Editor’s note: This is the third in a series regarding Manteca Unified school district facilities and plans to accommodate students generated by growth.
Early education centers is a concept being floated to help Manteca Unified address what could be a more daunting challenge than accommodating growth or upgrading aging campuses.
The district — just like every other public school system in California that has elementary schools — is under a pending state mandate to provide universal transitional kindergarten classes.
At the same time, a push is underway to require kindergarten students to go to school for a full day instead of a half day. Legislation authorizing that was vetoed this year by Gov. Gavin Newsom based on the cost factor it would place on the state to bump up local funding.
When full day kindergarten is eventually implemented, it will require districts to basically double their number of kindergarten classrooms even if they experience no growth.
Transitional kindergarten classroom configurations have design and space needs similar to kindergarten classrooms.
The state requirement for kindergarten classrooms is 1,350 square feet as opposed to 960 square feet for a standard classroom.
Kindergarten classrooms also must have a fenced in playground areas with age-specific playground equipment as well as their own restrooms.
The state has indicated they will help pay for new TK classrooms but they will likely not allow the use of portables.
The state mandate that any school offering kindergarten must also provide transitional kindergarten for 4 year-olds goes into effect starting with the 2024-2025 academic year.
In the case of Manteca Unified, that could mean housing up to 2,000 new students once the 14th year of education is in place. The district currently has 24,616 students.
The need for more TK classrooms and the possible doubling of kindergarten space needs when full days become the norm for kindergarten is prompting Manteca Unified to explore numerous options for the school board to consider.
Simply adding on to every existing campus would seem to be the obvious choice. That, however, would likely also be the most expensive course and may not be as effective of an option.
That is due to two things.
One, there is a scale of savings in larger projects as opposed to simply adding a couple of classrooms per site.
Second, a school campus dedicated to TK and kindergarten would be dedicated 100 percent to offering the best educational opportunities for those two grade levels.
As such other options the district is exploring including:
*Creating free-standing early education only centers strategically located throughout the community.
*Pooling the TK and kindergarten needs of schools in the same area and developing needed facilities on one of those campuses for the host school as well as the other nearby schools.
The free-standing early education concept could take advantage of land the district owns but hasn’t developed into a school campus yet. Several sites exist south of the 120 Bypass exist that were obtained for a possible elementary campus
Existing facilities could also be converted for such use. One possible option is the McParland School Annex.
Another option the district could explore is converting an entire elementary campus to serve as management early education center.
Combining four schools together, as an example, would be the equivalent of housing eight grade levels in terms of student numbers on one campus. That would mean if the district opted to have four schools clustered together, one would be converted into an early education center while the other three would be first through eighth grade campuses.
Keep in mind they are abstract options being explored and may not be what is best suited for Manteca Unified to move forward.
That decision rests with what the board decides once they are presented with possible scenarios.
The universal TK mandate from Sacramento is based on decades of research that shows establishing an early and strong foundation for learning is vital.
Studies have shown children provided “effective learning opportunities” before kindergarten have an advantage in school and in life over children who do not. That is especially true of children with adverse childhood experiences.
The universal TK program offers full-day learning opportunities in a play-based environment.
Children practice early literacy skills. The program is not designed to simply teach kindergarten curriculum a year earlier.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com