Students, alumni and other constituents of Savannah R-III schools are voting on choices to replace the “Savage head” district mascot, but the next decisive moment in this debate could come in the spring.

That’s because the April 5 ballot includes the election of three members of the Savannah Board of Education, and the contenders could not be further apart on the identity of local schools. It is for this reason, challenger Cory Schilling said Wednesday, that the current board should be obliged to stop the mascot change process until the election has come and gone.

“Do we want to keep the old one? We should have that option,” Schilling said. “If we don’t, then we’re wasting everybody’s time and energy right now.”

Joe Barbosa, an incumbent candidate, the current board president and a leading advocate for the change, said the online survey is the consequence of many months of careful review by the school board and other stakeholders. Barbosa said he trusts that the result will be what best represents the students, as they would have it.

“I’m excited that our students have been able to submit ideas for new imagery and to get to participate in this process because they’re the ones that are ultimately the Savannah Savages,” he said.

Voting is taking place entirely online and features five choices, “Hawk/Falcon,” “Claws,” “Lion,” “Sabertooth Tiger” and “Bison.” The four animal options display various designs and motifs featuring that animal, while “Claws” is a stylized “S” for Savannah with scratch marks drawn in front or the background.

The survey is composed of two parts, the first of which is a voter self-identification as a current K-12 student, current parent, former student/alumni, SR3 staff member or another member of the community. There is no credential or password required to participate. The second prompts a selection from the five choices, with example images and descriptive text.

Schilling said the survey contains no option for people to indicate if they prefer the old mascot or to write in a message of support for it.

“We need to have the original mascot as an option for the community to vote on,” he said. “That’s what the community wants, and that’s what they’re going to get. Right now we don’t have that option and it’s very frustrating.”

Barbosa explained that in his view, the debate already has evolved beyond the old image. No effort, he said, will be made to “whitewash history,” and alumni gifts, trophies, icons and other such installations on district property will remain in place.

Yet, there’s no going back on delisting the “Savage head” from official recognition.

“The board felt that the name ‘Savannah Savages’ was very much tied to the community’s identity and our schools,” Barbosa said. “We also felt that the imagery associated with that name has changed and evolved since the 1920s. Personally, I see this as the next chapter of the evolution.”

Marcus Clem can be reached at marcus.clem@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowClem

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