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.
The opening of Roseland Creek Elementary School for 400 students marked the first time in more than five decades that the district was able to ease the enrollment pressure on its two other elementary schools.
"We are full to the brim," said school board president Janice Siebert. "We need to keep those schools, we want to modernize them and keep them repaired."
<b>Prepare, or it's your shoe</b>
On the day the $28 million Roseland Creek opened, its sixth-grade teacher, Alex Piazza, wanted to teach his students a little something about being prepared on their first day of school.
Forget to bring your pencil to class? No problem, a student can borrow one — but it will cost them. It will cost them their shoe, to be exact.
"If you need one, come and grab it, but put your shoe in the PE box," he said.
In Piazza's room, as is the case throughout the Roseland School District, preparation is a key principle: Prepare for middle and high school, prepare for high school graduation, prepare for college.
Portions of the new campus remain unfinished — the library is not ready for students — but teachers and students raved about the soaring, glassed-in breezeway windows, teal blue hallways and bare walls awaiting personalized touches.
"This space for kindergarten, we call it the penthouse," said kindergarten teacher Meghan Kauffman.
As is the the case at Roseland University Prep and Roseland Collegiate Prep, college pennants and posters are affixed throughout the campus. Piazza gives spirit points to students who wear Roseland Creek bear cubs gear or togs from UC Berkeley.