SKOWHEGAN — Maine School Administrative District 54 board of directors is moving forward — carefully — with the process of selecting a new team nickname and mascot for Skowhegan Area High School, but has yet to decide on a timeline to begin the process.

The board voted March 7 to retire the “Indians” nickname and mascot after five years of debate among community members, school board representatives, students and members of Penobscot Nation.

At Thursday night’s meeting, members of the board discussed when the selection process for a new mascot should begin with some wanting to start right away and others wanting to delay the process until spring or even summer, a division that continues from earlier meetings.

Superintendent Brent Colbry suggested the process be done “in chunks,” beginning with the brainstorming session at which the administration will accept nickname suggestions from community members and students.

“We want it largely driven by kids,” the superintendent has said, “and we want them to have an opportunity to give feedback before we make a final selection.”

After the brainstorming session, administrators will filter out nicknames that violate school policies or laws and produce a list of acceptable options.

Once a list of nickname suggestions is complete, administrators will hand it over to two subcommittees made up of board members, who will be asked to narrow the list to no more than five options.

The subcommittees’ list will then be presented to students in grades six through 12. After students provide feedback, the list will go back to the subcommittees, which will narrow the list to three options to be presented to the MSAD 54 board of directors.

Chairwoman Lynda Quinn reminded board members they will be working on other important items in the coming months, including contract negotiations, budgeting and hiring school personnel.

“Keep in mind that there will be a lot on your plates,” Quinn said.

Vice Chairwoman Maryellen Charles said she favored getting the process moving, saying the board is capable of juggling budgets, negotiations, personnel matters and the nickname-selection process, just as it did last year when the board and community were debating whether to retire the “Indians” nickname.

Board member Harold Bigelow, who has argued for delaying the process and suggested it could be done in the summer, shared feedback that he received recently at a basketball game.

“I asked parents and students questions (about the mascot) and the general consensus was that people would like to wait a while,” he said. “There’s a lot going on lately and it ain’t gonna hurt nothing.”

Bigelow reminded people at the meeting that ending the nickname has had a lasting effect on the school district and community.

“This is a heritage,” Bigelow said. “It’s not just a name. You can’t just take the Indian sign down and put up something (like) the Skowhegan Muskrats. That’s just not going to happen.

“People in the community know where we all stand on the matter. Going to the sports games, they are announced as Skowhegan and they were proud. At the bonfire and parade this fall, they were chanting, ‘We are the Indians.’ It’s just a split group.”

Peggy Lovejoy offered a different opinion.

“I think expediting the decision is important,” Lovejoy said.

Board member Michael Lambke agreed.

“If you look at the paperwork, the note about the mascot and the purpose of having one is to create unity,” Lambke said. “When I think of my position as a member of the board, providing leadership and unity is an important thing to think about. Trying to foster a space for them to have unity. It’s important to take opinions into account when working through the process.”

Board member Jennifer Poirier, a leader of those who opposed changing the mascot, urged that the district take a slower approach to adopting a new nickname and mascot, saying that in her many years on the board, she has learned what is important is to prioritize.

“It would be more feasible if we waited until later in the school year,” Poirier said. “The budget can have a play in this too.”

Poirier said that once the process starts, she does not think it will take a long time to do, which is why waiting won’t hurt anything.

“The wounds are still fresh. People still want to keep it how it is. I suggest that we wait until May so that it does not have a huge impact on the kids in school. We should wait and have the budget done before we go and open up another can of worms.”

In contrast to Poirier’s contention that the process will not take a long time, board member Derek Ellis said, “We all agree that the process in itself is going to take a substantial amount of time. We don’t even know what the brainstorming phase even looks like yet, and it’s going to take time. I think getting the process underway is not a bad idea.”

Some board members also said the community and students can choose to have no nickname or mascot and just be “Skowhegan,” which is also on the table.

Quinn said that members of the community should have a say on when the nickname-selection process should begin.

“Whenever we start the process, we start,” Quinn said. “We have adopted the procedure and everyone has been able to weigh in on the board. I do not want to hear (after the fact) that people didn’t have time to vote.”

Quinn added that the board will get information out to the community and will notify the Board of Selectmen when it is available so community members will have it relayed to them through several different methods.

SAD 54 covers Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

The matter is scheduled for further discussion at the board’s meeting Jan. 9.

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