Principal Sean Boulton felt the first-day-of-school jitters as he stepped on campus at Newport Harbor High School.
"I was welcoming new students this morning, and they were asking me where to find certain places on campus," he said. "I said, 'I'm just as lost as you are. Let's find it together.'"
Around 21,000 students returned to Newport-Mesa classrooms Tuesday, saying goodbye to summer and hello to new school supplies and homework. To most students, this is a habitual return to the school-year routine, but administrators know this is a year of many changes for Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Corona del Mar schools.
Boulton is one of eight new principals. In addition to Harbor, new administrators were also hired for Rea, Whittier, Lincoln and Paularino elementary schools, Davis Magnet School, TeWinkle Middle School and Corona del Mar High School.
Superintendent Frederick Navarro began his day traveling to eight elementary, middle and high schools to welcome back students and staff.
"I'm extremely confident in the principals we hired," he said. "I don't think there's going to be much of a blip at all. I'm looking forward to working together to make Newport-Mesa the best it can possibly be."
In one Davis Magnet School classroom, a group of first-grade students colored fervently with crayons, carefully selecting the perfect color to complete their work sheets. They waved their hands excitedly at the prospect of being called on by the teacher.
Christy Flores, the recently hired principal at Davis Magnet School, in Costa Mesa, spent a few minutes visiting classrooms with Navarro.
"We had a few tears this morning from students and parents," she said. "I checked in on a few earlier, and everything seems fine now. Hopefully, the parents are doing well at home."
In Danielle Lopez's first-grade class, students eagerly received instruction from a teacher who integrates "Star Wars" into her class instruction by hanging decorative mobiles and lights and creating themed table groups.
"I think I'll have to find my light saber for this," Lopez said as she stood at the front of the class, waving toward the overhead projector.
Dianna Forbes picked up her four children from Killybrook Elementary: Nate, who is in pre-kindergarten; Madison, who is in first grade; Hannah, who is in second; and Harvey, who is in fourth. The family recently moved here from Maine, making this their first year at the Costa Mesa school.
Hannah and Madison bolted out of the school gates shortly after the afternoon bell, bombarding their mother with play date requests.
Hannah said her favorite part of the day was learning math in a color-by-numbers activity.
"We did coloring and learned our pluses," she said. "It was fun."
Newport-Mesa Unified School District board trustees have been working with Navarro to develop goals and priorities for the semester centered on student achievement and implementation of Common Core standards in all the schools, said school board Vice President Karen Yelsey.
Common Core challenges students to apply their learning to real-world scenarios and develop critical-thinking skills, and Newport-Mesa is focusing on English and math curricula this year.
"Common Core is the way we're going to achieve our goals this year," Yelsey said. "Everybody is enthusiastic about making sure all students achieve at a high level."