Ever since he was in high school, Shannon Mayfield has wanted to help people. Whether in law enforcement or education, Mayfield has always tried to serve his community in whatever way he can.
As the newly hired principal at East Lansing High School, Mayfield, 61, is continuing his long career of community-oriented service. East Lansing Public Schools’ Board of Education approved Mayfield’s hire and contract in a meeting on June 13, 2022. He officially started at ELHS July 1, 2022. The hire came after a complete restart of the search and interview process, which began in early 2022 after former principal Andrew Wells announced he would retire at the end of the school year.
Mayfield became a candidate in the secondary round of searching for candidates, after an initial round turned out results that left many on the interview committees unsatisfied. English teacher Sheri Seyka, who was on the interview committee, found that restarting the process was beneficial in the end, despite her initially not being “thrilled” about beginning again. Others on the committee felt the same as Seyka.
But the restart allowed the committee to find Mayfield for the ELHS leadership role.
“It’s really hard to walk in after Mr. Wells. He was so connected with our students,” Seyka said. “Mr. Mayfield is stepping into pretty big shoes, but I think he’s doing a great job.”
After hearing of the opening from a friend in Michigan, Mayfield, who grew up in Detroit, applied for the position online, according to ELPS superintendent Dori Leyko. As Mayfield was living in California at the time, the first interview was held over Zoom. After that first round, the district decided to bring Mayfield to East Lansing for an in-person meeting.
One of the strongest aspects of Mayfield that caught Leyko’s eye was his vast experience, as well as his confidence and passion.
“His background and experience outside of education also provide him a different perspective from those of us who have been in education all of our lives,” Leyko said. “It was evident that he loves working with high school students, and takes great pride in his work and in making ELHS an outstanding place to work and learn.”
Both Seyka and Leyko were impressed with Mayfield’s resume, between his numerous experiences and his personal references, who spoke highly of him.
State of Michigan shows Mayfield the importance of home and diversity.
Mayfield began his professional life in law enforcement, but switched to education in 1991 after 10 years as a federal air marshal and Georgia state trooper. As an educator, Mayfield has worked at schools and institutions in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Despite traveling around the country for various jobs, Mayfield’s roots are still in Michigan. He is a graduate of Cass Tech High School in Detroit, the University of Detroit Mercy and Jackson State University in Mississippi.
“I was sharpened and shaped in the state of Michigan,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield is easily adjusting to his move to East Lansing. He lives with his wife, who is his high school sweetheart from Cass Tech. Outside of school he likes to listen to jazz, cook, and spend time with his two sons and three grandsons.
Growing up in Detroit made Mayfield aware of the value of diversity. Because he was surrounded by people from around the world when young, he has tried to learn from their different experiences and viewpoints. His high school, Cass Tech, was itself a testament to the diversity he values. People from all over studied and taught at the school. His Latin teacher was French-Canadian, his biology teacher Korean American, and the other staff ranged from African-American, Latino and multiracial.
“That’s a small capsule of what the world looks like,” Mayfield said. “It taught me how to mix with people. How to get along with people, how to listen, how to encourage, how to support and how to have conversations that are challenging at times.”
Mayfield has also been surrounded by people of diverse backgrounds in his professional careers. This was true at his most recent job at William Allen High School in Allentown, Penn. He said the school, where he taught for three years, was majority Latin-American and had over a third of students as English Language Learners.
All of his jobs have been valuable experiences to him.
“It’s like we’re human sponges. Look at what is pouring into us. Look at what we can absorb from, if we choose to absorb from it,” Mayfield said. “You are now being blessed with an opportunity to grow from many pieces.”
Mayfield credits his time in law enforcement with teaching him many lessons that impact his work in education. His job was strenuous, dealing with criminals and investigating fatal accidents. The moment that stands out to him the most is the incident that made him want to quit the field. In 1985, while out on patrol, a situation almost forced Mayfield to shoot at two young men before he was able to deescalate the situation. He recalls how he was just driving home when the incident occurred.
“I was prepared and trained to do my job,” Mayfield said. “But I kept saying, give these dudes a chance. Once I calmed it down and got it under control … I realized my time in law enforcement is limited.”
After the almost-shooting, Mayfield came to realize he wanted to help his community in a different way. Instead of the grueling work of law enforcement, he wanted to help the community from the ground up by relationship-building and coaching in schools.
So, he went back to school at Detroit Mercy and became certified to teach, though he still credits a lot of his mentoring and disciplinary skills to his time serving in the Georgia State Patrol and as a U.S. Air Marshal.
“Law enforcement allowed me to understand what a healthy balance is,” Mayfield said. “You’re not in control of other people, you’re serving other people.”
Coming to East Lansing High is a lot like coming home.
