SKOWHEGAN — The school board took its first official steps Thursday night in launching a process that will determine a new mascot — or none at all — for high school sports teams about seven months after deciding to retire the controversial “Indians” name and imagery. 

Superintendent Brent Colbry said the process for selecting a new mascot will be similar to the organized model used for assembling a school budget.

Brent Colbry Morning Sentinel file photo

“What’s important is whatever this thing looks like when we start, we must stick with it so that the rules don’t change halfway down,” Colbry said at the meeting. “This is doable, and I think we can make this work.” 

The board voted in March to “respectfully retire” the schools’ longtime “Indians” sports mascot and outlined the process to select a new mascot at its Oct. 3 meeting.

Feelings about selecting a new mascot were still mixed among school board members at Thursday’s meeting. Board member Harold Bigelow shared feedback that he has received from a community member and shared his own thoughts.

“There’s a lot of people that donate to this school,” Bigelow said. “One guy told me that it oughta be his last name on the plaque up here to change the name to anything because (of) all the money (he’s) put into the scoreboards and this and that. He was an Indian, his father was an Indian, they all were. To eradicate all of the Indian instantly and then change the name to something (like) the Woodpeckers …

“To change (the mascot) overnight — and I know that’s easy to do — and to have a kid that’s never been an Indian, they’ve never sat on the bleachers and cheered (the Indians), I don’t think they have the gut feeling of what it was like to be an Indian,” he said.

With that, he suggested that the community have a stronger say in the selection process.

But that roused school board member Derek Ellis to point out, “(The kids) are the ones that go to the school.”

A disagreement erupted, but School Board Chair Lynda Quinn stepped in to bring the group back on task.

The mascot transition plan is a six-step effort that will kick off with a brainstorming session. It will include a review of name recommendations gathered from students and the community through submissions on paper forms and online portals. Recommendations will be collected by the superintendent, principals, assistant principals and the athletic director. Students can also decide to choose no mascot if they prefer.

From there, staff will present the results to the Support Services committee and the Education Policy/Program committee to come up with a consensus and present options to the board. The committees then will be tasked with bringing options forward for consideration. Some board members suggest up to five names be presented.

Once suggestions are made, students will have the opportunity to give feedback to the committees, who will make a final recommendation to the full board for a vote.

Both committees will meet in the coming weeks. The next mascot update will be presented at the school board’s Nov. 21 meeting, where they are expected to work out any concerns they see and tweak things as needed.

Maulian Dana, ambassador of the Penobscot Nation, gives a speech Dec. 6, 2018, as she holds an Eagle feather as an example of what a symbol is as two sides of the “Indians” mascot battle converge at the school board meeting at Skowhegan Middle School. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Colbry on Thursday discussed feedback that he received from the board from the last meeting. Some members want the board to lean more heavily on student feedback and that only district residents should have a say. The board, Colbry said, was divided between those who wish to see the process move along quicker and those who want the process to slow down.

The process was “designed for the kids to talk because this is what we heard last spring,” Colbry said. “We want it largely driven by kids, and we want them to have an opportunity to give feedback before we make a final selection.”

The board also took a moment to address food security and a meal program that the school has in place for students that began at the beginning of the month. According to the schools’ director of school nutrition, Laura Pineo, the program is going very well, though she did not provide numbers as the program is still brand new to the district.

The program provides meals to children within the district at several schools, much like the summer meal program. It is funded through a grant given to the school to help children who need additional learning opportunities.

“(Teachers) had a meeting (and we found that) a lot of the reports that we’re getting is that kids are coming in hungry or coming in for meals,” Bigelow said. “The parents show up, and they’re getting the money for it at home, but they’re not putting it toward the kids. They come in with brand new iPhones and their kids are hungry.

“What we’re doing, I think, is taking away the responsibility and leaving it to us,” Bigelow said, “and that’s why I feel there is more of a challenge with hungry children coming in, because they’re looking for these programs because we have a better system now of feeding the kids at home than we ever did, but the numbers are showing that it is not working.”

Quinn responded, “We are going to feed the children as much as we can.”

In other business, the board recognized the high school’s Eco Team, a club working to reduce the school’s carbon footprint. The club is a revitalization of the school’s previous Green Club. The club hopes to gather more information about the school’s waste and recycling and figure out efficient ways for the school to be more environmentally conscious.

“Keep that passion,” Quinn told the group. “You are the next generation to keep this planet spinning.”

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