After months of hype and anticipation, naturally the first day of school at Oak Hills High School began with a pep rally.

"Hey, how do you like this place?" principal Larry Porras asked his entire student body, many of them dressed in red (one of the school colors) crowded into the new high school's gymnasium. "Welcome to your new home!"

The 2009-2010 school year in the Hesperia Unified School District began on August 10 and saw the opening of two new schools: Oak Hills High School and Krystal Elementary School.

"First day went great," Porras said later that afternoon. "Traffic was a little rough this morning, but once the kids got there, they knew where to go. After each bell, there were only a few stragglers that were looking for their classrooms. Not bad for the first day, much less a brand new facility where nobody knows where the rooms are."

The new high school has more than 1,700 students enrolled. Many of them previously attended Hesperia High School, making for a new experience for the students remaining at what had formerly been the HUSD's most-crowded school.

"We have 2,347 students listed in [the computers] with a warm body count of ,2106 today," Hesperia High School principal Bob Schnebeck said Monday. "That would be 241 no-shows.  We expect some of these missing students to come to school this week.  Per the attendance office: a couple hundred no-shows is pretty normal."

That's more than 1,000 fewer students less than Hesperia High began the 2008-2009 school year with.

"Obviously, our crowding is greatly reduced with the opening of Oak Hills and the removal of some of our leased portable buildings (with more to go) and the reduced enrollment has also allowed us to go back to one lunch," said Schnebeck. "One lunch allows clubs to meet, reduces the numbers of advisors needed (versus one for each lunch when we had two lunches) and makes it easier for us to promote Scorpion Country and a positive school climate."

On the other end of town, Krystal Elementary School also held its first classes. Although there were some traffic-related issues (see separate story), Principal Tom Kirk said things were going well the first week.

"So far, everything is going better than expected for a brand new school," he said Tuesday. "As far as numbers, we are around 600, which is just about what we expected."

Traffic was a problem shared at Oak Hills.

"The only SNAFU was the tremendous traffic, it seems like everybody got a ride to school this morning," Porras said. But help is on the way: "There should be a signal at Ranchero and Cataba [Roads] in a couple of weeks."

But the 2009-2010 school year also has losses as well as gains, with teachers laid off in response to the state's budget crisis. (State funding pays for 70 percent of the HUSD's general operating funds, which in turn pay for salaries.)

"Student/teacher ratios are going to be higher than last year because we tightened our (staffing) belt," said Schnebeck.

In the spring, the school board voted to lay off 27 non-teacher staff, 183 teachers and 17 principals and district office managers at the end of the school year. (Twelve of those principals are assistant principals the board later voted to reinstate, and the board later brought back 25 elementary school teachers.)

"I would expect that lower [student] numbers on campus will help reduce the potential for discipline issues," said Schnebeck." Time will tell.  Most kids are good and based on today I expect great things.  Today was smooth and the kids were terrific."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.