SKOWHEGAN — Thursday night’s meeting of the School Administrative District 54 board of directors began with a surprising announcement from Brent Colbry, the district’s longtime superintendent.

“I never get emotional,” Colbry said. “It is with mixed emotions that I present to you all my letter of intent to retire.”

Brent Colbry, superintendent of SAD 54, listens as community members comment during a school board meeting at Skowhegan Middle School in April 2019.

Colbry has worked in public education for more than 45 years, the past 17 for Skowhegan schools. He credits the community, faculty and students for the successes the district has seen during his tenure.

“I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to serve the community these last 17 years,” he said. “I’m still around for six more months, though, and we still have a few pages left to write in this story.”

“You have definitely earned the chance and the time to yourself,” board Chairwoman Lynda Quinn said.

Following Colbry’s announcement, Thursday night’s meeting grew heated at times, especially during the public comment portion of the meeting, when a member of the community addressed concerns about the school’s proposed mascot-selection process and the transition to gender-neutral bathrooms.

Gloria Gordon asked that the board only allow those who can prove their residency in an SAD 54 community be allowed to participate in the mascot-selection process.

“I think that names and addresses should be included on the form so that we know they’re a resident,” Gordon said. “It’s our tax dollars, it’s our discussion and our decision, and I don’t think that any outsiders or nonresidents should have a say in what we want to call ourselves.”

“Fourteen people want nothing to do with the Indians, and that’s not right,” Gordon added, referring to the members of the board who voted to retire the Indians mascot in March.

Another community member, Cecil Gray, spoke up at the meeting and urged the board to speed along the mascot-selection process. Gray cited Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who worked for NASA and whose calculations of orbital mechanics helped an astronaut get his ship back into orbit during Apollo 13.

“She did it in two to three hours,” Gray said. “I’m thinking if she can do that in a few hours, I don’t understand why this has taken over eight months.

“This should have been done a long time ago. If she can do that in three hours, this should have been over a long time ago.”

The board’s decision last year to do away with the Indians nickname and mascot has remained controversial within SAD 54.

Board members decided in December to handle the mascot-selection process in “chunks,” as suggested by Colbry.

At Thursday’s meeting, Colbry announced suggestion forms for the new mascot will be available electronically and on paper ballots, beginning next week.

Colbry said he hoped to have the suggestion forms available throughout the community, including at the Town Office, libraries and schools. While Colbry did not designate a specific deadline for the forms, he said he expected the portals to be open for four to six weeks.

Colbry also addressed an earlier comment about residency being included on the forms.

“At the end of the day, people could put the same thing multiple times on the form and it will still be considered as one suggestion,” he said. “It’s not a weighted system.”

The process for selecting a new school nickname and mascot is expected to begin with “brainstorming,” according to Colbry.

The next step is for school employees to collect suggested nicknames and filter through them to ensure they are consistent with school policies.

From there, the suggestions would be given to the board for review. Then, two committees will sort through the lists and create no more than five options for consideration.

The selection process will then be handed over to students in grades six through 12.

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

After students provide their feedback, the list will go back to subcommittees, whose members will narrow the list to three options and present them to the school board.

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