Less than a year after it started transitional kindergarten, the Del Norte County Unified School District plans to expand the program to more schools next fall.

The district had initially planned to phase in its transitional kindergarten program over a period of three years. It currently offers the program to children whose 5th birthday falls from Nov. 2 to Dec. 2.

But instead of making the planned expansion include children who turn 5 from Oct. 2 to Dec. 2, the district will admit students who turn 5 by Sept. 2, said Connie Gilman, coordinator of elementary curriculum.

"We'll hopefully get a full class in town," Gilman said. "We decided along with everybody else in the state to just move it back to September and just do it all this next year so we've got a good group of kids. Then we can really do a true transitional kindergarten program."

Del Norte and other California school districts established transitional kindergarten programs in response to the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010. The law created the program for children who weren't 5 years old on the first day of school as well as those who aren't developmentally ready for regular kindergarten.

Before the law took effect at the start of the current school year, students were admitted to kindergarten if they turned 5 by Dec. 2. The law moves the minimum cut-off age gradually so that all kindergartners would be 5 on the first day of school starting in 2014.

Del Norte officials initially chose to phase in transitional kindergarten gradually, hoping to attract about 25 students. But with only seven kids in Crescent City's transitional kindergarten program, the district didn't have enough students for a full class, Gilman said. They are currently in a combination class with regular kindergartners at Bess Maxwell Elementary School.

There are also transitional kindergartners at the district's outlier schools, including Smith River, Redwood and Margaret Keating schools, Gilman said. The district has about 10 transitional kindergartners total, she said.

By implementing the full program next year, the district hopes to establish one to two full transitional kindergarten classes at one or two elementary schools in Crescent City, Gilman said. The district also hopes to establish combination classes of transitional kindergartners and traditional kindergartners at its schools outside of Crescent City.

Parents will be asked to provide transportation for their children who attend transitional kindergarten in Crescent City, Gilman said. Transportation by school bus may also be possible, she said.

Transitional kindergarten is a two-year program that focuses on social skills and other skills such as being able to sit and listen and being able to walk in a line during the first year, Gilman said. The district screens kindergartners at the beginning of the year to determine if they would do better in a transitional kindergarten program, she said.

"Kindergarten is so academic. Kids are learning to read, there's a lot of writing," Gilman said. "For kids who haven't had preschool experience or who are younger, it's a struggle for them. We want them to start their career off in school feeling good about it."

Kindergarten registration for the 2013-14 school year started March 1, Gilman said. Parents can register their children for transitional kindergarten at their local school site. Screening for transitional kindergarten starts in August, she said.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com.