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Smaller kindergarten classes
Manteca Unified heading toward 24-to-1 ratio
Nile Garden School kindergarten teacher Robin Wilson is shown interacting with students as part of a group activity on the first day of the new school year in August. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

The average size of Manteca Unified kindergarten classes are shrinking.
After swelling to a ratio of 32 students to 1 teacher at the heighth of the budget crisis triggered by the Great Recession in 2008, the current ratio is at 29 to 1. It will drop to 28 to 1 next school year and continue to drop by a student each year until it reaches 24 to 1.
The gradual easing back down to 24 to 1 — being done with the state’s blessing — means the district  can retain class-size reduction funds for grades targeted by Sacramento without pushing up student-to-teacher ratios at grade levels not covered.
Superintendent Jason Messer said the negotiated agreement with teachers has allowed the district to work toward a smooth transition back to lower class sizes at the kindergarten level without disrupting education staffing elsewhere.
And while there are no aides in kindergartens save for those to serve special needs or bilingual students, Messer noted that teachers where campuses have morning and afternoon sessions help each other.
In addition to their own kindergarten class, teachers are assigned 100 minutes of instructional time elsewhere at their respective elementary schools. That is done virtually all of the time in another kindergarten class helping teach.
However, in a majority of the district’s schools at the discretion of the site principal and the kindergarten teachers, kindergarten sessions have been extended by 100 minutes to further enhance education opportunities of the students.
Messer noted that Manteca Unified has incorporated kindergarten into its curriculum meaning the course work has continuity from kindergarten through 12th grade instead of first through 12th.
That follows the instructional guidelines of the State of California. Kindergarteners are expected to develop basic foundational skills through the Common Core Standards that are in many cases tougher than in years past.
Manteca Unified aggressively lobbies to support Headstart funding in the community as well as supporting the First 5 San Joaquin effort that funds First 5 Preschool within the school district.
First 5 San Joaquin in Manteca Unified provides:
ufree preschool services to 272 children living in the Great Valley, George Komure, August Knodt, Lathrop, Lincoln, and Sequoia Elementary School attendance areas through a collaborative effort with Creative Child Care, Inc. and Kids Academy.
usix eight-day Kindergarten Bridge Programs at Sequoia, Lincoln, Lathrop, Great Valley, August Knodt, and Komure for 272 children.
uthe Raising A Reader family literacy program for 272 preschool and playgroup families.
u440 health insurance screenings; 245 developmental screenings; professional development opportunities to preschool teachers.
upreschool/ kindergarten articulation.
u20 parent workshops.
uEnglish Language Development classes to 16 parents.
ucase management services to approximately 25 children with special needs.
uearly childhood coaching support to two preschool classrooms.
“The Kindergarten Bridge Programs have been especially effective at preparing children for kindergarten,” noted Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke.
The bridge programs not only familiarize students with school but also helps lay the basic foundation to prepare them for a year of learning on the kindergarten level.
A five-year study of students that have been involved in First 5 San Joaquin projects and then enrolled in kindergarten and advancing into primary grades shows “compared to children who did not attend preschool, they have lower rates of absenteeism in school, lower overall rates of grade retention, and better classroom performance based on teacher-reported grade reports in the areas of language arts and math.”
Messer serves on the First 5 San Joaquin board.