Early Education Centers could be in the future of Manteca Unified – Manteca Bulletin | Team Cansler

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series on the Manteca Unified School District’s facilities and student housing plans that have come through growth.

Early Education Centers are a concept designed to help Manteca Unified tackle a challenge that could be more daunting than managing growth or modernizing aging campuses.

The district, like every other elementary school public school system in California, is under a pending government mandate to provide universal transitional kindergarten classes.

At the same time, efforts are being made to ensure that kindergarten children have to go to school for a whole day instead of half a day. The legislation authorizing it was vetoed this year by Gov. Gavin Newsom because of the cost it would impose on the state to increase local funding.

When all-day kindergarten is finally introduced, districts will have to essentially double their number of kindergarten classes, even if they don’t see growth.

Transitional kindergarten classroom configurations have similar design and space requirements as kindergarten classrooms.

The state requirement for kindergarten classrooms is 1,350 square feet as opposed to 960 square feet for a standard classroom.

Kindergarten classes must also have fenced play areas with age-appropriate play equipment and their own toilets.

The state has indicated it will help fund new TK classrooms, but likely won’t allow the use of portable devices.

From the 2024/25 school year, the state mandate will come into force that every school that offers a kindergarten must also offer a transitional kindergarten for 4-year-olds.

In the case of Manteca Unified, this could mean accommodating up to 2,000 new students once their 14th year of study is complete. The district currently has 24,616 students.

The need for more TK classrooms and the possible doubling of kindergarten space requirements as full days for kindergarten becomes the norm is prompting Manteca Unified to explore numerous options for the school board to consider.

Simply adding to any existing campus seems obvious. However, this would also likely be the most expensive course and might not be as effective as an option.

That’s because of two things.

First, there are significant savings on larger projects compared to simply adding a few classrooms per site.

Second, a TK and Kindergarten school campus would be 100 percent designed to provide the best educational opportunities for those two grade levels.

As such other options, the district is considering, including:

*Creation of free-standing early education centers strategically located throughout the community.

*Bringing together the TK and kindergarten needs of schools in the same area and developing the necessary facilities on one of these campuses for the host school as well as the other nearby schools.

The independent concept of early childhood education could make use of district-owned land, but has not yet developed into a school campus. Several sites exist south of the 120 bypass that have been preserved for a possible elementary school campus

Existing systems could also be converted for such use. One possible option is the McParland School Annex.

Another option the district might consider is converting an entire elementary school campus into a management early education center.

For example, merging four schools would be equivalent to accommodating eight grades in terms of student numbers on one campus. That would mean if the district chose to amalgamate four schools, one would be converted into an early education center while the other three would be first through eighth grade campuses.

Remember that these are abstract options that are being explored and may not be what is best for Manteca Unified to move forward.

That decision depends on what the board decides once possible scenarios are presented to them.

Sacramento’s universal TK mandate is based on decades of research showing that establishing an early and strong foundation is critical to learning.

Studies have shown that children who are provided “effective learning opportunities” before kindergarten have an advantage in school and in life over children who do not. This is especially true for children with negative childhood experiences.

The universal TK program offers all-day learning opportunities in a playful environment.

Children practice early reading and writing skills. The program is not designed to simply teach the kindergarten curriculum a year early.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com

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