The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District's ship logo will sail away for good after administrators committed Wednesday to a districtwide rebranding effort that will be guided by consulting company Zeste Branding and Marketing.

Board members approved the contract for up to $75,000, to be paid for in district general funds, in a 5-0 vote.

"The company we’re hiring and the money we’re spending is not just to design the logo; it’s to identify what this district means and then to brand that so everybody in this community feels really good about it," board member Dominick Palera said.

The current logo — an illustration of Christopher Columbus' flagship the Santa Maria — first appeared in the district in the 1970s, purportedly in cohesion with the city's adoption of the same image a few years earlier.

Students and community members began to call on leaders to remove the logo last year, arguing that Columbus' history of genocide against Indigenous peoples does not represent the district's values. Superintendent Antonio Garcia agreed in the fall to cease new production of the image and explore options for its replacement over the following months.

Zeste founder Michellene DeBonis said outdated messaging that no longer represents a district's mission is among the reasons that many choose to rebrand. 

"More often than not, it’s because their assets, often the name or the logo or their storytelling, is no longer relevant or doesn't really, truly reflect the ethos of the district. The last category is probably why we’re talking today," she said to the district board on Wednesday.

In a presentation, DeBonis described a timeline for the rebranding process broken into four stages. After the first stage of creating a brand strategy through research, surveys and stakeholder interviews, the district would then draft actual designs and brand guidelines with Zeste leading up to the final selection of a new logo.

Those first two stages are expected to take around 16 weeks, followed by another two weeks to prepare support for the brand "launch." Finally, around eight weeks would be needed for advertising the new brand vision and implementing the logo on materials, vehicles and digital platforms. 

"My assumption is you would spend the time from the end of this school year — if we start right away — through the summer until you open the new school year with everything in place," DeBonis said. 

District leaders will provide Zeste with a list of stakeholders to be involved in discussions during the first phase, with up to 10 to be selected. Board member Amy Lopez voiced the importance of doing outreach about the process in both English and Spanish, and Garcia advocated for centering student feedback in the process.

"One of the major stakeholder groups that will be taken into consideration in the research piece of the process is student input, as per the board’s request," he said. 

Debonis agreed that this input would be important, but that it will also be crucial to consider the viability of students' suggestions about the actual logo design and whether the design would still be relevant years down the road.

She also assured the board that surveys will be made available in Spanish and English, and that the firm is exploring options for involving the district's Mixteco-speaking families as well.

Through our near 140 year history of covering the Santa Maria Valley our newspaper has seen many changes. Some more obvious than others. Our nameplate, however is the most visible part of our masthead.  And that nameplate has seen many changes over the years. Take a look at this history of our nameplate


Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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