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Visalia seeks school names

Big Valley Elementary School. Harvest Ranch Elementary School. Cherry Meadow Elementary School.

These are among dozens of names suggested for Visalia's two newest elementary schools, which are expected to open in 2008.

And the search for school names continues.

Visalia Unified School District officials say Visalians have until March 13 to submit names.

Separate committees for each school -- made up of students, parents, community members and school administrators and staff -- are expected to sift through the suggestions, said Myron Sheklian, a district area administrator.

"We're hoping to give the board three names that the committee feels meet the requirements," Sheklian said. The goal is to have trustees vote on names by May.

One new school is planned in the northwest at Ferguson Avenue and Leila Street. The other school is planned in the southeast at Pinkham Street and Laura Avenue.

Both schools, funded by developer fees and matching state dollars, would help with overcrowding at existing elementary schools.

The district's request for suggestions has re-energized efforts to honor local heroes such as the late Annie Mitchell, who wrote books on Tulare County history and was an educator.

Also, Tulare County Hispanic Roundtable officials are expected to submit the name of Manuel Hernandez, who was an advocate for children and the poor. Hernandez died two years ago at age 91.

"Manuel Hernandez served the whole community," said Robert Aguilar, president of the Hispanic roundtable. "He mentored many of us."

Last year, the roundtable requested that the district rename Houston Elementary School after Hernandez. But the idea was met with opposition from some community members who said renaming Houston school would remove a piece of Visalia history. The school was named after the avenue, which was named after a prominent Visalia family, district officials have said.

Although the request to rename Houston was denied, trustees voted unanimously to add a clause to board policy that would allow a new campus to be named after a deceased Visalian who positively impacted the community for several decades. Trustees have publicly stated their support to name new schools after Mitchell and Hernandez.

Sheklian said the process in finding the right school name is extremely important: "It's something that will last for many generations."