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Alpine Union school ahead of California's timeline in transitional kindergarten education

In the aftermath of COVID-19, this fall semester has created many challenges as schools returned to full time learning on campus. That includes the state’s new transitional kindergarten program that will take four years to implement, but KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez tells us one district is already way ahead.

Most California school districts are slowly rolling out transitional kindergarten (TK) programs for 4-year-old children, which was allowed by the new state law that took effect this fall.

The universal TK program will be available for free to every 4-year-old in California by 2026, regardless of their family’s income.

But the Alpine Union School District is well ahead of the state law. The district’s Creekside Early Learning Center has offered an early admissions preschool program for the past 20 years. It is the only campus in San Diego County just for TK and kindergarten students.


“I think we’ve learned over the past few years what people want most and what students need most is connection. Get them in school early, building fundamental skills, academic skills, and social-emotional skills, as well,” Alpine Superintendent Richard Newman said.

The district is advanced in its early childhood curriculum with a complement of 15 certificated full-time teachers at Creekside alone. According to Newman, the school will be ready to offer TK classes to 3-year-old children who turn 4 by Sept. 1, 2023 — three years ahead of the state program.

“We are not the type that jumps on the bandwagon. We create the bandwagon,” said Wendy Wray, a Creekside teacher who has been with the school district for 27 years. “We've always been a trendsetter in starting things.”

There are currently 250 students at the school. They are all enrolled in the dual language English and Spanish program.

Gwyn Kirby, 5, works on a class activity at Creekside Early Learning Center, Tuesday, Alpine, Calif., November 29, 2022.
M.G. Perez
Gwyn Kirby, 5, works on a class activity at Creekside Early Learning Center, Tuesday, Alpine, Calif., November 29, 2022.

“Well, I like computers and cooking the best,” Gwyn Kirby, 5, told KPBS News. She started learning Spanish when she was enrolled at 4 years old. She can count to 10 in Spanish and knows translation for several other words.


“I didn’t realize how lucky we were to also just have the TK program," Her mother, Jeanette Kirby, said. "I think it’s an amazing foundation for kids to learn. Not just academically, but socially, as well.”

The child care industry has long been in crisis, and COVID-19 only made things worse. Now affordable, quality care is even more challenging to find, and staff are not paid enough to stay in the field. This series spotlights people each struggling with their own childcare issues, and the providers struggling to get by.