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The former Gold Ridge Elementary School campus in Rohnert Park next next fall will become home to the first public Waldorf-inspired high school in the North Bay.

Credo High School is expected to pull students from the seven public kindergarten through eighth grade Waldorf-inspired schools in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties to fill 100 freshmen slots in its inaugural year.

Cotati-Rohnert Park District officials will provide administrative and budgetary oversight for the charter school.

Interest is "very strong," said school developer Chip Romer of Sonoma. "People are willing to come from as far as Napa and Novato. They have been wanting this for many years."

About 250 people attended an open house on the Gold Ridge campus in November, Romer said. A second open house is scheduled for Saturday.

"This is sort of hotbed of Waldorf education in the whole world, this region. I feel like this it's a natural next step," said Susan Olson, executive director of Sebastopol Independent Charter School, a Waldorf-inspired K-8 campus established in 1995.

Olson also serves on Credo's board of directors.

The Waldorf name is trademarked and affiliated with private schools that adhere to a philosophy of an arts-heavy curriculum that is based on a student's natural developmental progress.

In Sonoma County, private Summerfield Waldorf serves kindergarten through 12th graders on their Willowside Road campus in west Santa Rosa. Annual tuition for the 94 high school students is $16,250 and 35 percent of those students receive some level of financial assistance, according to the school.

As a public "Waldorf-inspired" charter school, the curriculum will follow Waldorf philosophy but will remain public. Credo is expected to receive state funding and students will be required to meet state and federal academic standards.

Romer expects to be granted a $370,000 two-year, start-up grant from the California Department of Education. But he called Credo's vision a "very expensive proposition."

Families will be asked to contribute $200 a month to support the curriculum, he said. No student can be denied entry for lack of funds or because of special education needs.

"It's really enriched curriculum that can't be funded by the state" average daily attendance funding, he said.

All graduates will be required to complete the so-called A-through-G college preparatory curriculum necessary to apply to any California State University and University of California campus.

"We will not turn people away. We cannot turn people away," he said. "They will be challenged, they will be supported, but they better be serious students if they want to be with us," he said.

The goal is to enroll 100 freshmen in the first year from the approximately 160 eighth graders who graduate from the seven Waldorf-inspired "feeder schools," according to Romer. To date, 50 families have signed up for the fall, he said.

"I think we are the solution to the woes in public education or at least one solution," Romer said of the alternative curriculum that puts an emphasis on music, foreign language and throwback skills like bookbinding, blacksmithing, knitting, and black and white print making.

"What they are learning is delayed gratification and perseverance," Romer said. "It's a sadly missing thing in our culture. Everybody wants gratification yesterday."

In Waldorf-inspired campuses, textbooks are rare. Credo teachers will be required to be credentialed if they are teaching core subjects like English, math and science, but not if they are teaching non-core curriculum.

All teachers will be required to complete a multi-year Waldorf teaching course by the fifth year of their employment at Credo.

"In high school, we are really moving into a real thinking realm," Olson said. "They are questioning everything. These teenagers really want to know why."

The proposal has earned backing from Cotati-Rohnert Park, Sonoma County's third largest school district that has in recent years closed schools, not opened them.

Under increasing budget pressures and declining enrollment, Cotati-Rohnert Park shut Richard Crane Elementary in 2002, Gold Ridge and La Fiesta elementary schools in 2008 and Mountain Shadows Middle School last spring.

Down from its peak of about 8,300 students in 1999, the district has 5,900 students and expects to enroll 5,450 in the 2013-14 school year.

District superintendent Barbara Vrankovich said she endorsed the charter school in part because she doesn't expect the district to lose students who would have ordinarily attended either Rancho Cotate High or Technology High. The curriculum is unique enough that for students who have not attended a Waldorf K-8 campus, it likely won't be a fit, she said.

"We lose students to (Santa Rosa High School's) ArtQuest who might instead chose to go to Credo, but your typical high school student who is interested in athletics, clubs, is probably not going to go to Credo because it is not consistent with what they envision for the school school experience," Vrankovich said.

While the district isn't expected to lose students and affiliated state funding to Credo, it isn't likely to make much money from the venture, either.

The operating agreement, not yet hammered out, will pay Cotati-Rohnert Park between 1 and 3 percent of Credo's state "average daily attendance" income. Because the district is not charging Credo to use the Gold Ridge campus, it can charge up to 3 percent.

Based on the school's projected enrollment, first year revenue for Cotati-Rohnert Park could be between $7,500 and $22,000. At peak enrollment, that could rise to between $33,000 and $99,000, said Wade Roach, the district's chief financial officer.

A deal on what percentage the district will charge the new school is expected in April or May.

"For the district, it's not about making money off Credo," Vrankovich said. "We wouldn't have authorized the charter if we were going to turn around and take advantage and charge them rent."

"We are all in a compromised situation in public education. We need to be in it together and not cannibalize each other," Romer said.

Romer said the budding partnership will put Cotati-Rohnert Park in the spotlight for hosting an alternative curriculum at a public school campus in Northern California.

"Other districts around here have a reputation of not being friendly to charter schools," Romer said. "This district is the early believer."

"We are looking at the bigger picture of our community," said board president Ed Gilardi. "It won't draw anything away."

On the contrary, Romer said. Seven public kindergarten-through-eighth-grade Waldorf-inspired campuses in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties have approximately 1,620 students.

"It's my understanding that all have waiting lists to get in," said Debra Lambrecht, administrator for the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education.

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