Santa Rosa City Schools is moving forward with plans to open a Spanish bilingual-immersion program next fall.

Calling the timeline ambitious, Assistant Superintendent Gail Eagan told the board Wednesday night that a series of crucial decisions including location, format, staffing and state charter approval must be made in the coming months.

"There is lots of work for the board to do between now and when we get the school open," she said.

The first of four community meetings is scheduled for Nov. 1 to gauge interest in a program that would begin next fall with kindergarten and first-grade classes. The goal is to draw 90 students for the school's inaugural year.

The board is expected to receive parental forms indicating meaningful intent to enroll by December and is scheduled to vote on charter language in January or February before submitting it for state approval, Eagan said.

Facilities and location are key issues for proposal.

"This is a huge issue," said board member Frank Pugh. "I worry about starting a school in a small location and not having it be able to grow."

A school that starts out with just 90 students would necessitate a "school within a school," shared campus format, but Pugh said that ideally an existing elementary school could convert to a Spanish bilingual-immersion campus.

Trustee Laura Gonzalez said consideration for which students the district wants to draw to the campus should play a role in where it is eventually located.

"Looking at the population we are going to be recruiting, who needs to be there, if we need native speakers, the reality of the situation is the majority of them are poor and we are going to have to look at busing" or establishing the school on the west side of town, she said.

An ideal population for a dual immersion program is a mix of native and non-native English and Spanish speakers, Eagan said.

The board has yet to determine how the language will be delivered and how much of the instruction will be given in Spanish and how much in English.

The idea for the Spanish bilingual-immersion program came out of the highly charged debate last spring over the location of the Santa Rosa French-American Charter School, which opened in August.

The board voted to close Doyle Park Elementary School and house the French school on the Sonoma Avenue site, but challengers to that plan said a Spanish program was a better choice for the district even though the French school's charter had already been approved by the state and nearly 300 students had committed to the school.

The district in June hired a part time administrator to spearhead the development of a Spanish program and submit a charter application with the state.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at She can be reached at 526-8671, or on Twitter @benefield.