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A day of many firsts at Cherokee Bluff schools in South Hall
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Cherokee Bluff High School students enter the cafeteria Tuesday, Aug, 7, 2018, during the first day of classes for the new high school in South Hall County. - photo by Scott Rogers

There’s a certain allure to starting something from scratch. And that feeling was contagious among teachers, staff and students at Cherokee Bluff High School on Tuesday, Aug. 7.

“It’s about being remembered,” said Devon Wainer, 17, a member of the school’s first senior class.

Wainer attended Flowery Branch High School last year, but chose to join Cherokee Bluff and the Bears for the “change of culture” it offered.

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Cherokee Bluff High senior Devon Wainer, 17, has lunch with friends Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, in the school cafeteria during the first day of classes for Hall County's newest high school.

“I wanted to start something new,” Wainer, who is on the school’s basketball team, added.

Rising juniors and seniors could decide to move with Flowery Branch High to its former campus off Hog Mountain Road or start at the brand-new school on the old Flowery Branch High campus on Spout Springs Road.

Connor Gillespie, 16, who just started the 11th grade, said the chance to help build a new tradition was too enticing to pass up.

“I’m really excited about starting something new and actually getting something built up,” he said.

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Cherokee Bluff High School Principal Wes McGee meets students Connor Gillespie, 16, and Kaelie Masaschi, 15, in the hallway Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, as the students begin yearbook activities on the first day of school at Hall County's newest high school. - photo by Scott Rogers

Gillespie was already busy trying to sell yearbook subscriptions on the first day, and he’s ready to help lead the school’s first golf team when spring arrives.

“For me, it was really about academics and sports,” Gillespie said, adding that he hopes to be a physical therapist one day.

For Principal Wes McGee, the hard work preparing to open Hall County’s newest high school had paid off during a “smooth” first day. 

“Everybody’s excited to be here,” he said. “There’s a lot of positive energy.”

With the opening of Cherokee Bluff High and Middle schools on the same campus, the “South Hall shuffle” is finally complete.

When the recession hit 10 years ago, Hall officials moved Flowery Branch High to the Spout Springs Road location now housing Cherokee Bluff because of overcrowding; C.W. Davis Middle moved into the former Flowery Branch High grounds; South Hall Middle moved to the former Davis Middle campus; and the old South Hall Middle location hosted the Academies of Discovery.

South Hall Middle is now moving back next to Johnson High and will be joined by the World Language Academy middle schoolers and the Da Vinci Academy.

And this allows Davis Middle to revert to its old campus and Flowery Branch High to return to its original campus.

Superintendent Will Schofield said he had visited about 10 of the district’s 37 schools by noon on the first day of the 2018-19 academic year, with administrative officials visiting other schools.

“If we’ve had a smoother start (to the school year) since I’ve been here, I don’t remember it,” said Schofield, who has served as superintendent for the past 13 years.

Schofield said credit is due to teachers, staff and students for making things go so easy.

“There’s been a lot of thought and planning put forth,” he added. “… We’re off to a good start.”

Kaelie Masaschi, 15, said transitioning from Flowery Branch to Cherokee Bluff as a sophomore would open opportunities for her to learn in smaller classroom groups because of the enrollment difference. And she’s looking forward to helping start clubs like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Plus, the place looks a little different.

“It looks way cleaner than it did last year,” Masaschi said.

Upgrades to the gymnasium, football field and classrooms, for example, were made in time for the school’s opening while the finishing touches on tennis courts were being made on Tuesday.

“It has a happier environment,” Masaschi said. 

Tommy Jones, head football coach at Cherokee Bluff, said the first day of school is always a “huge challenge” in terms of setting a routine for the team.

“By the time we get out to the practice field (today), they’ll be exhausted,” he said. “It generally levels out. Kids are way more resilient than we are as adults.”

But the camaraderie that was already developing among students, teachers and staff was remarkable “unlike any other situation I’ve been a part of,” Jones said.

“The thing that’s awesome is just the quality of people that have jumped on board to start Cherokee Bluff,” Jones said.

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Cherokee Bluff High School students congregate in the cafeteria Tuesday, Aug, 7, 2018, during the first day of classes for the new high school. - photo by Scott Rogers