Santa Rosa City Schools renews push for college-prep class requirements

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Santa Rosa high school students may soon have to complete college-prep classes to earn a diploma.

Santa Rosa City Schools is reviving a controversial push to require all students take courses needed to get into the state’s public universities instead of the regular classes now needed to graduate.

The move would do away with the current two-track system that guides students into either a university-bound courseload or classes that would qualify them for vocational and community college. Several other Bay Area districts have made similar changes in recent years, with positive impacts on their graduation rates.

The proposal is scheduled to come before the board for a potential vote on April 11.

Jenni Klose, the school board president, called for the switch and wants it to begin starting with next fall’s incoming freshmen, despite opposition from some educators, who say reducing class offerings will hurt students.

In 2016, 29 percent of the district’s graduates completed with at least a C grade the University of California-approved courses, an array of classes known as A-G courses that cover seven different subjects, including history, math and lab sciences. Statewide, 45 percent of students completed them.

“It’s a change that needs to be made,” Klose said about requiring the classes. “Statistics tell an undeniable story, in respect to our students graduating college-ready, that we are underperforming.”

Not all students in the district will end up applying to UC or CSU, but they should have the option to do so, said Klose, who unsuccessfully pushed for a similar measure four years ago. She said a two-track system doesn’t give kids equal access to college, and it disproportionately affects low-income and minority students who often are funneled into regular classes, unaware they won’t be eligible to apply to a state university after high school.

Fewer than 20 percent of Latino graduates in the district completed the college-prep courses in 2016, compared to 37 percent statewide.

Urging school board members to adopt the tougher A-G graduation requirements, dozens of Latino parents, students and community leaders packed a meeting last week. They included Sonoma State University Dean of the School of Education Carlos Ayala, 10,000 Degrees regional director Lisa Carreño and Sonoma County Board of Education trustee Herman G. Hernandez. They held signs that read “Only one option: A-G” and “A-G: The Road to College.”

Nelly Damian said she didn’t know her son, a 17-year-old Montgomery High School senior, had to take UC-approved courses to apply to Sonoma State. He’ll now have to go Santa Rosa Junior College to transfer to SSU, she said.

“It’s going to take longer,” said Damian, 35. “But I’m urging him to forge ahead.”

Will Lyon, a Santa Rosa High School English teacher and president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association, argued the measure, if approved, could result in more students failing and dropping out of school. He also said it could make college-prep classes less rigorous — all points that Klose disputed. 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.

“What do you do with the kids who don’t have the skill set or motivation to handle a rigorous pre-college curriculum?” said Lyon, who also raised concerns over any reduction in career technical education and electives.

“By deciding A-G is the most important thing, there’s no way to do that without encroaching on the electives we offers,” he said.

Klose agreed schools still need to provide career and technical education, but she said “we don’t need to choose.”

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

“Our students are just as capable as everybody else’s students,” Klose said at the board’s meeting last week, where she appeared to find support for the switch from the majority of the board members present. Trustee Ron Kristof wanted to take the proposal out to the community for further vetting.

“We can’t have a plan unless we’re real sure we’re going to have the support we need,” he contended.

Board member Bill Carle wasn’t at the meeting.

Superintendent Diann Kitamura said the current graduation requirements aren’t vastly different than what the state’s public universities require. Students would have to take three years of math instead of two and two years of a foreign language instead of one.

Many Santa Rosa high schools already started replacing regular classes with college-prep courses. Elsie Allen High School launched a pilot program six years ago, putting students into college-prep classes, where educators say kids performed far better than in regular classes and kept up with the other students.

Seventy percent of the core classes at the high school now meet the state universities’ requirements, while 77 percent of the core classes districtwide do.

“We’re not that far off,” Kitamura said. “That switch has already begun — and is growing strong.”

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

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