Jordan High School

Jordan High School 2020 graduates are on display in banner form along Atlantic Avenue thanks to Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson and Megan Kerr, LBUSD board member. The tradition acknowledges the hard work of graduated each year. 

Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert has stepped into the nationwide debate about renaming schools that honor historical figures with racist legacies, asking the local school district to rename Jordan High in honor of outgoing board member Felton Williams.

Haubert, in an email, said Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent Jill Baker told him the education agency would relaunch its school renaming committee.

LBUSD and Williams did not return requests for comment.

Jordan High School, in North Long Beach, was founded in 1933 and is named after David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford University, who was also a noted eugenicist.

His name adorns multiple schools throughout California, including another Jordan High that’s part of Los Angeles Unified School District. But schools named after Jordan and other figures — including, in Long Beach, former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Robert Millikan — have come under fire in recent months as the country, in the middle of a new civil rights movement, grapples with who we should honor from the country’s past. In the South, Confederate figures have been the focus; but on the West Coast, it’s been Spanish colonials and figures like Jordan.

Haubert, in a letter he sent to Baker last week, argued that the district should remove Jordan's name from the school for the benefit of its students.

“The fundamental goal of any school and certainly that goal of LBUSD is to empower students through education,” he wrote. “We should be teaching children that they are the masters of their own destinies, that their intelligence, abilities and worth are not limited by race or heredity.

“I feel it is only a matter of time before LBUSD removes Jordan’s name from its campus,” Haubert added. “He was not a U.S. President, a founding father of our nation or even a local hero. In fact, I know of no link between David Starr Jordan and Long Beach, other than the school named for him.”

Haubert’s proposed replacement, however, has deep roots in Long Beach. Williams, who is Black, received both his bachelor’s degree and master of business administration at Cal State Long Beach, and represented District 2 — which does not include Jordan High — on the LBUSD Board of Education for four terms.

Williams, who is retiring this year, created the LBUSD Advanced Placement Academy to reduce the achievement gap between students of color and other students.

“I’ve known him for many years,” Haubert said in a Tuesday, July 28, interview. “We served on the Long Beach Ethics Task Force and I found him to be a competent, idealistic person back then and I do think that if the name is changed, I can’t think of any one better than someone who has done a lot in the area for inclusivity.”

If LBUSD changes the school’s name, it would not be the first time the district has done such a thing.

In 2014, Long Beach Unified voted unanimously to rename two schools: Burnett Elementary became Bobbie Smith Elementary and Hill Classical Middle School became Eunice Sato Academy of Math and Science.

Burnett Elementary was named after former California Gov. Peter H. Burnett, who had a racist past.

Recently, a petition began circulating demanding the district change the name of Wilson High School.

Wilson backed the Ku Klux Klan and screened in the White House “The Birth of a Nation,” a film that, while revolutionary from a cinematic perspective, presents a revisionist history of the Civil War and early Reconstruction Era.

But when news of that petition — which has been stuck on about 3,500 signatures for weeks — went public, one of Williams’ colleagues pushed back against changing the name.

“I completely understand the Black Lives Matter movement and this nationwide thrust to get rid of anything that was tainted by racism in the past,” said Jon Meyer, an LBUSD board member who graduated from Wilson and met his wife there. “I understand that, but to some extent, it’s a little misguided.”

“The discussion about how our local schools and other facilities are named has been going on for the last several years and Jordan (High) is one of those that’s been questioned,” he said. “I did some research myself and David Starr Jordan probably is an inappropriate namesake for the North Long Beach school and I’m not the only one.”

Haubert said when he told Williams of his proposal, the board member was humbled.

Changing the name, of course, ultimately falls to the Board of Education — though the superintendent can be a catalyst of sorts.

If the Board of Education or Superintendent determines the need to rename a school, an item will be placed on a Board of Education meeting agenda and information about the meeting will be provided to the impacted school community,” the district’s renaming guidelines say. “Any school renaming agenda item will be discussed as an information item before any action is taken in a subsequent meeting.”

Also, the superintendent would appoint a School Naming Advisory Committee to discuss possible new names before sending recommendations to the board.

Public editor Rich Archbold contributed to this report.

Load comments