BRENTWOOD -- Some holding a parent's hand, some strapped into incongruously big backpacks, kindergartners arrived Tuesday at Brentwood's Mary Casey Black Elementary School for their first class.

"You guys look really smart -- are you ready to follow some directions?" an animated Gwen Crane said to the 5-year-olds lined up outside her classroom.

But the kickoff of the school year Tuesday represented more than one first: The 435 students enrolled were on a brand-new campus that had been empty for two years.

Brentwood Union School District had built the $21.5 million school expecting that it would open in July 2011, but cuts to the state budget coupled with flat enrollment and the corresponding lack of growth in attendance-based revenue both obviated the need for a new school and made the additional operational costs unfeasible.

Tuesday marked a red-letter day for Principal Liz Ybarra as well: The former Garin Elementary vice principal has been prepping to open her first school since the district tapped her for the top administrative job at Mary Casey Black Elementary in December.

Ybarra has spent the past seven months hiring staff, deciding how to spend the discretionary funds allocated to the school for small-ticket items, and working on the purchase of essentials such as furniture, computers and, of course, playground equipment.

"A lot of kids wanted to make sure we had swings," Ybarra said of the question uppermost on the minds of incoming students when she visited their campuses this spring.


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Youngsters transferring from other campuses in the district also had a voice in Ybarra and her staff's choice of the school mascot (the owl) and its colors (gold and maroon).

Last week, Ybarra was busy ticking off the items on her to-do list, which included ensuring that the school's 18 teachers all had the classroom technology and office supplies they needed, that all the lights work, and that maintenance workers took care of spots around campus that needed extra cleaning or touch-up painting.

And the tasks involved in setting up a new school still aren't done.

"We have a long ways to go to have a complete collection," Ybarra said of Mary Casey Black's library, which, although it has books that other district schools have given it, still needs more nonfiction titles.

The school also hopes to supplement its art budget with donations of basic supplies such as glue sticks, crayons, scissors, watercolor paints and construction paper for the lessons that parent volunteers -- another necessity -- will teach, Ybarra said.

Helpers are needed in the library and classrooms as well, she said.

Mary Casey Black Elementary will hold its back-to-school night Aug. 20, when the school's namesake along with the district's new superintendent will preside over a dedication ceremony.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Reach her at 925-779-7141.