Sophia Rodriguez’s husband Dan plays with toy swords with their 4-year-old daughter while he holds their 10-month-old son at home in Chula Vista on March 8, 2022. Earlier this year the couple was searching for a state-funded preschool to help with their childcare expenses. / File photo by Ariana Drehsler for Voice of San Diego

February marks the beginning of the pre-enrollment period for San Diego Unified’s universal transitional kindergarten program. Universal transitional kindergarten is a new grade for children who turn 4 by Sept. 1 that was launched statewide in 2021. The state gave schools until 2025 to fully implement that new grade, by phasing in younger students each year, but San Diego Unified skipped ahead and offered the grade to all qualified students in 2021.  

For many parents of children eligible for UTK in the upcoming school year, this will be their first time navigating San Diego Unified. But one of the recurring complaints of parents who enrolled their children in the program last year was that it was difficult to figure out exactly how to do it. So, here’s a cheat sheet for parents. 

What UTK Offers  

Universal transitional kindergarten is a grade that bridges the gap between preschool and kindergarten. All children born between Sept. 2, 2018, and Sept. 1, 2019, are eligible to enroll in San Diego Unified’s universal transitional kindergarten program this coming school year. Classes are limited to 24 children, with a 12 to 1 student-to-teacher ratio. Each class is supposed to have one credentialed teacher and one early childhood educator. 

The program runs five days a week, and largely mimics the schedule of the elementary schools in which they’re situated. Parents can expect their children to have 6 hours of instruction per day, though many schools feature once-weekly abbreviated days, which vary from school to school. The district’s PrimeTime program, which offers before or after-school care for children, is also available to UTK students, but space is limited.  

Priority for PrimeTime enrollment is given to students already enrolled, those receiving free or reduced lunch,  children from single-parent or military families, families whose guardians both work or attend school full-time and children recommended for academic assistance. Highest priority is given to homeless students or foster youth. The application period for PrimeTime opens March 6. 

For parents who feel their child may not be ready for a full day of UTK, the district also offers a part-day or full-day state-subsidized early learning program, which runs 3 or 6 hours, respectively. It is available to 3 or 4-year-old children whose parents income falls within the state’s guidelines

Children who live within the district’s boundaries are given priority to the schools in their neighborhood, and pre-enrollees are prioritized from oldest to youngest. Like the rest of San Diego Unified schools, parents can choice into a school that’s not their neighborhood school, but because residents are prioritized the district foresees there being few choice seats. Families who live outside the district are not eligible for pre-enrollment and will only be granted spots if additional seats are available after the school year begins. 

How Enrollment Works and Dates to Keep in Mind 

The district’s pre-enrollment priority window opens on a full three months earlier than it did last year and runs from Feb. 1 to 28 Parents can pre-enroll their children either online via a form the district will add to its UTK webpage, or in-person by visiting their neighborhood school or the Neighborhood Schools and Enrollment Options office in University Heights. Pre-enrollment isn’t required for your child to be enrolled in UTK at a San Diego Unified school, but the district recommends it because seats at each school site are limited and it’s possible that not all children who apply will be enrolled. 

The district is holding two Zoom workshops for parents who want more information about the program in the weeks before the pre-enrollment period. One on the evening of Jan. 17, and one on the morning of Jan. 19. Both meetings will be translated into multiple languages, and parents will be able to ask questions of district officials. 

Requirements for Enrollment 

There are a couple of things parents will want to get handy before pre-enrolling, including their child’s birth certificate, a proof of residence and an up-to-date immunization record.  

If their children have an individualized education program – a document that outlines the educational needs of children enrolled in special education, and the services the district will provide to meet those needs – parents will also need to supply a copy. Parents also need to be aware that the district requires children to be fully potty-trained to enroll in UTK, unless a child’s individualized education program includes elements related to toileting. 

Speaking of IEP’s: Not all schools offer the sort of services children with IEP’s may need. There are multiple options for UTK-aged children with IEP’s that include the district’s early childhood special education services, placement in the separate setting classroom assigned to their neighborhood school, or a full-day pilot program at Rowan, Sherman, Chollas/Mead, Ericson, or Hamilton elementary schools. In any case, the first step is to pre-enroll the child in UTK at their neighborhood school. 

Schools Providing UTK 

All elementary and K-8 schools in the district will offer UTK, save for the Language Academy, Logan Memorial Education Campus, Mt. Everest Academy and the district’s iHigh Virtual Academy. But, as mentioned earlier, space in neighborhood schools is limited. If the UTK program at a family’s neighborhood school (parents can use this tool to find their neighborhood school) is full, the child will be placed on the overflow list and the district will try to enroll children at the closest school with space available. 

According to the district, approximately 70 percent of UTK programs in its 118 elementary schools were fully enrolled during the 2022-2023 school year. All children were still offered enrollment at a UTK program in the district, the district said, just maybe not at their neighborhood school. 

Additional answers to your UTK questions can be found on the district’s UTK FAQ. Are you a parent of a UTK-aged child that has questions not covered here? Don’t hesitate to reach out to me via Twitter or email

Jakob McWhinney

Jakob McWhinney is Voice of San Diego's education reporter.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s important for working parents to understand how the school schedule will intersect with their work schedule. As pointed out, school hours are 6 hours per day for 4 days with one “minimum day” (of about 3 hours) per week. There is generally about a week of minimum days for parent-teacher conferences, too. Then, there are all the school breaks: about 10 weeks for Summer, two weeks for Winter, and a week each for Thanksgiving and Spring, not to mention all the other holidays. All told, there are 180 school days, compared to the typical 250 work days for a working parent.

    So, considerable thought and planning around childcare coverage outside of school hours and over school breaks is critical for working parents. This includes understanding how the onsite care program (such as PrimeTime) operates and how it prioritizes children. For example, if it gives priority to “already enrolled” students, a parent may find it easier to secure a slot if their child starts in UTK rather than waits until K (e.g. the children who attended UTK would be given priority because they were “already enrolled” in the childcare program prior to entering kindergarten).

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