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'New beginning': Gwinnett set to open 10 new schools, including 2 high schools

LAWRENCEVILLE - When the school bell rings Monday morning, Gwinnett students will be returning to more than just a growing number of classrooms.

With the opening of 10 new school buildings comes the establishment of new communities. The largest are the county's two new clusters: Archer and Mountain View.

"This is probably, without a doubt, one of the most exciting things I've ever been a part of," said Charles "Buck" Buchanan, the principal of Archer High School. "Everything is new. Everything is fresh. It's a new beginning for all of us."

The Archer cluster, located in the eastern part of Gwinnett County, contains established schools - McConnell Middle, Cooper Elementary, Harbins Elementary and Lovin Elementary - that were previously part of the Grayson and Dacula clusters.

While the established schools have developed their own communities, Buchanan said he worked with the area's other principals to develop a plan to brand the community. To promote unity, all of the schools decided to adopt the high school's Tiger mascot. The high school's "A" logo will also represent the cluster's motto: Building an achievement culture in academics and athletics in the Archer cluster schools.

The nearby Mountain View cluster, however, will contain three new schools - Mountain View High, Twin Rivers Middle and Woodward Mill Elementary - along with the new Dyer Elementary School and Freeman's Mill Elementary.

"This is a whole new beginning not only for our cluster but for Gwinnett County," Woodward Mill principal Barbara Ergle said. "Because there are three new schools in the Mountain View cluster, we're a little bit unique. ... We're premiere here. We have the opportunity to be the best cluster in the county. We have the chance to be innovative in how we build relationships with parents and how we work together as a cluster."

Because the high school is the center of the community, Woodward Mill chose a mascot that would align closely to Mountain View's Bears - the Bear Cubs.

"There's unity right there," Ergle said.

Mountain View High has planned a community pep rally featuring games, food and fun. The event is scheduled from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Aug. 20 at the high school stadium.

The other five new schools are joining existing clusters with established traditions.

Two new middle schools - Couch and Bay Creek - and Starling Elementary are joining the Grayson cluster, while North Gwinnett Middle and White Oak Elementary are in the North Gwinnett cluster. (White Oak, however, will move to the new Lanier cluster next year.)

Couch principal Devon Williams said he's "pretty aware of this community and its needs and its prides." He was a teacher at McConnell when that middle school opened.

"In a community like Grayson, there's already a foundation of excellence or the expectation of excellence," he said. "We want to really help the community understand we want to be fully a part of the community."

Like new schools in other clusters, Couch wants to develop unity with Grayson High. The school is adopting the Ram mascot, as well as Grayson's green and gold colors.

Williams, like the principals at other new schools, said he's looking forward to the arrival of what will make the building a community - the students.

"The first thing I'm looking forward to is having the sound of school ... having the sounds and sights of school back in session," he said.