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Fabiola Rojas feared her toddlers would fall behind once they age out of the early childhood education programs at Via Esperanza, a family education and support center housed at Cook Middle School.

“She already can count to 10,” she said about her 3-year-old daughter, Tesha Lopez, who is in the Avance parent-child education program, along with a 2-year-old brother.

Head Start preschool classrooms fill up quickly in southwest Santa Rosa, said Rojas, who worried her children would have nowhere to go after they complete their program.

“There aren’t a lot of places to put them in,” she said.

However, the weight was lifted when she heard that Via Esperanza is working with Santa Rosa City Schools to open a charter school on the Cook campus this August.

“There won’t be any interruption,” Rojas said about her toddlers’ education.

As a dependent charter school, it’ll be part of the Santa Rosa City Schools system. They’ll offer transitional kindergarten and a kindergarten classes in its first year, said Anna Guzmán, district director of charter schools. She expects about 50 students, who will be taught by two teachers.

“Depending on enrollment, we could always add first (grade),” she said. “How I see it, we are so excited about the school we never want to turn anybody away.”

The school will add grade levels over time until reaching the sixth grade. The students would attend Cook Middle School and go on to Elsie Allen High School, where they can take part in the Compact for Success college-readiness program, according to school officials, who are calling it a “cradle-to-career” education model.

“The idea is to grow each year,” Guzmán said, adding that they’ll be using available portable buildings on the north end of the Cook campus as classrooms. She said that the goal is to build a permanent building at Cook that’ll house the charter school and the Via Esperanza Resource Center, which currently uses portables on the south end of campus.

It’ll give school staff more time to get to know the kids and their families by having a charter school on campus, said Linsey Gannon, principal at Cook.

“The idea of growing with families and children from an early age is just thrilling for us,” Gannon said. “We’ll be able to really meet their needs.”

Santa Rosa school board members approved earlier this spring the charter school, which will cost an estimated $405,000 to operate in its first year, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business Steve Eichman.

A meeting will be held at noon Thursday at Via Esperanza Resource Center to talk about the school, as well as take input from parents and local residents.

The school hasn’t been named yet.

School board President Donna Jeye said the district is excited about the potential effect the school will have on students and their families.

“This school deliberately reaches out to parents and embraces them into their child’s educational experience,” she said on Wednesday. “Now the parents will have the tools to guide their children through school with confidence.”

Santa Rosa schools Superintendent Socorro Shiels said in an email that “one of the greatest sources of excitement and pride” for the district in launching the school has been the commitment on the grassroots level.

School board member Jenni Klose agreed. “This is truly a community-driven charter school,” she said.

“That’s the future of education,” added Nubia Padilla, community engagement project manager at Via Esperanza.

When the resource center first opened in 2013, thanks to a nearly $1.4 million grant from First 5 Sonoma County to the Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, plans called for launching a charter school on the middle school campus. The idea was to continue the preschoolers’ education and reach out to parents and get them comfortable with the schools so they can better advocate for their kids, Padilla said.

“The quality of education will go through the roof,” she said.

School officials said the charter school builds on the work done by Via Esperanza, which provided English-language courses, parenting classes for families with at-risk youth, counseling and other services to nearly 400 parents and their children within the first year.

“It’s the natural, organic next step,” Klose said. “There’s already a trusted relationship and open line of communication.”

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

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