One of Sonoma County's best academic schools is growing.

Cinnabar Charter School plans to open a seventh grade next school year and add an eighth grade the following year. School Principal Chuck Bush said the middle school program will offer college preparatory classes, preparing students for higher-level academic classes in high school. "We want to give the people in the community some choices," he said. "We've looked at both private and public school programs and plan to take the best parts of both."

He noted that the middle school curriculum will be project based with an emphasis on creativity and critical thinking. "We want to help insure that by the time the students get to college, they have the skills they need in those areas," Bush said.

A portion of the campus will be refurbished this summer so the middle school students will have their own area. "The seventh graders will have their own space and break room," Bush explained. "It will be a busy summer renovating the campus, bringing new furniture and getting the area ready for them.

Bush said the district has been saving for the growth for three years, and once the middle school is set up, it will pretty much pay for itself. The district has already hired two seventh-grade teachers and has plans to add one more.

"It is very exciting," the principal said. "Things are moving very fast."

The addition of the middle school comes as Cinnabar celebrates its inclusion on the California Business for Education Excellence's Honor Roll. Cinnabar is one of 2,108 California public elementary, middle and high schools to achieve honor roll status. Honor roll schools are recognized for student academic achievement, improvement in achievement over time and reduction in achievement gaps.

"It makes me feel pretty darn good," Bush said of the award. "I'm really proud of it. It is a tribute to all our staff and faculty."

The award comes after Cinnabar showed a 57-point growth in its Academic Performance Index score from 2011 to 2012. The school had major jumps in all subgroups and surpassed the 800 threshold in all subgroups except students with disabilities, where there are only 13 students.

The principal attributed much of the success for not only its honor roll status, but also to its improving API test scores to the return of art and music to the school curriculum. "Putting music and art back into the curriculum made a huge difference," he said. "Now we can see a direct correlation between music, art and the language arts."

"As a staff we figured out what we needed, tightened our belts and made it happen. Everyone made sacrifices."

Next year, the school will add a band program for fourth through seventh graders. "Parents told us they really wanted band," Bush said. "It is all about listening to the community and trying to meet its needs."

Cinnabar has also added 25 minutes to each of its 185 school days and almost a full hour to the first-grade school day.

One very visible change is the addition of a new sign at the entrance to the school which is located on a hill just off Skillman Lane.

"We have a great location here, but people don't know where we are," Bush pointed out. "With our new sign, people will be able to find us."

Two informational meetings have been planned for next week to explain the new middle school college preparatory program. Meetings will be held at the school, 286 Skillman Lane, on Tuesday, May 14 and Thursday, May 16 at 5:30 p.m.