FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – A Fresno Unified elementary school is getting a lot of attention after school board members voted to change its name to honor a prominent Armenian figure.
It’s the first school in the district to be named after an Armenian-American.
Following an emotional debate, the Fresno Unified school board voted to change the name Forkner Elementary to H. Roger Tatarian Elementary.
“I actually think that’s an absolutely fabulous idea and that needs to happen eventually,” says Ryan Duff principal of Forkner Elementary. “What I am here to do is to speak and support my current students and be here on behalf of them.”
One by one, community members took to the podium to express their opinions.
Michelle Asadoorian, one of the members spearheading the campaign to change the name, was present at Wednesday night’s meeting and says the name change is long overdue.
An Armenian herself, she says the name change is a step in the right direction and finally reflects a significant part of the Central Valley’s population.
“In 140 years and now I believe 110 schools, there had not been until last night a school honoring the contributions of Armenian-Americans,” says Asadoorian.
Asadoorian says it’s important to have role models to look up to and that’s why they went with Roger Tatarian, a prominent Armenian journalist.
One of the main reasons for the proposed name change is the alleged past of the man the school is currently named after. Jesse Clayton Forkner was a Fresno developer in the early 1900s who reportedly refused to sell land to people of color.
People like Juanita Cantu are excited about the change.
“Definitely excited about the name change, it should be all positive,” says Cantu. “We’re going to be the first school who’s named after an Armenian.”
A father of a current Forkner Elementary student says he’s not opposed to the name change but says the name changing process was ill-advised and will be disruptive to current students.
“I think the kids don’t need this type of change in their lives after a year and a half of remote learning and I also think the way the board went about doing this change, without outreach to the Forkner community, without an outreach to parents, was wrong.”
Forkner Elementary was built in 1980 and has over 500 students.
A spokesperson with Fresno Unified says physical name changes to the school will begin after the end of the current school year, with the name change becoming effective at the start of the 2022/2023 school year.