ELHS reminds Mayfield of the environment he grew up in. Whether it is the school’s slogan, “East Lansing Family,” its various traditions dating back several decades or its recognitions for academic excellence, Mayfield is able to draw a line back to his time in high school. Mayfield also enjoys the competitive spirit in sports and activities at ELHS, something he believes creates a better environment.
“Whenever [students] can academically, sports teams swimming, newspapers, yearbook, folks are competing. They are. And it breeds success when you’re in that kind of an environment,” Mayfield said. “That’s why I’m so fired up about it, because it’s like it’s a continuation for me, like I’ve been down this road. Let’s go. Let’s get it done.”
East Lansing as a city is also not new to Mayfield. Initially, he was recruited from high school football to play at Michigan State University. Instead, his parents encouraged him to attend both a historically Black college or university and a majority white school, which is why he opted for Jackson State and Detroit Mercy.
Now at ELHS, Mayfield is trying to bring together all of his experiences to create an even stronger learning environment. He already seems to have an acronym for everything. A couple favorites are “S2.W.A.G.” (Students and Staff With Academic Goals) or his personal ABC’s (Attitude, Behavior, Character). He has also made attempts to increase student collaboration and participation in planning school events.
“[Students] need to have a say in a lot of the things that are going on,” Mayfield said. “You know, it’s not anybody dictating to you, but your voice. [Some people] sit you at the table and don’t ask you what you want to eat. They say, here eat this. Well, you didn’t ask us what we want, but now you want us to eat it? A lot of times that doesn’t work.”
However, Mayfield doesn’t believe students should be allowed to do everything in the way they see as best. According to an email sent to staff, students and parents in the 2021-2022 school year, ELHS struggles with “chronic tardiness,” which is why a new attendance policy was put into place later that year involving detention and lowering the number of tardies and absences before a penalty.
But an environment based on punishment and confrontation is not an environment Mayfield enjoys.
Instead, he prefers to build connections with his students, understand their strengths and challenges, and to motivate them. Most importantly, Mayfield wants students to have a voice, a characteristic he has carried with him since his teaching days.
“We have fun, you know. I was known to prank my students. Joke with them,” he said. “I allow my students to configure their classrooms. Week to week we would say what do you all want to set this up like? It was real nice to have that collaboration piece. Because it wasn’t my class, it was our class.”
A majority of Mayfield’s teaching and administration philosophy is geared toward student collaboration and building student confidence. He also has confidence in his students. In his career, he has seen many students who didn’t think they would be able to fully succeed at what they wanted, but went on to learn valuable skills that allowed them to serve their community.
“And then I just stand back and smile,” Mayfield said. “I believed it from the beginning. I stand back and applaud. You know, those are moments that I really enjoy.”
Growth like this is what Mayfield enjoys about education. He hopes students understand that he wishes for them to succeed. He also hopes students themselves are motivated to succeed.
In the end, it doesn’t matter to Mayfield if students immediately achieve “greatness,” only that they are confident and always working towards it.
“You do not have to wait in line for greatness. You don’t have to wait for some upperclassman or another person, your teacher, your family to tell you to wait your turn [to be great],” he said. “No, once you step on this campus, start being great. Don’t wait for your friends to tell you it’s OK. No, it’s OK for you to be great right now. Don’t wait. Because if you’re great and your greatness shows, you let everybody see how great you are.”
The importance of allowing students the freedom to explore and be themselves is not lost on Mayfield either. His main priorities as he acclimates to ELHS are safety, both physical and mental, and connection. He wants students to feel at home in the school.
“Be who you are, but be better than who you have been,” Mayfield said. “We want you to be who you are. And if there’s an issue that we need to address, let’s address that collectively. So, my role is to be just like we are on a regular basis, connected, paying attention and offering opportunities to improve those things.”
Students have seen Mayfield at school activities, including football games, a lacrosse game when he was being hired and marching band camp.
Senior Will Beekman, the student body president, is impressed with the new principal so far.
“I think he’s a really nice guy,” Beekman said. “He’s gonna be a good leader for the school, seems to really care about the students and really wants to be involved with everything. Just showing up at practices and games and just seeing him in the community, really showed that he cares about our well being.”
Mayfield knows ELHS is already flourishing. So, his goal is simple: improve the environment and give support with gentle nudges, slowly pushing toward higher standards and achievement. In his time at the school, he hopes he is able to have an impact on students.
Mayfield knows students are the future.
“I’m going to support what it is [students] are doing,” he said. “You all see everything that we see. You see it through your own lens. How do I nudge and nurture, for you to go head-on and get out there and do what it is you need to do? I bring that type of attitude to the table because it’s important. It’s not my way. It’s actually your way.”
This article was written by Portrait co-editor-in-chief Adán Tomás Quan and social media editor Frankie Calabrese-Barton. Portrait is the student newspaper of East Lansing High School.