LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) — It was a year ago when Catherine Cassidy took on a unique role.

Cassidy, a longtime teacher, coach and administrator at Acadiana High, was named the first principal of Southside High. Since then, she's been hiring teachers and staff, working with architects, leading the development of a student committee and performing a multitude of other tasks to prepare for Southside's Aug. 9 opening.

"Being able to build the school culture from the ground up and start from scratch was a very attractive quality about this position," Cassidy said. "The excitement is there, and I think it's important to capitalize on the energy in the community right now. The students are going to create the Southside traditions from this point forward, and that's very exciting."

The school's location in Youngsville also was a plus. Cassidy and her family live there, and this will be the first time she's worked at a school in her community.

"I do a lot of volunteer work here, so to be able to walk into the doors of a school or the grocery store or church and see people that also are at the same school is something unique that I've never had the privilege of being involved in," she said. "Southside is located in an extremely progressive, vibrant community. We want people to feel like it is a community school."

In her 16 years at Acadiana High, Cassidy made her mark as a health/physical education teacher, head girls' basketball coach and assistant principal. She has been named one of Louisiana's P.E. teachers of the year and the District 3-5A Girls' Basketball Coach of the Year.

However, the connections Cassidy made with students have meant the most to her. She's always approached education with the philosophy of taking care of the whole child, including academic, emotional, social and physical needs.

"I think it's important that we push the kids academically, but it is extremely important to me to connect with the kids outside of the academic setting and be there for them as mentors and role models," she said. "I've made a lot of connections through my years of teaching and coaching where the kids come back and it's not about what I taught them on the basketball court. It's the life lessons they seemed to have learned the most."

When classes start in less than a month, Cassidy expects the first Southside students — and teachers — to be "wide-eyed" with excitement as they see the school's features, including state-of-the-art technology and collaborative spaces.

"We're just going to be patient and allow them to touch, feel and explore," she said. "A lot of that is probably going to be in the first day or two before they settle in and realize that this is their school."