teachers are working so hard, the children are still benefiting, they're still enjoying, they're still developing those skills, having those relationships, and it could be more, it could be better," she said.
The challenge is that more kids will enroll in transitional kindergarten every year, as these issues are worked out.