Roseland schools are testing an intriguing theory: Raise expectations, and students will achieve more.

So far, the results have been mixed. Roseland students are excelling in college prep classes, and almost all of them enroll in two- or four-year colleges. Yet many struggle once they get there.

The next step is to figure out why, and district officials say they're committed to finding answers. Good. With jobs requiring more skills, this experiment is worth pursuing. It's also a big reason why so many parents are choosing Roseland schools for their children.

Roseland is one of the few school districts in Sonoma County experiencing enrollment growth. As Staff Writer Kerry Benefield reported Sunday, a new elementary school opened in August, the first in Santa Rosa in nearly 10 years. Roseland also welcomed 58 seventh-graders to its newest charter school, which eventually will serve as many as 300 middle- and high-school students.

Some of Roseland's enrollment growth can be attributed to demographic trends in the south Santa Rosa school district, but population growth can't account for the district's success in attracting students in the higher grades.

Roseland is a K-6 district, with students matriculating to Lawrence Cook Middle School in the Santa Rosa City Schools district. Since 2001, however, it has opened three charter schools for grades 7-12: Roseland Accelerated Middle School, Roseland University Prep and, this year, Roseland Collegiate Prep, which opened on the old Ursuline High School campus across town.

Together, the charter schools have almost 790 students, with waiting lists for the accelerated middle school and the first high school. Plans are being developed to build a permanent campus for University Prep.

A dozen years ago, all of these students would have attended schools in other districts. They still would if their parents hadn't picked Roseland, which requires all students to complete the courses required for addmission to the University of California and California State University. Only one other public high school in the county — Sonoma Valley High — sets the bar as high.

Many educators, and many parents, say it's unnecessary, even unfair to require all high school students to fulfill UC admission requirements. These critics often cite poverty or language barriers, but 40 percent of Roseland Prep students are English language learners and 90 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

Like Roseland, San Jose and San Francisco schools have seen low-income and immigrant students excel in college prep programs. But there's more to be done if these students are lagging behind or, worse, failing in college. Many Roseland students require remedial courses; some have dropped out.

Superintendent Gail Ahlas formed a task force to track students and evaluate their progress in college. The district already has made some changes to its curriculum, and Ahlas said more will follow as necessary. "We had a couple of kids who had social issues, economic issues," she said, "and we thought, &‘Let's get ahead of the game.'<TH>"

With that approach, Roseland may improve its grade from an incomplete to an A, with a program that other districts can emulate.