Students seek school identity and unity amid controversial name change


Toby Gibbons

The facade of the High School 1327 Gymnasium now stripped of all signage relating to Sir Francis Drake. Aug. 2020

Since just over a week ago, Sir Francis Drake High School has become a name of the past. It’s time to say goodbye to the pirates and hello to new beginnings. When school resumes in August it will take on a new, temporary identity as High School 1327. The redefinition of Drake High School has caused great controversy within the community, especially among students beginning the new school year with no official school name.

According to Assistant Principal Chad Stuart, the movement to change the name of Drake High School began a couple of years ago. However, the recent revitalization of the Black Lives Matter movement has caused many institutions and organizations to reflect on the histories associated with their names. 

For Drake High School this meant digging deeper into the history of Sir Francis Drake as a slave trader. As community members began to learn about Drake’s past, many expressed discomfort about returning to the school. Many felt that keeping the name honors Sir Francis Drake and his racist history.

“If we really want to be an anti-racist school, any name that is associated with slave trading, in any manner, we felt that it wasn’t safe for our student body to return to that,” Stuart said.

In late July, concerned community members covered up the signs on campus relating to Drake with paper. Stuart said that in order to avoid vandalism or violent protests, the school decided to officially remove all the signs on Wednesday, July 29. During that time, school administration and leadership groups, including Associated Student Body (ASB), Peer Resource, and Students Organized Against Racism (SOAR), chose a temporary name for the school, High School 1327 (HS 1327), until the voting process begins in September.

The administration and leadership groups have met continuously throughout the summer to discuss HS 1327’s next steps. During the first week of school, according to ASB President Ella Acker, students will participate in workshops to learn about the history of Sir Francis Drake and learn how to respond to microaggressions in an appropriate manner.

“My main goal is just to get everyone as educated as possible and to get everybody heard. . .this is the school that’s going to represent them [the students] and they’re going to represent going down that road,” Acker said.

Drake Pirates logo still visible on the baseball field. Replacing Drake branding on athletic fields has been a source of backlash as is cited as a major cost in the $450,000 rebranding process. Aug. 2020 (Toby Gibbons)

Despite the fact that the name change is already underway, controversy still surrounds the issue and divides the community. Some students, like sophomore Kennedy Williams, believe that changing the name will not significantly solve racism occurring at HS 1327. Some feel that the estimated $450,000 to change the name and all that comes with it – namely a new gym floor logo, football field, mascot costume, and marketing new sports uniforms – could be more effectively used to solve racial issues through programs and workshops.

“Changing the name won’t help any issues with misinformation or unnecessary glorification of Sir Francis Drake,” Williams said.

Others, like junior Devin Finnane, express that the name change is just the community’s first step towards fighting for racial equity. 

“Making important steps, like moving away from the honoring of names like Sir Francis Drake, is crucial for a community like Marin where privilege is everywhere. I hope with this change people will start to learn more about how even a name can be very hurtful,” Finnane said. 

The name change introduces another issue, as no official name is determined. The upcoming school year will begin remotely due to COVID-19. With no official name, mascot, or defined school spirit due to the name change, and virtual learning, HS 1327 may lack a sense of legacy and identity. 

Given the circumstances with remote learning and the continuation of the name change process, students and teachers may have to make extra efforts to connect and support each other during the start of the school year. Along the way, as previously stated by Acker, students will learn even more about racial equity through discussions and workshops.   

“I think dealing with the loss is tough, but I also think that it’s going to create a very needed community conversation about race,” Stuart said.

Most notably, freshmen will be greeted with a minimal sense of established school culture and identity at the start of the school year. The solution to this, according to Acker, is to set aside time in each freshman crew period, or tutorial, to talk about what’s happening regarding racism at school, how to get involved and answer questions, ultimately making freshman crew periods more intimate than ever.

“Before it didn’t need to necessarily be as hands-on, and now more than ever because it’s virtual, just being able to kind of make a connection between students is really important,” Acker said.

With the name of Sir Francis Drake High School gone, on top of distance learning, students have the opportunity to create a new legacy, culture, and name for the school – literally and figuratively.