The teachers and staff of College Park Elementary School rolled out the red carpet Tuesday, the first day of school at most of Newport-Mesa Unified's campuses.
It wasn't literally a red carpet, of course, but a long strip of red paper that nonetheless provided a fitting walkway for the hundreds of students and parents pouring onto the Costa Mesa campus after the summer break.
Flanked on both sides by cheering College Park staff waving pompoms, the families walked down the path and the children got their classroom assignments. Some parents had cameras at the ready to capture the first day.
For the College Park community — which numbered about 530 students Tuesday — the morning also marked the official start of a new era in leadership. Last spring, the campus experienced a principal changeover that had some parents worried.
College Park's popular principal of about eight years, Julie McCormick, was transferred to Newport Coast Elementary. The reason for the move was never made public.
Parents and staff tried to get the district to reverse its decision, citing how McCormick was a good fit for College Park. They noted that she speaks both English and Spanish, a skill that helped her connect with the school's Latino population. She also knew some Mandarin, which is taught at College Park through an immersion program now in its third year.
Replacing McCormick this school year is Rich Rodriguez, a veteran educator who comes to College Park from Newport Elementary. He has also been principal of TeWinkle Middle School and is a former teacher within the Newport-Mesa Unified district.
Rodriguez said he's excited about his new assignment.
"It feels great," he said. "The first day is exciting."
Rodriguez said he knows McCormick well and wants to continue the legacy she left at College Park. He added that the campus is getting more support teachers who will give extra academic assistance and teach enrichment activities.
Some College Park parents said while they remain dismayed at McCormick's departure, they're open to new leadership.
"We'll see what happens and what's going to change," said parent Cristobal Navarro, whose 8-year-old son, Jonathan, started third grade.
"She was very polite with us," Navarro, whose two older children also attended College Park, said of McCormick. "She was very good at doing things for our kids."
Bo Gallerito brought his 9-year-old granddaughter, Bo Emmitt, to start fourth grade. He went out of his way to meet Rodriguez in person.
"I was not gonna leave until I did," Gallerito said with a smile.