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Durango School District 9-R moves kindergarten cutoff

Some kids may have to spend another year in preschool

Durango School District 9-R has moved its cutoff date for starting kindergarten.

The date, formerly Oct. 1, has moved to Sept. 1.

The policy change aims to ensure children aren’t thrust into the wilds of kindergarten without being emotionally and socially prepared. Children whose 5th birthday falls between Sept. 1 and Oct. 1 are being assessed.

School district spokeswoman Julie Popp said registration for the 2013-14 school year “is ongoing throughout this month,” and the district would have a firmer idea about the number of students affected by the new policy by the end of March.

Libby Culver, director of Early Childhood for 9-R, said it was unclear how many district children would get a bonus year in preschool, but said about 23 out of 414 kids in the current crop of kindergartners had September birthdays.

Culver said preschool is a play-based learning environment, but kindergarten involves a much greater amount of teacher instruction – a pedagogic transition that can prove daunting for some 5-year-olds.

“We’re more focused on kids’ readiness skills and not some arbitrary date,” Culver said.

Culver said that in studying kindergartners, the district had found that most who turned 5 in September weren’t ready for kindergarten.

But she said the district wasn’t holding “hard and fast” to its new September standard.

“A child might be born in August, so they’re eligible for kindergarten, but if I, in discussion with parents and teachers, agree that preschool is the best environment, they don’t have to go to kindergarten,” Culver said.

Culver said she wasn’t administering a test to the September-born students, but observing them in classrooms.

“It’s less to do with academic skills and more to do with their enthusiasm towards learning, and with their social and emotional development – how they’re able to focus and listen and attend in a classroom with a bunch of other kids,” she said.

The parents of students not ready for kindergarten will not be forced to pay for another year of preschool. Culver said state funds would be used to cover such students’ tuition for the unanticipated year of preschool.

“We’re not taking extra dollars from the district to do this,” Culver said, “and we’re not trying to keep kids out of our schools. We’re trying to make sure that every kid can be successful.”

cmcallister@durangoherald.com