In their rush to get to classes on the first day back to school Tuesday, Costa Mesa High students rushed with barely a notice past a black-and-white photo tacked on the wall of the Associated Student Body office.

The picture, taken in 1959, immortalized the first graduating class of Costa Mesa High School.

District spokeswoman Laura Boss leaned toward the photo, inspecting the finer details. One caught her eye almost instantly. The entry to the campus in 1959 is strikingly similar to the recent update.

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The district has been working since June on revamping certain areas of the campus. The front parking lot on Mustang Way has been completely redesigned and paved.

The tall gate, concrete walls and lyceum that once marked the entrance to the high school have been removed. In their place is a smaller gate leading visitors directly into the school's main office, creating a more open and less institutionalized feel, officials said.

Campus building projects that have taken years to complete will be used for the first time this fall.

As schools across Newport-Mesa Unified greeted students for the first day of classes Tuesday morning, Costa Mesa High welcomed the most enrollees since the 2008-09 school year.

Preliminary numbers show that enrollment at the middle and high school topped last year's number by 60 students, reaching 1,744.

The school also welcomed new leadership. Principal Jake Haley started his first day as Costa Mesa High School principal, and Guy Olguin, who previously worked at Corona del Mar, took charge of the middle school.

After dropping his own daughter off at Woodland Elementary for her first day of kindergarten, Haley made his way to the high school campus to meet students.

Unlike many of them, Haley said he's not nervous.

"Just walking around you can tell the kids are nervous. They always are on the first day," he said. "The first day is all the same for me. My wife and I were more nervous dropping our daughter off for the first time."

Among all the changes, some aspects of high school — like the morning announcements for students — remain the same.

Seniors Ellie Aguilar, 17, and Raymond Andrade, 18, took control of the campus speakers for the first time Tuesday.

After giving students the rundown of activities for the first day, they closed with their signature line: "Stick with it, Mesa."

The closing line of the announcements often becomes a somewhat popular expression on campus for the year, the pair explained.

"My dad says it at every water polo game," Andrade said of the phrase. "I have no idea what it means, but it's funny."

Ellie, who was just accepted into the school's advanced Madrigal Choir, looks forward to participating in shows in the new performing arts center, which is set to open in October.

"It looks super nice," she said. "I can't wait to see what shows we put on this year."

For Haley, the first day of classes marks a special time in the school year.

"I love the optimism that comes with the new year," he said. "It's a fresh start. School is unique in that way. You can define yourself differently each year."