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Who is the principal at Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary? Miguel Naranjo

Meet Miguel Naranjo, the new principal at FUSD's Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary School in Fresno.

Meet Miguel Naranjo, the new principal at FUSD’s Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary School in Fresno.

A few years after becoming a teacher, Miguel Naranjo felt he could have more of an impact on education by going from teacher to counselor to administrator in his more than 25 years as an educator.

Naranjo, 47, will be the principal of Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary School when its doors open to students on Aug. 15.

$37.6 million school in the Fresno Unified School District is named after Juan Felipe Herrera, the son of migrant farmworkers who became a poet, writer, teacher and activist who served as US Poet Laureate (2015-17). The former Fresno State professor was born in Fowler.

Herrera was the artistic cultural advisor in the conceptual development of the new school.

Serving preschool through 6th grade, the school was created to enhance the existing programs and relieve overcrowding in fast-growing southeast Fresno.

The school will serve a portion of students currently in the attendance areas for Ayer, Aynesworth and Storey elementary schools.

The two-story, 84,242-square-foot school will feature 36 classrooms, four soccer fields, outdoor play courts, student gardens, open courtyards, snack bar with restrooms and a new school-based clinic. It is located on 17 acres south of Church Avenue between Peach and Willow avenues.

The home of the Hawks will be focusing on STEAM, where teachers will use science, technology, engineering, and the arts as they teach math and English Language Arts.

“My hopes are that they can see a bigger world than what they are used to, that they can see a world of possibilities”, Naranjo said of his future students. “Our focus here is going to be not just on reading and writing, but we’re going to bring in science and engineering, technology, art.”

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Miguel Naranjo, the new principal at FUSD’s Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary School in Fresno which will be opening its doors to students for their first day of school on Aug. 15. María G. Ortiz-Briones

“We want kids to have a more rounded experience. We want them to do actual projects, like researching things like climate change, or the life cycle of turns, you know, just different things, things where they’re, they’re actually hands on and learning, not just reading out of a book,” Naranjo said.

Naranjo said the elementary school will start with about 525 students.

Maximum capacity is 850 students, so the school has room to accommodate future growth.

Asked what makes him proud of being the new school’s principal, Naranjo said he feels honored.

“I’m really proud of it. I feel like I’ve been working towards this my whole life. You know I’m bilingual,” said Naranjo, who was born and raised in Madera.

His farmworker parents, who are both from Tecolotlán, Jalisco, returned to Mexico when he was very young. They came back to the US when Naranjo was 5 years old. I have started school not knowing any English.

Naranjo and his siblings worked alongside their parents in the fields.

Naranjo graduated from Madera High School in 1992 and went to Fresno City College before he transferred to Fresno State University to pursue his bachelor’s degree as well as his master’s degree in education.

His sister was the one who planted the seed in his head for doing something beyond high school.

His parents will be at the Aug. 22 grand-opening ceremony. “I wouldn’t be here, where I am today, opening up this awesome new school.”

Naranjo said he identifies with Herrera, who has shared that he was shy as a child because he didn’t speak English very well.

“I was the same way. I remember sitting in kindergarten and not knowing what’s going on. I just heard the teacher talking but I didn’t understand. So, it to me, I’m very proud that I was able, you know, like many other people learn English and go to college become professional. And then show other kids you know what, like it doesn’t matter where you come from you can do it if you set your mind to something, you can go out and achieve it,” Naranjo said.

“So, I’m also honored to be the first principal here. And I’m glad that Juan Felipe has been able to connect with us and we’ve been very supported in helping to bring his legacy from him like to share it with everyone else, ”Naranjo said. “So, it’s an honor for me to be the principal here.”

The school has a mural of Herrera face in the front office so people can see the school’s namesake.

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The school has a mural of Juan Felipe Herrera face in the front office so people can see the person who the school is named after, and for students, especially Latino students, to see a role model from their town and the valley. Maria G. Ortiz-Briones

“It’s not just the name, it’s a person and this person looks like a lot of us, you know. He’s Latino, like we are, but for other people too, other people of color, just to show that you can really just set out, have your goals and you can achieve them. Just like Juan did, like many of us do, but I think it’s inspiring to have that,” Naranjo said of Herrera, adding that as published author, Herrera shows young students that not only they can be an artist but “that there’s a world out there that we can explore.”

Naranjo wants his students to see him as “someone that cares about them, someone that’s going to support them, someone who is going to be their cheerleader, and just to be their advocate.”

“I want to make sure everybody’s safe and kids learn, but I really want to be there as a resource for our kids, for our parents, for our teachers,” Naranjo said. “I really believe in being like, in service to our community.”

Naranjo said that even though he is the principal, it is not just him but his whole team – teachers and support staff – who are making sure everything is ready for students.

“This is a huge undertaking, but it couldn’t be done without the community,” Naranjo said. “This has been a team effort. I’ve even had, you saw my son there, but my wife’s come out. They’ve helped us get books into classrooms, get furniture to classrooms.

“Teachers have been helping us they’ve been working throughout the summer training getting ready. So, I just really want everyone to know that this is a labor of love. Not just for me but for all the school community.”

You can read Naranjo’s message as school principal to parents, guardians and students here.

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Miguel Naranjo, the new principal at FUSD’s Juan Felipe Herrera Elementary School in Fresno which will be opening its doors to students for their first day of school on Aug. 15. María G. Ortiz-Briones


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