Education · Highlight · Politics

New faces vie for Clovis Unified school board seats

Clovis Unified School District is looking at five candidates to fill the Area 4 seat on the board. Former Area 4 representative Brian Heryford retired after 23 years of service, leaving the seat vacant. 

The CUSD board interviewed the candidates at a public meeting on Oct. 10. After spending some time to review the applications and interview notes, the board will vote to appoint a candidate to the board at the Oct. 23 meeting. 

Meanwhile, jockeying has begun over another school board seat still occupied.

Here’s a look at the candidates for Heryford’s vacant seat.

Hugh Awtrey III

Awtrey is an insurance agent. He also serves as the chairman for the Foundation for Clovis Schools and has been actively involved in the foundation for 13 years.

In his interview, he said he wants to serve on the board because he places a high value on serving his community. 

“When this opportunity came up, it allowed me to move to the next level to give even more of myself and my experiences and knowledge I have with the district to improve the district and keep the district where it is, and even prove if I can find things that I think need to be improved on.” 

He said he will run for the position in 2020 if he is not appointed. 

Jacob Belemjian

Belemjian owns a gun range in Clovis. He previously ran for the seat in 2016 against Heryford, but was defeated by about 20 points. 

He graduated from Bullard High School in Fresno Unified, so he said he didn’t “have the luxury to go to Clovis schools.” 

“It was interesting to contrast what I experienced in Fresno Unified versus what I’ve seen with my children going to school in Clovis,” Belemjian said. 

If he’s not appointed, Belemjian said he’s not sure if he’ll run for the position in 2020. 

Robert Fox

Fox is retired but comes from a background in higher education. He served as the Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Services at Fresno City College for 29 years. Currently, he is a member of the grand jury. 

He has five grandchildren currently enrolled in CUSD schools, and he said he’s concerned about their education.

“We came to Clovis because we wanted to have the best school situation for our children, and it has worked out that way,” Fox said. 

Fox plans on running in 2020 if he’s not appointed to the seat. 

Jonathan Holt

Holt is a financial planner who grew up in the district and graduated from Clovis High School in 2009. 

CUSD’s graduation rate is 94 percent, Holt noted. He wants to address the students that make up the six percent that don’t graduate. 

“As a board member, my goal would be to help those students that are falling through the cracks,” Holt said. “Those students that may be facing some challenges at home, may be facing some challenges in school.”

Holt also talked about the challenges the district has faced with several student-suicides over the last few years. 

“What I would like to see is an enhancement in our services when it comes to providing mental well-being for our students,” Holt said. 

He plans on running in 2020 if he’s not appointed. 

Ryan Walker

Walker is an IT administrator and has children in the district. 

“Well I think it’s important that people can get their opinions to someone that is able to then relay them to the rest of the board,” Walker said. “Area 4 needs to be represented, obviously. I don’t necessarily see a reason why I should be that person. I don’t have any personal interest in doing it other than I just want to be able to serve my kids, my community and then parents beyond that.” 

One program Walker would like to see be expanded is the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program, if it’s possible within the budget. 

“I’d like to see that expanded some way to either encompass more children or take those children further into new avenues,” Walker said. 

Walker plans on running in 2020 if he’s not appointed to the position.

More election fireworks

While the current board will decide who will fill Heryford’s seat, there is similar jockeying for a currently-occupied seat.

Ginny Hovsepian, a 28-year veteran and fourth generation Clovis Unified School Board member, has been mum on her plans as her seat comes up for election next November. 

Clovis Unified’s school board – long a bastion of stability and lengthy tenures among its trustees – is in the midst of a multi-year changeover. Should Hovsepian decide to retire, it would create the third open seat in three straight elections. 

In 2016, Richard Lake declined to run for re-election and was succeeded by ophthalmologist Steve Fogg. In 2018, Jim Van Volkinburg announced he would retire from the board after 25 years. Attorney and businesswoman Tiffany Stoker Madsen succeeded him.

With more than a year to go before Election Day, two Clovis Unified alums-turned-political aides are already exploring bids to succeed her: Blake Zante and Cody Sedano.

Zante is currently working as Communications Director for Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R–Fresno). Before his current post, Zante was a Senate Fellow in Borgeas’ Capitol office and served as Fresno State’s student body president between 2017 and 2018.

Sedano is the Fresno-Kings County Field Representative for Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno). Before his current position, Sedano was the Fresno County Field Representative for Sen. Andy Vidak (R–Hanford). He also served in Fresno State’s student government as a Senator and Student Trustee on the State Center Community College District board.

Zante and Sedano both confirmed they are weighing bids for the seat, should Hovsepian decline to run for re-election. 

Alex Tavlian also contributed to this story.

Daniel Gligich
Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.