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Gail Ahlas architect of Roseland schools' success story

  • Roseland Public Schools Superintendent Gail Andrade Ahlas with students from her district at the Boys and Girls Club summer camp at Roseland Creek Elementary School in Santa Rosa, California on Wednesday, July 17, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Gail Andrade Ahlas, the daughter of first-generation Americans, grew up in Santa Clara in the 1960s aspiring to attend college.

Her mother, whose roots are in Northern Italy, and father, whose family hails from the Azores archipelago off Portugal, helped her older brother pay tuition at private Santa Clara University. But when it came time for Ahlas to enroll at San Jose State University, she knew she was largely on her own.

She says she never asked her parents, with whom she remains close, for help.

"It was a traditional family," she said. "I never pushed it. I just knew."

But it didn't inhibit her. "You tell me no, it just makes me feistier, which helps me in my job," she said.

That job is running the 2,440-student Roseland School District in Santa Rosa — the fastest-growing district in Sonoma County, one that has opened two schools in two years.

Situated roughly west of Highway 101, south of Highway 12, and between Hearn Avenue and Stony Point Road, Roseland serves some of the county's poorest students.

Three-fifths of the students are considered English-language learners and the majority come from homes where at least one parent is not a high school graduate. Yet the district where 92 percent of students are Latino is posting dramatically improving test scores, earning national recognition for its charter high school that emphasizes college preparatory curriculum and, most recently, expanding its physical reach far beyond the streets of Roseland.

Standing squarely behind the transformation is Ahlas, 60. In perhaps her most ambitious move, she spearheaded the district's leap last year from its traditional neighborhood boundaries by opening a school on the campus of the former 130-year-old Ursuline High School in northeast Santa Rosa.

"She is kind of dangerous because she is passionate, with a plan," said Santa Rosa Junior College President Frank Chong. "She has a vision. She has a dream. She has a plan."

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