St. Paul’s Cherise Ayers on returning to lead Central High School

woman in school hallways
Cherise Ayers graduated from Central High School in St. Paul in 1997 and returned in 2022 to become the school's principal.
Courtesy Cherise Ayers

Cherise Ayers was president of the student council at Central High School in St. Paul in the late 1990s. Two years ago, the St. Paul native returned to Central in a very different leadership role: as principal.

Central is the oldest high school in Minnesota, founded in 1866. Known for strong academics, it was one of the first schools in the state to offer an international baccalaureate diploma program.

Its graduates, including Ayers’ classmate St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, have gone on to be prominent leaders in business, education, sports and politics.  

MPR News host Angela Davis talks with Ayers about returning to lead her alma mater, her vision for the school and what it’s like to follow in the footsteps of longtime Central High School principal Mary Mackbee, who retired in 2019.


  • Cherise Ayers was named principal of Central High School in St. Paul in 2022. She graduated from Central in 1997 and holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Spelman College and a master’s degree in secondary education and teaching from Brown University. A lifelong educator, she’s worked as a middle and high school English teacher in Georgia and Minnesota, as dean of students for Richfield Public Schools, as an assistant principal in St. Paul Public Schools and as an equity supervisor and interim principal for the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District.

Three women pose to get their portrait taken
MPR News Host Angela Davis (left) and Cherise Ayers, principal of Central High School in St. Paul, in the Kling Public Media Center in St. Paul on Tuesday.
Nikhil Kumaran | MPR News

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