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Santa Rosa's 'dual-immersion' school moves forward

School board presses for location and enrollment estimates

Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 7:58 a.m.

Santa Rosa City Schools is pressing forward with the establishment of a Spanish-language dual-immersion school in the fall, but it remains unclear where the program will be located and how many students will enroll.

The program would deliver lessons primarily in Spanish in early grades, with an increasing amount of English for students in upper grades. The district has not yet determined the ratio.

Trustees praised the plan's progress at the regular school board meeting Wednesday night but urged district staff to ramp up student recruitment and nail down a site. The board is expected to discuss a final draft of the charter in January.

"I'm very nervous about the numbers," board member Donna Jeye said.

In the first three community meetings, families of 32 incoming kindergarteners and first-graders said they were "very interested" in enrolling at the school. Twelve of those students would come from outside the district, representing a potential financial gain for Sonoma County's largest school district.

An additional 25 families indicated strong interest in the school for "future enrollees" but not necessarily for students who would enroll next year.

District officials have long said the goal is to open the school in the fall with 90 students -- likely kindergarten and first graders -- in its inaugural year.

Trustee Laura Gonzalez urged staff members to push for two full first-grade classes in the first year, with a student body comprised of 50 percent native Spanish speakers and 50 percent native English speakers.

"I'm more worried about coming up with numbers for Spanish speaking children than English speaking children," she said. "I think those will be easier to get."

Board members expressed confidence that the program will be popular but said too few families know about the plan.

"How we go about recruiting those families and getting those kids in there, I don't know, but we need to do that," Jeye said.

Board members aired concern about potential locations, arguing that one possible location, the Lewis School site on Lomitas Avenue, is too small and lacks adequate playground space.

A site decision could assure potential students and their families about the viability of the school, board members said.

"We need to know where the site is going to be in short order," trustee Frank Pugh said. "I don't want to move students around once they get started. I want them to stay in one spot and grow there."

Saying the program has been "a long time coming," newly sworn-in trustee Jenni Klose said enthusiasm for the idea has been strong in a series of community outreach meetings.

"The public response is fantastic," she said.

The board is expected to discuss a final charter application in January, as well as continue discussion of potential locations for the dual-immersion school.

You can reach Staff Writer Kerry Benefield at 521-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com.

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