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Salt Lake City teen wants to rename school for fallen Latino soldier

Published March 4, 2014 9:25 pm

Rocky Herrera was "somebody from the neighborhood who did something great."
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington Elementary. Jackson Elementary. Lincoln Elementary.

They're all schools in Salt Lake City bearing the names of great men. But they're also all long dead — their experiences generations and worlds away from those of the students attending the schools.

Now, one Salt Lake City teen wants to change that for students in a west-side school. East High junior Erick Olivas is working to rename Parkview Elementary after a Glendale neighborhood soldier who died serving his country in Afghanistan in 2007. He'd like to see the school become Rocky Herrera Elementary.

"When I went to the school basically all the students were Hispanic or Latino," Olivas said, "and I think it would make a great impact in the Latino community just to know there are also Latino heroes in our community that fight for our country."

At Parkview Elementary, 86 percent of kids are minority students.

Olivas, who is focusing on renaming the school as his Eagle Scout project, has been working with school board member Michael Clara on the issue. He said Clara helped bring Herrera to his attention.

Herrera, an Army sergeant first class, was killed at age 43 in 2007 by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. His sister, Jeri Herrera, said he and a couple of other soldiers tried to charge the bomber when they realized what he was doing, perishing in the process but saving others.

It's not just the way Herrera died, however, that's significant. It's also the way he lived.

He walked Parkview's hallways as a kid. He was a prankster who loved playing jokes on his little sister and younger brother. But his parents also still have awards and recognitions he won in grade school.

He was a natural leader long before he joined the military, in which he served for more than 20 years. He followed a line of Herrera men serving in the military, including his father and uncles, said his cousin Duane Padilla.

"Whatever he did, he did it with integrity, to set an example," said Jeri Herrera, who now lives in Michigan. "If we were kind of getting out of line as kids he'd tell us when we were getting out of line. Being the older brother he'd just kind of keep us in check a little bit."

Yet Herrera was humble, Padilla said. He probably wouldn't have known what to make of a school being named after him, Padilla said.

"He wasn't really big into the limelight," Padilla said. "He just sort of took care of business, did what he needed to do."

It's the kind of person Olivas believes should be honored.

Olivas has been working since the fall to gain support for the renaming, gathering signatures on a petition and meeting with state and local leaders to get their backing.

Olivas officially presented his request to the Salt Lake City School board Tuesday night, which received it enthusiastically. Board president Kristi Swett said his request will be sent to Parkview's school community council, which will put together a committee to look into the renaming. The school community council will then make a recommendation to the board, which will make a final decision.

Clara said he'd like to see the school named after Herrera to show "that local heroes walk among us" and that freedom isn't free.

"It's important that our children understand that we have heroes that are within our own community," Clara said.

Jeri Herrera said she thinks it would mean a lot to students to go to a school bearing her big brother's name.

"It was somebody from the neighborhood ... someone who walked down the railroad track to go to that school, somebody who played kickball in that field," Jeri Herrera said, "somebody from the neighborhood who did something great." —

Lunch questions

When it comes to explaining why dozens of kids had their lunches trashed in January, Salt Lake City School District board members told parents Tuesday they will try to answer some of their questions next week.

The board decided Tuesday to meet for one hour on March 12 at 4:30 p.m. to publicly discuss and answer questions submitted by parents.

The board will continue to accept questions through March 11 that are emailed to kristina.kindl@slcschools.org or that are mailed to district offices at 440 East 100 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84111-1891.

The board also on Tuesday decided to officially hire Squire & Co. to conduct an external audit of district procedures and financial issues related to the incident. The board also decided to issue a request for proposals for companies to look into the personnel side of the issue after representatives from Squire said they aren't able to conduct that side of the investigation.

Board president Kristi Swett said the Squire audits might cost between $5,000 and $7,000.