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The Baltimore Sun

School board debates need for new logo

Harford County Board of Education members are divided over plans for a new school system logo and re-branding strategy.

The board narrowly approved a new Harford County Public Schools logo — the school system name with a half circle of three leaves at the beginning — Monday evening by a 6-4 vote.

The look of the logo, how it was voted on and if the new logo was even needed brought heated debate over what board president Leonard Wheeler described as "an emotional issue."

The new logo is part of a re-branding strategy for the school system "in an effort to improve interactive communications between the board/school system and the public," school documents read.

In 2007, the school board commissioned the National School Public Relations Association to do a communications audit and provided the school system with 13 recommendations to improve its communications efforts.

The last recommendation was to "develop a comprehensive branding/marketing strategy," of which the logo is a part.

Harford County based communications firm a. Bright Idea came up with a branding initiative, which entailed research, strategy development, a new logo and style guide.

It's the school system's goal that through the initiative, high student performance will be a result by recruiting and keeping staff, increasing the involvement of parents and increasing volunteerism and partnerships.

It's also hoped that communication efficiency and effectiveness will increase pride, and support of the school system will rise.

Two logo concepts - the one voted on and one that re-imagined the current logo with a book graphic - were posted on the school system's website with a poll for the public to vote on between July 16 and 30. During that time, 2,391 people participated in the poll and 2,179 votes were for the approved logo.

"As a school system with a strong sense of community and heritage, and supported by the communities it serves, the logo features an inclusive, unified circular structure representative of one system and one community working together to support the child," school documents read.

Harford County Public Schools Communications Manager Teri Kranefeld explained to the board the logo will be phased in over the course of about two years, and as new materials are ordered, the new logo will be printed on them.

Nothing will be thrown out with the existing logo, she said.

The logo will also appear on the school system's website and social media pages.

Board member Bob Frisch said he sat in on focus groups held earlier this year that were aimed at getting feedback on the new branding strategy, and it was his recollection that several people either didn't know what the current logo looked like, didn't care or thought it wasn't "an appropriate use of our time or resources" to spend money on a new one.

He also expressed concerns with how the online poll was conducted.

Frisch said the summer break was "not the time" to have a survey and he was upset that there was "no option to say we like the one we have or we don't need to change what we have. It gives the impression it's a done deal and, as far as I'm concerned, it's not a done deal."

"We're in tough, difficult economic times," Frisch continued, mentioning that more than 70 positions were eliminated recently to fund the 1 percent salary increase for school system employees.

He commented that spending $16,000 on a study wasn't prudent spending. Frisch also referred to coming up with a new logo as a "non-issue." He added, "I also don't think the logo is all that good."

"There's also a time and there's a place [for spending]," he said. "Just because you can doesn't mean you should."

Board Vice President Rick Grambo clarified that the study had already been done and was decided and funded by a prior school board.

What the communications department was doing was simply "showing us the fruit of that labor," he said.

Board member Cassandra Beverley also questioned the timing of the online poll.

Kranefeld said they received "a good sampling" of votes within that time frame and got what they were aiming for in terms of community voting.

She added that through the communications audit and focus groups the response was "overwhelming" in regard to changing the current logo.

Kranefeld stressed the intention of the logo is to show the "cohesiveness" and "progressiveness" of the school system.

"We should all be speaking in the same voice," she said.

Along with the logo will be a style guide of how and when to use it, Kranefeld added, hoping it will decrease time and effort spent by individual departments in the school system coming up with their own logo and tag line.

"We could re-brand and create consistency by using the [current] logo," board member James Thornton suggested.

Grambo reiterated that the results of the task before them Monday night was initially started by a previous board and has been paid for.

"It's either we don't like this logo, look for another one or we don't think it should've been done. Forget the whole concept. I don't think I can get behind that," he said.

Board member Alysson Krchnavy commented, "I really think that changing that logo is going to issue a new era in this school system."

She agreed that the "serving youth" tag line in the existing logo shouldn't be lost, but there should be "one clarifying design and overarching message that this style guide would deliver to the system."

Krchnavy asked the board if debating a new logo is really what the board should be spending so much time and effort on.

New student representative Panashe Mutombo said from the student side of the debate it seems a new logo would be welcomed.

He added that he has hear negative comments on the current logo and positive about the new one.

"I think it's time that we all move forward," said new board member Thomas Fitzpatrick.

When it came time for the final vote, members Nancy Reynolds, Beverley, Frisch and Thornton opposed adopting the new logo, while Joseph Hau, Krchnavy, Fitzpatrick, Grambo, Mutombo and Wheeler voted for it.

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