FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — Three years ago, John L Colbert Middle School was just a plan on paper.

Monday, it opened its doors for the first time to hundreds of students. The new middle school includes features like synthetic turf and learning balconies for students who want to spend some time outside.

It’s named after former Superintendent Dr. John L Colbert, who worked for Fayetteville Public Schools for 47 years before retiring in June.

This year, he spent his morning volunteering and welcoming kids.

“It brought back so many memories, me serving as an educator in this district,” Dr. Colbert said. “I used to love the first day of school because you can see the smile on the kids, the new outfits!”

It might be the first year you won’t see Dr. Colbert in his suit and bow tie. Dr. John Mulford is stepping into his place. He says his goal this school year is to get to know the community and what they want from the district.

“As we work throughout the year, we will be revising our strategic plan to reflect the feedback we receive and use that to chart us forward over the next five years,” Dr. Mulford said.

And what a year to start with a new middle school opening, new people in leadership, and the Arkansas Learns Act going into effect.

“Whatever decisions are made at the state capitol, we are going to be there to help through it, guide them to make sure they have the information they need to be successful,” Dr. Mulford said.

Dr. Mulford has help on the ground. Leading the way at the new middle school is Warren Collier, the principal of the school.

“They say the greatest thing a principal can do is open a new building so knowing that I would get that opportunity, set a new culture, and get input from teachers to do things how they want it done,” Collier said.