USD 489 hosts community meeting to discuss rebranding

BY RAEGAN NEUFELD

The possibility of a rebranding for the Hays High School Indians brought together students, parents and community members Tuesday night for a “community conversation.”

Since voters passed a $143 million bond in May, Hays USD 489 has asked for input from students, parents, faculty and the community about what being an Indian means, and if that is a brand they want to keep. Results from a recent survey were discussed at the meeting Tuesday at 12th Street Auditorium.   

“As the bond passed, we knew that it was important when looking at our new facilities and what it’s going to become that we get the right brand and imagery put in our schools,” Superintendent Ron Wilson said.

Wilson also noted the district was aware of potential input from the state level. Just last week, the Kansas State Board of Education voted to recommend all Native American mascots be changed within the next five years.

Leading the meeting was John Jenson, a consultant who works with organizations throughout the country. When introduced, Jenson referred to himself as an “identity expert.” He also stated his job is not to recommend any changes.

Jenson wrote the survey used by USD 489, which included the following questions.

  1. In a sentence, what does it mean to be an Indian?
  2. What are the attributes of an actual Indian that you think should be embodied by everyone within the school?
  3. If you were to use one word that best describes the culture of your school as it exists right now, what word would you choose?
  4. If you were to use one word that you wish defined your culture, what word would you choose?
  5. What traditions are you most proud of here at your high school?
  6. What are your thoughts? 

There was also a question about changing the Hays Middle School mascot to the Indians. The answers were reportedly mixed.

Jenson went through each question, reading a handful of the comments from the 600 respondents. Being a part of a community, being brave and having tradition were just a few of the responses for the first question, answering what it means to be an Indian. 

“When people walk in your doors they need to know exactly what to expect,” Jenson said. “If you’re going to sell it to a parent, a prospective student or someone who’s going to come here and live, (you need to say) this is who this school is, this is what you can expect.”

Answers started to differ slightly on the third question. While some responses stated Hays High’s culture can be described as focused, innovative and honorable, others said resistant, outdated and stagnant. 

In addition to listening, audience members were able to give their thoughts and comments to the responses as well. One said she believed the common threads of toughness and resiliency within Hays High and the community were reflected well in the survey. Another audience member expressed her frustration with the lack of information given about the committee that will further discuss the rebranding.

“All I have said to the district is to get through tonight, see where we’re at and then figure out what this whole committee thing might look like,” Jenson said. “I’ve asked them to hold off on that.”

Wilson ended the meeting with optimistic words and a thank-you to everyone who participated.

“What I walk away with tonight is the idea that, if you really want to find out what’s important in a community and school, just talk about possibly changing something,” he said. “We heard from both sides tonight. I walk away knowing that we can work together and it can end up being a really great thing for our community.”

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