The sub-committees that will help decide the future mascots of Montrose High School and Centennial Middle School have been formed, with the first meeting scheduled the week after Thanksgiving. Members span the gamut of parents, teachers, coaches and grandparents — and two students, one from each school.
The principals of each school, Jim Barnhill of MHS and Joe Simo of Centennial, will chair the sub-committees. Montrose County School District board member Tom West will also serve.
District officials have been hard at work on a tight timeline to ensure that MSCD complies with a new state law banning Native American mascots. Non-compliant schools face $25,000 monthly fines.
All seven of the people who applied for the Centennial sub-committee will serve, but an executive committee — which includes both principals, West and district spokesperson Matt Jenkins — had to whittle down the committee for Montrose High School from more than 30 applicants.
“The bottom line is there’s a room full of people on a committee all with a common purpose, and that common purpose isn’t to debate whether we have to change, it’s to problem solve: How do we find something that best represents our community?” Barnhill said.
The process has changed over time: originally, the committees were going to meet at least two times to reach a decision before the December school board meeting, but Jenkins said that “this is going to take as much time as it needs.”
The first meeting will be with both the Centennial and MHS committees to discuss the values that the mascot should represent, Jenkins said, then later meetings will be with each individual school.
The legislation stipulates that all mascot-related imagery is to be removed by June 1, 2022 — not that a replacement mascot needs to be decided.
Since the state has not informed school districts if it will subsidize the mascot swap — the only funding source included in the bill are BEST grants, which would provide less than half of the funds — both principals are considering slimming down their estimates.
“I have never been confident that the state sends down a mandate that they fully fund,” Barnhill said.
When asked about an additional funding source for school districts last week, a spokesperson from the governor’s office declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
As of Wednesday, Nov. 17, MCSD has still not yet received a response from the state of Colorado about whether it will need to change the Johnson Elementary School mascot, the Thunderbirds. The Johnson mascot is the only mascot not depicting a human being that the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs identified as violating a new law that bans Native American mascots in the state at the end of the school year.
Simo said he initially felt stressed about needing to change the mascot when he heard mixed reactions from students, parents and staff over the summer.
But now, he’s eager to start the process and work directly with community members after dealing with “outside forces” for so long, such as the pandemic and asbestos that forced Centennial seventh- and eighth-grade students out of the building for much of the spring 2021 semester.
He credited conversations with Jenkins and Barnhill that have made him feel more at ease with the process so far.
“I’m excited to be able to work with this group of people and with our students,” Simo said. “What’s coming out of the committee is going to roll right down into the school for the students and staff — we’re going to be really purposeful to get a voice for them into this process, too.”
Although the mascot is important to the school’s values, Simo emphasized that students come to school to be educated.
“Our mascot is tied to athletics and tied to our school, but it’s not who we are and it’s not why we come every day,” Simo said. “We come to learn.”
Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.