Before any change is made, a Regional School Unit 5 board subcommittee plans to prepare a survey and host forums for residents and students about a possible new name for Freeport High School.

The name change is one facet of the “Unity & Pride Project,” which, as Candace deCsipkes, a member of the Strategic Communications Subcommittee, explained at a board meeting Aug. 24, has four elements:

• Define areas of strength for RSU 5.

• Identify future areas for growth to create uniqueness in the district.

• Explore renaming of high school.

• Gathering input from stakeholders.

When the RSU 5 Strategic Communications Subcommittee outlined the four strategies earlier this year, the idea was to gather information on four concepts. The school board would conduct forums in the spring, and then move forward – or not  ­– with implementation.

That game plan changed somewhat last Wednesday night at Freeport Middle School, as RSU 5 directors conducted their annual retreat. The name change issue generated much conversation among board members, and finally, Superintendent Becky Foley suggested that the subcommittee should work on a draft survey and have it ready this fall, prior to any forums.

Foley said in an email to the Tri-Town Weekly last Thursday that the plan is for the subcommittee to work on a draft survey and then present it to the board for feedback.

“I’m not sure what it will contain until the subcommittee grapples with that during a meeting,” Foley said. “I would say that my impression is that it will contain more than just people’s opinions about whether they want to rename the high school, but not sure it will contain all four elements of the Unity & Pride Project. That would be a great goal, though.”

At last week’s meeting, however, there was division among board members regarding a new name for Freeport High School. Freeport board members Valy Steverlynck and Lindsay Sterling expressed concerns. Steverlynck went so far as to suggest separating the renaming issue from the rest of the Unity & Pride Project, in order to avoid tainting the entire initiative.

No members of the public came forward to speak on the issue.

“A name change could be quite controversial, according to input that I’ve taken in this summer,” Steverlynck said. “It may disrupt all our collaboration. Do all of the brainstorming, and if the name change is favored, add it in. Do a survey first. Everyone at the high school is comfortable with the name Freeport High School. Before we do this, I want to hear how the community feels about it. If the community wants this, then yes. It’s all in how we couch it. It might be too much thrown out on its own, but it could be a unifier.”

Sterling said that the high school renaming piece could be “disruptive.” She agreed with Steverlynck that the board should somehow “test the waters first.” Sterling favored a survey over the original intention to conduct a forum on the components of the Unity & Pride Project.

But Vice Chairwoman Beth Parker of Freeport said that by separating the renaming issue, the board would thereby be admitting that it’s a divisive issue.

Ritcheson then said a survey of high school staff and students is not the way to go.

“I don’t like the idea that we need a mandate,” Ritcheson said.

Sterling responded that middle school students and staff could be added into the survey mix, and Steverlynck went one step further, suggesting that parents be consulted.

Sterling also expressed concern regarding the costs of a name change, but Ritcheson said new signage could be purchased to coincide with the renovation of the school.

Regional School Unit 5 is in the early stages of a “Unity & Pride Project” that could include a new name for Freeport High School.