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Santa Rosa City Schools appear poised to require high school students to complete college-preparatory classes before earning a diploma.

No decision was made at a Wednesday night meeting, but the majority of school board members voiced support for doing away with the district’s two-track system that funnels students into either a university-bound courseload or classes that would qualify them for vocational and community college.

The switch is opposed by some teachers who argue it would reduce course offerings and hurt students who aren’t a good fit for the college-prep classes.

But Jenni Klose, the school board president, has stressed the district needs to do more to give low-income and minority students better access to university educations.

“It’s not just our right, it’s our responsibility,” Klose said Wednesday about making the switch, which she first proposed four years ago and revived last month. She has said that too many Santa Rosa students, most from low-income and minority households, find in their junior and senior year that their coursework does not qualify them for admittance at state universities.

“We can desegregate our classes,” she said. “This will help us do that.”

Klose appeared to find support for the switch from board members Bill Carle, Frank Pugh, Ed Sheffield and Laurie Fong, all of whom spoke out in favor of the so-called A-G coursework.

“Count me as someone who supports the policy,” said Carle, who asked district employees to bring back to the April 25 meeting more details on how they plan to implement the change. District officials estimate it will cost $800,000 to $1 million.

“I want to understand what that is, how it’s going to happen and what the cost is associated with it,” he said. “Then let’s talk about where we get that money.”

In the North Bay, Napa and Sonoma Valley Unified already require students to complete A-G classes. They have seen their graduation rates increase, according to Santa Rosa district officials.

However, board members Ron Kristof and Evelyn Anderson raised concerns over whether the district had the resources and support to require all students to take college-prep classes.

“Our class sizes just increased,” Kristof said, referring to a decision the board made in February to boost the student-teacher ratio of 20-to-1 by one student to help close next year’s multimillion budget shortfall. “I don’t see large sums of money coming to the school district.”

Pugh said he was ready to make the change after years of talking about A-G classes, which currently make up about 77 percent of the district’s high school core classes.

“I’m ready to take the big step,” Pugh said to a crowd that erupted in applause.

Wednesday’s meeting drew dozens of Latino parents, students and community leaders, who wore matching gray shirts that read “College Access Now.” Many packed the Santa Rosa City Hall chamber last month to urge school board members to even the playing field for minorities by requiring all students take the University of California-approved courses that cover seven subjects, including history, math and lab sciences.

Last year, about 16 percent of Santa Rosa’s Latino graduates completed with at least a C grade the college-prep courses. Overall, 30 percent of graduates completed the classes, much lower than the statewide average of 47 percent.

If the board adopts the change, students would have to take three years of math instead of two, as well as two years of a foreign language instead of one.

Anderson said she’d rather see resources placed in lower grades before students reach high school.

“I would rather see rigor phased throughout the students’ schooling rather than slammed on them when they get to high school,” she said. “That’s a really stressful time already for a lot of students. They’ve already established their habits.”

Some teachers argued the change would result in fewer elective class offerings and more students failing and dropping out of school. While not remedial, regular classes are designed for students who don’t plan to go directly to a four-year university or can’t keep up with their college-bound classmates.

“Every student deserves the right to choose their own pathway to success,” said Will Lyon, a Santa Rosa High School English teacher and president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association.

He complained the district hadn’t consulted the union before bringing forward the proposal. “You get the last say, but if teachers don’t get the second to the last say, especially on issues like these that will create significant changes to our working and learning conditions, the process is set up for failure,” he said.

Sheffield raised concerns over the cost of providing faculty training and academic support for students. But he said the switch can be done with the community’s support.

“This is an issue rooted in race, class and poverty...,” Fong said. “If this isn’t equity slapping us in the face to make a decision, I don’t know what else is.”

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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