The home page of the St. Vrain Valley School District website leads off with this declaration: "We are the future of America." But Rachael Ayers's future will be elsewhere. The principal of the district's Mead High School has resigned following the social media circulation of a Snapchat photo featuring students reenacting the murder of Minneapolis's George Floyd, complete with the white kid portraying the victim wearing blackface.
In a June 7 letter announcing the resignation to parents, superintendent Don Haddad notes: "While there have been several successes at Mead High School this past year, we have also experienced significant challenges, and I want to express my sincere appreciation for your continued support."
There have been many blackface controversies in Colorado over the years, and many have the common theme of tone-deafness. In 2011, for instance, the University of Colorado Boulder had to grapple with the tradition of Black Outs, during which fans at football games dressed in that particular school color — which became a problem when some of the most enthusiastic Caucasian boosters daubed the hue on their face, too.
Cut to 2012, when an uproar followed Colorado Springs second-grader Sean King's decision to dress up as Martin Luther King for a school project, complete with darkened skin color. The younger King intended the costume to be a tribute, but plenty of people didn't take it that way.
And then there was the 2019 brouhaha over the pic of white Colorado State University students displaying blackened faces while striking the "Wakanda Forever" pose from the movie Black Panther.
Brushing off the George Floyd photo as an example of mere racial cluelessness is a lot more difficult, as stressed in the introduction to a Change.org petition titled "Bringing the racial profiling discrimination that occurs at MHS to notice."
"We as a generation know that racial profiling and racism of any kind is not acceptable and the fact that this is occurring and has been happening at Mead High is truly disappointing," the intro states. "It’s unbelievable that there are still people acting so immature towards racism. Everyone in our school represents Mead and having such students re-create a humiliating death as they dishonor themselves is sad. People in our school have raced racial discrimination and it cannot be allowed. Mead High is represented by our students, the same students who just showed the worst in humanity."
The petition concludes: "Our school is divided. We must grow from this and especially learn. If you believe in growing as a community to create change, please sign this petition."
Nearly 9,000 people did so within just a few days — a number considerably in excess of Mead's population, which was estimated at 4,631 in 2019. But it's unclear whether that response is more indicative of America's future than the photo itself.
Here's Haddad's full letter about Rachel Ayers's resignation and the naming of her successor, Dr. Brian Young:
Dear Mead High Community,
I hope you are having a restful and enjoyable beginning of your summer. While there have been several successes at Mead High School this past year, we have also experienced significant challenges, and I want to express my sincere appreciation for your continued support. As we look ahead to next year for Mead High and ways to continue to strengthen and advance our school, there are some important changes that I would like to share.
Rachael Ayers has made the decision to resign as Principal at Mead High School. I want to thank her for her lengthy service to the Mead High community for the past 12 years as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal, and I wish Mrs. Ayers the very best in her future endeavors. I understand how important strong leadership is in this time of change at Mead High, and to this end, I am excited to share that Dr. Brian Young has been appointed as the new Principal of Mead High School.
Dr. Young has been a highly-successful Principal of Frederick High School in St. Vrain Valley Schools for the past five years. During this time, he has been a transformational leader focused on increasing student achievement, strengthening the school’s culture, and launching new innovative programs that are empowering students with a strong competitive advantage for future success. This has included the opening of the district’s second P-TECH program in biochemistry, growing the school’s Biomedical Academy, increasing participation in Advanced Placement and other rigorous course offerings, and prioritizing a strong and supportive school culture through robust communication and numerous engagement opportunities. Prior to becoming the Principal at Frederick High School, Dr. Young served as a very successful Principal of Coal Ridge Middle School for six years, and highly-impactful Assistant Principal of Sunset Middle School for five years. He earned his Doctorate of Education from the University of Northern Colorado, and began his career as a successful science teacher over 20 years ago.
As we welcome Dr. Young into the Maverick community, he will begin hosting student and community meetings to discuss advancing student success and achievement with a focus on a safe and inclusive school environment and culture for every student, teacher, staff, and community member. Please expect more information from Dr. Young regarding these upcoming meetings and other important information by the end of this month. Dr. Young looks forward to engaging in conversation with Mead High School students, families, teachers, and staff, and can be reached anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Again, thank you for your continued partnership and outstanding support as we work together to advance the success of our students, schools, and community. If you have any questions regarding this change, please feel free to contact me directly.
Don Haddad, Ed.D.
Note: The original May 21 post has been updated to include information about the principal's resignation.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.