LAWRENCEVILLE - On Monday morning, Tonya Evans waited outside Starling Elementary School for her daughter's bus to arrive.
Danielle Tyson descended the steps of the big yellow bus and stopped on the sidewalk to smile at her mother, Evans, who snapped pictures. Then Danielle, wearing a Tinkerbell backpack, eagerly led the way to her kindergarten classroom in the new Grayson cluster elementary school.
"I'm excited. She's excited," Evans said of the new school year. "Hopefully, this year will go perfect."
Thousands of Gwinnett students returned to class Monday. To relieve overcrowding in the state's largest school district, Gwinnett County Public Schools opened nine new schools - including Starling Elementary - and a replacement facility for J.G. Dyer Elementary School.
"Overall, we had a smooth first day in Gwinnett County Public Schools," Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said. "The fact that all of our schools opened on time, ready for students, and focused on beginning another great year of teaching and learning is something we should never take for granted."
The first day of school is always special, but it's especially so when opening a new school, Starling Elementary principal Donna Ledford said.
Starling Elementary relieved Grayson Elementary, Pharr Elementary and Margaret Winn Holt Elementary. The school is named after Ann Starling, a longtime Grayson Elementary teacher and daughter of former Gwinnett County Board of Education member William Jennings Cooper.
"It means a lot that we're building a legacy for her," Ledford said.
Grayson resident Sonja Smith said her family easily slid back into the school routine.
"But they were up early because they were so excited," she said. "I'm excited about the new schools. They're beautiful schools, and the kids were excited to come here."
Two of Smith's children attend Starling Elementary, and another goes to the adjacent Couch Middle School, which also opened this year.
Two high schools - Archer and Mountain View - were among the district's new facilities.
"There's something really exciting and unique about opening a new school," Archer principal Charles "Buck" Buchanan said.
Buchanan, a former Parkview High principal, said leading the opening of a new school is hard - but rewarding - work.
"It's been awesome," he said. "We've got great students. We've got great parental support. ... The teachers are awesome. Teachers have been coming up here excited about the upcoming school year all summer. ... Everything is new - a new beginning."