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Central Unified Names New High School After Justin Garza on Split Vote

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Architectural rendering providing an aerial perspective of Central Unified's new high school
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Central Unified School District’s new high school will be named after Justin Garza, the former head football coach at Central High School who lost his battle with cancer in 2017.

Four board members — board president Yesenia Carrillo and trustees Naindeep Singh Chann, Philip Cervantes, and Richard Solis — voted to name the school now under construction at Grantland and Ashlan avenues in northwest Fresno for Garza.

Board vice president Jason Paul and trustees Richard Atkins and Terry Cox voted to name the school Central North, a name that was preferred by an overwhelming majority of respondents to a district survey.

portrait of the late Justin Garza, who coached football at Central High in Fresno, California

— Justin Garza

Nearly 200 names were proposed, including former President Barack Obama, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, and social media celebrity Lovely Peaches.

Cervantes said that although Central North elicited more support in the survey, much community support was expressed for naming the high school for Garza.

Support for Directional Name

Atkins said he was concerned about naming a facility for a specific person — even a “very fine gentleman” such as Garza — instead of choosing a more neutral name.

“You’re going to step on somebody’s toes, you’re going to pinch somebody’s butt, and it ain’t gonna look pretty in the end,” he said.

Cox said she had received several comments from residents who were not in favor of naming the school for Garza, who first taught at Central High in 1999 and was an assistant coach for football, track, and golf until 2004, when he left for another job. He later returned and was the head coach at Central until his illness forced him to resign in 2014.

Choosing a “directional” name such as Central North gives its students more latitude in crafting the school’s identity, she said.

“Central Unified has an amazing opportunity to embrace the power in a name. To name a school after a geographical location like Clovis Unified has done further divides neighborhoods. But to select a name that stands for more, a name that embraces community and diversity, that inspires passion and grit, would take a stance to set the tone for incoming students.” — Tosha Giuffrida

Carillo suggested amending the motion to name the school for Garza pending the completion of a background check.

Friends Say Garza is Worthy Namesake

Prior to the vote, Garza’s widow Regina thanked trustees for considering naming the new school for her husband.

Tosha Giuffrida, who said she was speaking on behalf of Garza’s friends, said his passion for education and student success was widely acknowledged, and his impact on the lives of his students and the community was profound.

“Central Unified has an amazing opportunity to embrace the power in a name. To name a school after a geographical location like Clovis Unified has done further divides neighborhoods,” she said. “But to select a name that stands for more, a name that embraces community and diversity, that inspires passion and grit, would take a stance to set the tone for incoming students.”

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email