When it comes to what life is like at a brand new high school in the Hesperia Unified School District, no one knows better than Oak Hills High School cheerleading coach Dale Ford.

Every time the HUSD opened a new high school over the past three decades -- Hesperia High in 1986, Sultana High School in 1995 and Oak Hills in 2009 -- Ford was there.

"When Hesperia opened, I was teaching and coaching at Apple Valley High School," said Ford. "I had been in the High Desert only two years and it sounded exciting to be on the ground floor of opening a new high school. I was also coaching football at the time and had the opportunity to be the varsity offensive coordinator at Hesperia High under head coach Butch Price, which was a big step up for me.  I was the 'new kid' at AVHS since most teachers there had taught at Apple for many years. Hesperia High would give me a chance to be a part of a staff that were all equals pulling together to establish a brand new school in a city that had never had a high school before. It was very exciting. Everyone at Apple Valley High thought we were crazy to leave and predicted the new high school would soon become 'Hysteria' High.  We took a lot of flak the last six months we were there."

But at Hesperia, Ford got the chance to prove all the detractors wrong.

"My hope was to be on the ground floor of setting new traditions, working with energetic, enthusiastic staff members who weren't afraid of new challenges and the opportunity to create an amazing new high school from nothing. I'd say if you look at the history closely of each new high school in Hesperia, that we were able to do that each time.  Oak Hills is only in the beginning stages, but the wings are spreading quickly."

And getting into the ground floor has worked out for him each time he's done it.

"The experience definitely lived up to my expectations each time. Opening Sultana was awesome. After 10 great years at Hesperia, the idea of having the opportunity to open a new school again sounded fun.  I had changed over to coaching cheerleading during my years at Hesperia, and it sounded exciting to open a new school as the first cheerleading coach and establish new traditions and get the school off the ground from that side of the coin, too, establishing school spirit and pride in a brand new school.  The staff that came over from Hesperia had incredible unity of purpose and vision and clicked from the very beginning and the experience was just as rewarding the second time. This experience also definitely lived up to my expectations and was a great decision and change for me.  I enjoyed my 13 years at Sultana every bit as much as my 10 at Hesperia High.

"Now I've been given the rare opportunity to open a third high school, Oak Hills.  It has been every bit as exciting and positive as the other two.  I've been teaching for 31 years, so a few people raised eyebrows when I said I was going to Oak Hills and go through the early struggles of starting a new school, rather than coasting out my remaining years in the comfort zone at Sultana. But I love to organize and create and be on the cutting edge, so here I am again. It was a bit different this time, because I most of the staff is from Hesperia High and Cedar, so I'm the 'new guy,' but everyone has been great and we have already begun to gel as Bulldogs.  It has definitely been the great experience I hoped for.  The students and staff and administration are great, and I've got an incredible new squad of young cheerleaders that are already doing an amazing job."

There's also a honeymoon period every new school goes through, Ford said.

"There is a 'Cinderella' period for the first several years for the staff and students. Everyone is more positive, and takes pride in the school.  The campus is cleaner.  The kids usually respond better in the classroom and have less discipline problems.  They take more pride in their school as a whole.  The same goes for the staff.  There is a camaraderie of pulling together to establish the new school.  Less cliques.  Less pessimism.  Everyone goes out of their way to work together and get along at a much higher level than at an established school."

Each of the HUSD's three comprehensive high schools has its own feel, and Ford said it's easy to pinpoint where it starts.

"It originates first from the tone set by the administration.  They must be tough, fair, but also have a heart for kids.  Fortunately for those high schools and for me, each of the new schools I opened had just that.  Bruce Kitchen, Rob Challinor and Larry Porras were and are three amazing principals who set the tone for their new schools and followed through with them.  People don't realize how much influence principals really do have.  Secondly the tone is set by the staff, and finally by the students themselves," he said. "But the reality is that kids are kids no matter where you teach, and each school has pride in their school and the Scorpions, Sultans, and Bulldogs each feel their school is the best without question. That's all that separates them from one another."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Twitter at Twitter.com/HesperiaStar.