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The Santa Rosa school board last week approved moving a growing Spanish-language immersion charter school to Cook Middle School, but questions remain about the fate of the southwest Santa Rosa campus and its teachers and students.

Cesar Chavez Language Academy will relocate 4 miles south to the Sebastopol Road campus in the fall of 2019. However, it’s unclear whether the schools will merge into one, or will remain separate schools housed at one campus.

District officials haven’t provided any details on how they plan to bring the two schools together, said Kathryn Howell, a Cook Middle School history teacher. And that’s making teachers at her school nervous, particularly those who don’t speak Spanish.

“That’s the big question — of not being bilingual. A lot of us here are not,” said Howell, who also serves as the chief negotiator for the Santa Rosa Teachers Association. “What’s the role for English-language teachers in a Spanish bilingual school?”

Cook has two dozen teachers, many who have been with the district for years and only have credentials to teach at middle and high schools, Howell said. Union rules protect them from layoffs because of their seniority, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to stay at Cook, she said.

“Where will the jobs be? Moving school sites is very stressful,” she said.

Lisa Moore has been teaching at the school for 16 years. Although she speaks Spanish, she said she doesn’t have a bilingual credential necessary to teach at a dual-language immersion school.

“It’s not that easy to get it,” said Moore, who teaches math and the AVID program devoted to student development.

She’s now considering retiring at the end of next school year.

“We have four or five teachers who are considering retiring,” she said.

Santa Rosa City Schools officials, who will be meeting Wednesday with teachers and staff at Cook, said they’re working on a plan and detailed timeline.

“Answering those questions will be the work we do during the next year, and it will involve getting feedback from all stakeholders,” said Anna-Maria Guzman, an assistant superintendent.

Guzman said the district will create a committee to help with the transition. She also plans to hold meetings with parents to discuss the upcoming changes.

“Now that a site has been selected, we know who will be affected by this transition and we welcome staff, particularly at Cook, to be a part of the process,” she said.

The district started the search for a new campus after Cesar Chavez Language Academy, which has been adding a grade level every year, saw its enrollment increase fivefold to more than 300 transitional kindergarten- through-fourth-grade students since opening five years ago at Comstock Middle School. The district launched the school with 65 transitional and traditional kindergarten students, ultimately displacing the independent Santa Rosa Charter School from the Comstock campus.

Enrollment is expected to swell further as the school expands to reach the eighth grade by fall 2021.

District officials initially considered moving the charter school to the Abraham Lincoln Elementary campus on West Ninth Street, but they ultimately backed off the plan, which drew stiff opposition from parents.

The district then turned its attention to Cook, as well as the shuttered Lewis Opportunity School, which some argue wasn’t a viable option to begin with. Lewis would have needed additional portables and extensive upgrades totaling $3.8 million and, yet wouldn’t have provided enough space and student capacity for the growing school, according to district documents.

Moving to Cook was the least expensive option — at $1.6 million, district officials said.

Xavier Nazario, one of about dozen parents on Cesar Chavez Language Academy’s facilities master plan committee, welcomed the move to Cook, which has seen over the past decade its enrollment decrease from about 600 students to just over 400. Nazario said the school provides the space and amenities the charter school needs to grow.

“We will have a permanent homesite that will fit our needs as a school,” he said.

School board members favored the move to Cook 6-0, with board president Jenni Klose absent for last week’s vote. But some board members raised concerns over closing 58-year-old Cook Middle School.

“Cook is a community,” Laurie Fong said. “I don’t want to lose Cook Middle School.”

Ron Kristof said he, too, didn’t want to close the school.

“I want neighborhood schools in this district,” he said.

Guzman assured the board that the school, regardless of what form it takes, “will not be at all turning kids away.”

“We want to be inclusive to neighborhood school kids and kids who want to participate in the dual-immersion school,” she said.

Araceli Camarillo, who has a 13-year-old daughter in seventh grade at Cook, previously had not heard about the plans to move the charter school onto Cook. However, she welcomed the move, saying that her 7-year-old son, who’s in second grade, could benefit from going to a Spanish-language immersion school.

“He knows how to speak Spanish, but he doesn’t know how to write it. That’s important,” she said. “There are more employment opportunities knowing Spanish.”

Cook’s Howell said it’s unclear what the district plans to do with the kids who don’t know Spanish or don’t want to be part of the bilingual charter school. “There might be neighborhood children who will have to be bused somewhere else because they’re not going to attend here,” she said.

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

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