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Roseland schools grow in quality, quantity

  • Melinda Tapia Perez asks a question during a tour of Roseland Creek Elementary, during the first day of school, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012 in Santa Rosa. The students carried clipboards to help them check off different areas of the school they visited, which was recently built. ((Kent Porter / Press Democrat))

At a time when many Sonoma County school districts are losing students and shuttering campuses, the Roseland School District this year opened not one but two new schools.

Roseland Creek Elementary School, a gleaming $28 million campus with emerald ball fields and two-story buildings, opened in August on Burbank Avenue. It marked the first time in nearly a decade that a new school was built in Santa Rosa.

Across town, 56 seventh-graders walked through the doors of Roseland Collegiate Prep, a new school on the former Ursuline High School campus that district officials say eventually will serve 300 seventh- through 12th-grade students enrolled in college-preparatory classes.

The rapid growth — Roseland has more than doubled its enrollment in less than 20 years, and with its two new schools now has six — is coupled with the district's emerging identity as an academic haven for its 2,300 students, the vast majority of whom are poor and Latino.

Access to a rigorous, college-prep curriculum should be available to all students, argues Gail Ahlas, Roseland's high-profile superintendent. "Middle- and upper-class families automatically have that choice, and I think it's important that all of our families have that choice for quality public schools," she said.

Roseland stands in stark contrast to many of the region's districts as it gains students and rapidly expands its programs and geographic footprint.

Roseland was once just one of eight elementary districts feeding into Santa Rosa City Schools' middle and high school system. Today it is a preschool-through-high school program that keeps students within its system while touting the continuity among schools.

"They have created a niche within their community," said Steve Herrington, superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education.

It's a formula that has grown increasingly popular in an era when parents and students are given the freedom to choose where their students go to school.

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