Lawrence Cook Middle School to close, merge with Santa Rosa English-Spanish immersion charter
After hours of heated debate Wednesday night, the Santa Rosa school board approved closing Lawrence Cook Middle School and merging it with an English-Spanish charter school for students in kindergarten through grade 8.
The decision comes after Cesar Chavez Language Academy moved to the southwest Santa Rosa campus in the fall. The board approved the move about two years ago, citing the academy’s need for space in light of growing enrollment, and the schools formed a committee to create a plan for a possible merger over a two-year period.
Proponents of the merger highlighted declining enrollment at Cook, and a desire to rebrand the school, which many people said had unfairly acquired a bad reputation because of gang activity in the surrounding area over the years and low test scores.
Monica Flores, who was picking up her nephew from the academy Thursday, said she thought the merger was “better for the community.” She attended Cook but said she sent her own children to other Santa Rosa schools because of Cook’s reputation.
With the merger, she said if her kids were still in middle school, she would rethink that decision.
The campus would receive more funding as a charter, which would allow the school to gain more resources to better serve its high population of special needs students, said Lisa Moore, a Cook teacher who was part of the committee that created a plan for the merger.
“Our school, traditionally, has been underserved,” Moore said. “We can’t stay at the level that we’re at. ... (Our students) need and deserve a quality school.”
Cesar Chavez Language Academy also benefits from the merger, said Paul Poling, whose son is in third grade at the academy. He said the academy, which has been adding a grade level every year, needs “the robustness of a full middle school,” including its facilities and trained staff.
“We kind of need each other,” Poling said. “This is not CCLA coming in and taking over Cook. ... It’s a joint effort.”
About 459 students were enrolled at Cook for the 2018-19 school year, and 369 students were enrolled at the academy for the same period, according to data from the California Department of Education. Both schools have a predominantly Hispanic or Latino population.
In the fall, students will attend the new charter school and have the option of enrolling in one of four academic streams, with variable emphasis on English or Spanish instruction. In the dual immersion program, half of their classes will be taught in English and the other half in Spanish. On another track, students can elect to take a language class, but all other classes will be taught in English.
Despite overwhelming support for the merger at the meeting, some raised concerns of the impact that closing Cook would have on the rest of the district, including several staff members at Elsie Allen High School, where Cook students attend after they graduate. They worried that closing Cook would eventually lead to decreased enrollment at the high school, potentially forcing it to close in the future.
“I don’t know that we can survive without a feeder middle school,” Kamala Brown, a science teacher at Elsie Allen, said during the meeting. “What does that mean for us?”
School board members favored the merger 6-1, with Jenni Klose the only member against.