1. Gradebook

School mascots are changing in Hillsborough to reflect sensitivity to Native Americans

Six schools will get new mascots. Two high schools will keep their mascots but change their traditions to be more authentic and less insensitive.
Chamberlain Chiefs pitcher Lani Trent winds up a pitch as her team takes on the Hillsborough Lady Terriers during a high school softball game in Tampa on Friday. The Hillsborough County School District is changing its approach to mascots that draw from Native American culture. Middle and elementary schools will change their mascots, while some high schools, such as Chamberlain High, will modify costumes and rituals to make them authentic and less insensitive. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published May 13
Updated May 13

To show its respect to the Native American community, the Hillsborough County School District is changing school mascots at six schools and traditions at two high schools.

New mascots are being chosen for Adams Middle School — currently home of the “Warriors” — and these elementary schools: Forest Hills, Brooker and Ruskin (all Braves); Thonotosassa (Chiefs) and Summerfield (the Indians).

A notice went out last week to families informing them of the plan and asking for their input in choosing new names. “This is an exciting time for them, as they get to create something for their school,” said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

At East Bay and Chamberlain high schools, where the Indians and the Chiefs are the respective mascots, sporting events will be modified to feature costumes and rituals that are more authentic and less insensitive.

TAMPA BAY TIMES SPECIAL REPORT: A reading riddle. Struggling students are everywhere, but why does Hillsborough County have so many of them?

The changes follow months of meetings between school district officials and a parent advisory committee from the Native American community.

They also reflect work done by students, teachers and principals at Chamberlain and East Bay.

“This is a generation that is empowered, and is more inclusive,” said Lourdes Hernandez-Gonzalez, who works in the school district’s social work services department and served as the district’s point person on the effort.

Shannon Durant, chairwoman of the Native American parents’ group, said that although the discussions continue, they’re pleased with the results: “The kids were awesome. The teachers were awesome.”

Since 2017, the district has been operating under a racial equity policy that seeks to reverse institutional racism.

Even before then, the federal government had a law, now called Title VI, that addresses the academic struggles of Native American and Alaskan students and makes grant funds available to close those gaps. To qualify for the grants, districts must work with parent advisory committees such as the one that Durant chairs.

The organization reached a significant milestone in 2018 when the district agreed to allow Native American students to wear eagle feathers, a sign of honor, at graduation ceremonies.

The mascot issue was trickier. Some schools voluntarily changed their mascots, Durant said. In the case of elementary schools, the district was able to pitch the renamings as a fun experience for students.

But, Durant said, her small group did not think the alumni associations at certain high schools would stand for completely changing the old mascots.

Instead, they worked with district and school leaders to help the students at those schools gain a better appreciation of Native American culture.

The adults led cooking lessons in both schools. They took part in Native American Heritage Month. They made students aware of scholarship opportunities.

They organized displays at the schools and at the Florida State Fair. They negotiated revisions to the Chamberlain yearbook and changed the way the principal and band dress during football games.

“There is no other ethnic group that’s a mascot,” Durant said.

Still, she had hoped the changes would be made quietly.

But on Monday afternoon, the school district sent out an announcement.

“The current mascots do not respect every culture and every person in our communities,” the district said in a statement.

“Using Native American images and mascots can easily reduce living human beings to the level of a cartoon, caricature or stereotype. Even when there is no bad intent, these images can carry on and spread some of the symbols of the most painful parts of our great country’s history.”

Addressing the exception made for Chamberlain and East Bay, the statement went on to say, “we believe students at the high school level are better prepared to understand the difference and sensitivities around cultures.”

One of the reasons for establishing Title VI was the relatively low graduation rate among Native American students nationwide. That isn’t the case in Hillsborough, which does not have large numbers of students living on reservations. Officially, Native American and Alaskan students make up less than 1 percent of the population, Hernandez-Gonzalez said.

But many students may have mixed heritage, she said, which is why the district believes those numbers are under-reported.

She said the changes will benefit all students, and not just those with Native American heritage.

“This has increased their cultural sensitivity and awareness,” she said. “It’s doing the right thing.”


Struggling students are everywhere, but why does Hillsborough County have so many of them?

How to help your child be a reader: toddler talk, silly songs, movies and more

Hillsborough students say their love for reading waned over time. ‘I’d rather go outside.’

The Gradebook podcast: A reading riddle in Hillsborough County schools


  1. Florida's VAM formula confuses many teachers, who call it an unfair and invalid measure of their performance. Florida Department of Education
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  2. The exterior of the new Nova Southeast University Tampa Bay Regional Campus, Clearwater can be seen on Friday. September 20, 2019.  SCOTT KEELER  |   Times
    Nova Southeastern University’s new campus off the Courtney Campbell Causeway was funded by Drs. Kiran and Pallavi Patel.
  3. Michelle Brandon, center, was one of four teachers at Pasco County's Hudson Elementary to be removed after two weeks of classes because of her state "VAM score." Here she is seen, before her transfer, on the first day of school this year, reviewing classroom rules with students. Later, when they broke the news to students, “there were a lot of tears,” Brandon recalled. "It was very difficult.” JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times
    It’s a number that is mostly based on test scores. The state says it helps put the best teachers in struggling schools, but many say it’s not valid.
  4. Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what people are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Using public meetings and a survey, they’re painting a picture of the ideal school leader.
  5. Jeff Eakins and MaryEllen Elia, Hillsborough's last two superintendents, were hired from inside the school system. So have all others since 1967. Times staff
    Go to the school district website before 8 a.m. Monday to state your case.
  6. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  7. The Pasco County school district would rezone the Seven Oaks subdivision from the Wiregrass Ranch High feeder pattern to the Cypress Creek High feeder pattern, beginning in the 2020-21 school year. Pasco County school district
    The Seven Oaks subdivision is the primary target for rezoning.
  8. Fortify Florida is a new app that allows for anonymous reporting of suspected school threats. Florida Department of Education
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  9. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  10. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.