Seventh grader Ginny Humphrey walked into the Cook Middle School office on Sebastopol Road in Santa Rosa this summer, transfer papers in hand.
Humphrey lives in Cook's attendance boundaries but had spent her sixth grade year at Willowside Middle School and assumed she would go there for seventh and eighth grade, too.
But after talking with Cook Principal Patty Turner about the school's new Compact for Success partnership with Sonoma State University, Humphrey eventually decided to leave Willowside Middle School and enroll at Cook.
"I didn't want to leave all of (my friends) but I decided my education is more important," she said. "It will help me become a veterinarian."
Compact for Success, launched this school year, guarantees a spot at Sonoma State University for Cook Middle School students who graduate from partner high school Elsie Allen with a 3.0 grade point average in college preparatory curriculum, pass entry level math and English placement tests and declare a college major, as well as other requirements.
The average grade point average for incoming freshman at Sonoma State in 2010 was 3.16.
Modeled after a 12-year-old program between the Sweetwater Union High School District and San Diego State University, the Compact for Success requires that students sign a pledge to fulfill California State University system requirements and graduate from Elsie Allen "in high standing in my community."
While the Sweetwater program now requires students to enroll in a participating school no later than seventh grade, Santa Rosa City Schools at this point allows students to join the program as late as ninth grade.
The program is meant to get Cook students, the vast majority of whom come from homes where parents have not attended college, thinking about academics before high school when remediation and missteps can cost a student a spot in college, Turner said.
"We tell them, &‘Your name, your seat, it's engraved in that college spot. You are the only one closing the doors to that, not your mom, you.' All of a sudden, they grow up. They are maturing quickly," she said.
Cook seventh graders on the first quarter honor roll last year totalled 64. This year, that number is 101.
The district chose Cook to pilot the program not only as a segue into Elsie Allen's University Center program that sends students onto the Sonoma State campus to earn up to a year's worth of college credit before they graduate from high school, but also to stem the tide of students choosing not to attend Cook.
While enrollment at four out of the five Santa Rosa City Schools middle schools has fallen in the last decade, Cook's enrollment has dropped precipitously — from 858 students in September of 2001 to 406 when school opened this year.
Turner said she and her staff spent the summer educating students and families who walked in the door intent on transferring out of Cook. She called any change of heart a "small victory."
"Just by coming to Cook they are in (Compact for Success)," she said.
Carlos Ayala, the interim dean of Sonoma State's School of Education, said Cook's enrollment issues and its feeder relationship with Elsie Allen made it a perfect campus to launch the local program.
"I think that we need to provide students with choices and we need to provide students with clear guidelines and road maps," he said.