Students raise their hands in Veronica Gonzalez’s kindergarten classroom at Sherman Elementary in 2016. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle
Students raise their hands in Veronica Gonzalez’s kindergarten classroom at Sherman Elementary in 2016. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

San Diego recently got some great news. Universal transitional kindergarten – a free extra year of public school for 4-year-olds – would be coming to the whole state. But it would be coming to San Diego Unified several years early.

From the Union-Tribune: “State leaders have approved a rollout of universal transitional kindergarten over the next few years, but San Diego Unified will jump ahead and offer it to all 4-year-olds this fall.”

TK had previously been limited only to students who turned 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2, but the universal program was supposed to open it up all students turning 5 at any point in the year.

All 4-year-olds getting a free extra year of school? Awesome!

“Yes!” tweeted Assemblyman Kevin McCarty. San Diego Unified, he wrote, “is getting a head start, offering Universal Transitional Kindergarten to 4-year-olds. California will be rolling out #UniversalTK in the next few years. This has been one of my top priorities and I’m excited to see it happening!”

Maybe the operative word from both sources is “offer” rather than “universal” – because on the ground parents are finding out that some of these so-called universal TK programs are full.

Megan Kuramoto-Monroe wanted to enroll her 4-year-old daughter at Ocean Beach Elementary School’s universal TK program. (OB Elementary is one of 54 sites that, the U-T noted, were supposed to take part in the universal rollout.) But Kuramoto-Monroe found out that the school is only offering one TK class, which can only accommodate 24 students, and it is already full.

OB Elementary’s principal shed more light on the situation in an email to parents this week.

“The California legislature recently enacted some changes that affect our TK program. This year the TK4 and TK program will become one program. It will be capped at 24 students. As of this writing, the program is full,” wrote Marco Drapeau, according to another parent who shared the contents of the email.

TK4 was also a program that expanded the number of students who qualify to attend TK. It was a program that started last year, and the same 54 school sites that are offering universal TK this year offered TK4 last year. It seems clear from Drapeau’s email that he believed his school would ­– under the universal TK pilot – be able to offer multiple TK classes. It seems that is no longer the case.

Drapeau told Kuramoto-Monroe that she would have to try to attend a TK program at a different school, she said. It was especially maddening, not only because OB Elementary is her neighborhood school, but because she had already managed to successfully enroll her child at OB Elementary’s PrimeTime after-school program.

To be clear, Kuramoto-Monroe said, “It’s not Drapeau I’m upset with. My frustration is with the district. When districts make decisions and just hand them down to schools with no foresight into what it will look like on the ground, it’s extremely frustrating.”

Richard Barrera, San Diego Unified’s board president, was not immediately available to comment. The district’s spokeswoman Maureen Magee was also not immediately available.

It’s true that universal TK was only supposed to be available at 54 schools. But district officials clearly didn’t mind allowing the public to believe that anyone in those schools’ boundaries would be able to attend.

“Regardless of where you live, regardless of where you work, we want you to come to school,” Stephanie Ceminsky, director of early learning for the district, told the U-T.

The afterglow of good press must have been nice for the district. But I wonder if they think it was worth it now, as they deal with calls from pissed-off parents like Kuramoto-Monroe.

What We’re Writing

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego. He can be reached by email or phone at or 619-693-6249.

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