Ukiah USD Weighs in on Universal TK
This interview with Katie Sommer, assistant superintendent of educational services at the Ukiah Unified School District, is the final part of a two-part series on the expansion of transitional kindergarten in California schools.
Family Life: Do you think public TK is a good addition to local education?
Katie Sommer: We’re excited about TK, which we’ve actually had since 2015. But now the state has decided to expand it, calling it Universal TK. Currently, the window of when a child can turn five [and still be eligible for TK] is getting larger. This school year, it is September 2 to February 2; next school year, it will be September 2 to April 2; in 2024–2025, it will be September 2–June 2; and then in 2025–2026, there will be full implementation, meaning any student who has their fourth birthday by September 1 will be eligible for TK. So the program will transition from being for students about to turn five to a program for all four- to five-year-olds. We think this is great for students and families.
FL: It sounds like this program is all about making TK accessible.
FL: Will teachers be trained differently?
KS: There are a couple of different things to discuss regarding that question. One is that the state is working on broadening the credential for the TK program. Currently, TK teachers must have taught kindergarten before July 1, 2015, or have a regular teaching credential plus units in early childhood education. Professional development has focused on the Preschool Learning Foundations and what’s appropriate for students who are in a younger age group. That’s one aspect. The other aspect is that we’re also working on the social-emotional side: how to work with younger children; what to expect from their behavior; how to provide directions, etc. Many of our teachers have preschool backgrounds, which is great. The state is looking at changing the requirements for credentialing, and part of that discussion has been about whether or not they will accept only a preschool credential and not require a multiple-subject credential for TK.
FL: What do you think parents think about the expansion of the TK program?
KS: I think parents are excited, and we’ve gotten excellent feedback. We have small class sizes. The ratio of students to adults is 12 to 1; we have one teacher and a paraprofessional for up to 24 students. We also have an after-school program. Many parents have to piece together childcare, but with our after-school program, they don’t have to. Together, the two programs provide a full day of care.
FL: Are there challenges to the TK expansion?
KS: Our biggest challenge is developing facilities for younger students as the program expands. The cost of facility development is prohibitive. There is some grant funding, but the state is not fully funding all our needs around facilities. (The state gave us money for curriculum, materials, supplies, and new furniture for the TK classrooms, which has been great.) The other challenge is estimating how many students are going to enroll. Many parents will choose to keep their kids in preschool when we are in full expansion. So it’s hard to estimate the enrollment numbers and plan for facilities. And there’s also the challenge of ensuring we have enough qualified staff hired in time for the start of school. It is important for families to enroll their TK students as soon as possible.
FL: So it could be that, without another infusion of money from the state, there won’t be enough room for students as the program expands.
KS: Yes, this is a possibility. We will have to wait and see how the state will react to this challenge affecting almost every school district in California.
FL: Are there any final comments you would like to make?
KS: TK is a game-changer for many families who can’t afford an all-day program. In some of our rural areas, there are no full-day programs. So we are excited about the increased access the TK program provides. We know that earlier access to a full-day educational program will make our students more successful.