ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. - When first period started at 7:50 a.m. Thursday morning at Arroyo Grande High School, it didn't just mark the start of a new school year, it really signaled the beginning of a new era.
Due to several notable retirements at the end of the last school year in June, combined with other key moves, several significant positions are now staffed with new personnel.
"We have a new principal," said new principal Dan Neff. "We have a new athletic director, we have a new school resource officer, we have some new athletic coaches, as well as new teachers."
Some of the new teachers include those in special education, floral design, and culinary, as well as band instructor and career center coordinator.
"It's exciting in terms of myself coming in to work and have new teams of people coming in and stepping into those positions," Neff said.
A 1995 graduate, Neff takes over for Conan Bowers, who moved on to a different position at Dorothea Lange Elementary in Nipomo.
Thursday's first day of class marked an emotional homecoming for the Five Cities area native.
"It's still a little surreal," said Neff. "My family has been tied with this school for so long and I'm very excited to be here. It's an awesome experience to be able to have that Eagle pride as a student. My father taught here, and to be here as a teacher and a coach, and to be able to come back as a principal is a tremendous opportunity and experience so far. It's just getting started and I look forward to the time that I have here."
Another Eagle alum moving into a key position is Stephen Field, who inherits the athletic director position long held by Dwight MacDonald, who retired in June after more than 30 years with the school.
"It's very humbling and a complete honor," said Field. "This means a lot to this school and the community, and it means a lot to me, so to be able to be in this position is quite an honor."
Field says after graduating in 2004, he's never really left. While continuing his football career as an All-American at Cal Poly, he coached at the high school.
More recently, he has taught special education before earning the promotion to athletic director.
"To have the responsibility to uphold the athletic program to the standards that we have now, and to hopefully continue moving forward with that in the future, is really a big task and I'm excited to be in this place to do it," said Field.
Also new to the school, is a new educational philosophy that encourages students to bring their own digital device.
The opportunity keeps the school moving further along into fully integrating digital education into its curriculum.
"We're excited to have students to bring their devices and Chromebooks and use those in the classroom with the new WiFi and technology upgrade that happened throughout last year," said Neff.
With a firm commitment to digital education, it's likely no surprise the school district chose Neff to lead the campus.
Prior to this year, he spend the 2016-17 academic year as the director of 21st century learning for Lucia Mar Unified School District.
Before that, he spend four years at Central Coast New Tech High School in Nipomo, where he was the first principal when the school opened in 2012.
"It's fun for me and it's what I like to do," said Neff. "It's exciting now that (technology is) everywhere, so as teachers and students get used to more devices in the classroom and how to use them effectively, we'll really start seeing that learning transform and be able to utilize those digital learning tools."
As new teacher and administrators settled into their new positions Thursday, Nathan Solis was also just beginning his term as Associated Student Body president.
The senior says he is hoping to use his year as president to instill more school spirit and pride into the student body.
"So we can have a togetherness and lift one another up and just be there for each other," said Solis.
He adds that students should become more involved with extracurricular activities, such as going to athletic games, drama and band performances and other events.
"We're lifting each other up on campus," said Solis. "That's a huge part of school. People feeling like they're part of school, feeling like they're within something bigger than just going to school, just a regular high school. They're an Eagle. They're in the nest. They're part of something of bigger."
As Neff left school at the end of the day, he noted that one day is down, with 179 more to go until summer vacation.
What happens between now and then is unknown, but if history is any indication with Arroyo Grande High School, good things should be expected.
"It's just the beginning," said Neff. "And it's exciting to be part of this."