Perry and AHS students on graduation day. | Image via Instagram, used with permission.




Ron Perry hasn’t said much publicly since the Northern Humboldt Union High School District’s Board of Trustees unceremoniously demoted him on March 12.

In a move that stunned and outraged many in the Arcata High School community, the board voted in closed session to accept the recommendation of district Superintendent Roger Macdonald and reassign Perry from his role as principal, a job he’d held for less than two years, to an unidentified teaching position starting next school year.

Public outcry has been vociferous, with students, parents, staff and community members overflowing subsequent board meetings to voice their disapproval and demand an explanation. More than 1,000 people signed an online petition urging trustees to reinstate Perry. And a group of five women — all parents of current or former AHS students — launched a GoFundMe campaign and are using the proceeds to pay former Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos as he challenges the board’s decision on legal grounds. They’ve dubbed themselves “Eye of the Tiger: Guardians of Arcata High School.”

Through it all, Perry has mostly stayed above the fray, at least publicly. Three days after the board’s contentious decision he released a public statement encouraging unity and a shared focus on student empowerment. Perry closed his statement with the message, “It’s great to be a Tiger.”

Behind the scenes, however, Perry was reeling. In documents obtained by the Outpost, Perry acknowledged that his immediate response to news of his imminent demotion was “angry disbelief.”

‘The experiences of the past several weeks have shocked me and turned my world upside down.’
–Ron Perry

In an April 22 letter to Superintendent Macdonald, Perry wrote, “The experiences of the past several weeks have shocked me and turned my world upside down.”

In his first interview since the board’s decision, Perry told the Outpost that he has accepted a position teaching U.S. History and AP U.S. History next year at Eureka High School, where he previously worked for nearly 18 years, teaching social science courses and filling various other roles (wrestling coach, department chair, student activities director) from 1994 through 2012.

“It’s a great fit for me, because there’s so many people I’m still really, really tight with in Eureka City Schools that I love and respect,” he said. “So it’s a great place to land.”

Still, Perry remains upset at the way things went down in Arcata. He said Macdonald caught him completely off guard when he came into his office on March 1 and informed him that he planned to recommend demotion to the board of trustees. 

Perry said that during his time as principal, he and Macdonald met weekly to discuss current initiatives, analyze data, reflect on recent professional development trainings and talk about ways to improve. Macdonald would often ask him what he needed and how he could help. In January they’d driven together to Sacramento and back, and there was no indication that such a move was forthcoming.

“We did have extended periods of time together, Roger and I, and he never brought it up,” Perry said. “And so that was disappointing to me, and that’s one of the reasons why I was so incredulous. I was incredulous and surprised.”

Asked if Macdonald explained his reasoning during that March 1 meeting, Perry said he mostly remembers his own reaction.

“At the time, I was angry and I perhaps dominated the conversation,” he explained. Over the following days and weeks, he said, Macdonald offered “a lot of different rationales” for his decision. “Roger has said, you know, he respects me and he likes me and he wants me … to continue to contribute to [the Northern Humboldt Union High School District]. He just perhaps doesn’t see eye-to-eye on the way I approach things. … Essentially it comes down to the fact that I wasn’t doing things the way he wanted me to.” 

In his six-page April 22 letter to Macdonald, Perry gets into some specifics, referring to a range of allegations that Macdonald levied in a memo to Perry about events that had taken place since that March 1 meeting in Perry’s office. (The Outpost has not seen Macdonald’s memo; the superintendent said privacy laws prevent him from releasing it.)

‘I continue to believe that the decision to reassign me was a mistake, and I am not alone.’
–Ron Perry

“Yes, I responded with angry disbelief when I was informed that I would not be the Principal of Arcata High School in the coming year … ,” Perry’s response letter says. “I was saddened not only personally but also for the campus community, which may not benefit from the developments our team was prepared to implement in the coming year. … I continue to believe that the decision to [re]assign me was a mistake, and I am not alone.”

Perry defends his tenure as principal at length and says he disagrees with a variety of assertions made by Macdonald: that Perry admitted to not receiving professional development; that he “evaded” a professional consultant; that he doesn’t see curricular leadership as an essential part of his role as principal; that he has ignored issues pertaining to the bathrooms, parking lots and attendance; that he does not pay attention in meetings; and that he failed to grow and improve over the past two years.

“I am a dedicated professional who enjoys the work and embraces the challenge of improvement … ,” Perry says in his letter. “No one is perfect, and I have made mistakes. We all do. I pride myself in the work I have put into becoming a better principal in all parts of the job.”

Perry told the Outpost that when he wrote that letter, he was still hopeful — albeit doubtful — that the board might reconsider its decision and hire him back as principal. He had yet to apply for the job with Eureka City Schools.

Macdonald told the Outpost via email that he and the board are limited by law in what they can say about personnel decisions, but his general practice when making such decisions is to meet with the affected employee privately to notify them about what he plans to recommend to the board, and to give the employee an opportunity to either respond or resign.

“I cannot comment specifically on any conversations that I had with Mr. Perry regarding his employment as they were confidential conversations, but I did follow my usual practice,” Macdonald explained via email. 

Letter of Reprimand

While both Macdonald and the board have steadfastly refrained from publicly offering evidence or explanations for their decision, citing legal protections for confidential personnel matters, last month the district released to the North Coast Journal a letter of reprimand that Macdonald sent to Perry on Aug. 1, 2023. 

According to the letter, two investigations conducted during Perry’s first year as principal — the 2022-2023 school year — found that Perry was not following the law and that he had “displayed a lack of knowledge of relevant District policies and procedures.”

The investigations were launched in response to a pair of complaints from parents. In the first case, Perry suspended a student without knowing what that student had been accused of and without offering a legally mandated pre-suspension conference, according to Macdonald’s letter. The letter also says Perry “abdicated responsibility for the disciplinary action to the district office” and that he declared he “did not know or read school board policies as that was not [his] job.”

The investigation into the second matter found that Perry responded in “a very lackadaisical and haphazard manner” when a parent reported concerns that his child was threatening to kill a specific teacher. 

‘You have shown a lack in basic skills necessary for a school administrator … ‘
–Letter of reprimand

“Both incidents demonstrate a lack of understanding of the laws you must implement in your position and the relevant District board policies and procedures and poor judgment,” the reprimand letter says. “Moreover, you have shown a lack in basic skills necessary for a school administrator, including parent communication and basic investigation procedures.”

Macdonald says in the letter that if such behavior continues, he will have to consider disciplinary action “including suspension or dismissal.”

In a phone interview earlier this week, Perry said the release of that disciplinary letter bothered him because he felt it gave the public a false impression of the reasoning behind his demotion. 

“I would argue that it wasn’t [due to] the things that were released in the letter,” he said. The student incidents in question had occurred nearly a year prior to the disciplinary letter, during Perry’s first months on the job, and Perry believed that he and his team had subsequently addressed Macdonald’s concerns and resolved any outstanding issues. And so, while he disagreed with both the tone and the substance of the letter, he chose not to write a response to be placed in his personnel file. 

“I [was] confident in my abilities — and my team’s abilities — to respond to these issues and fix it,” he said.

I asked Macdonald why this disciplinary letter was released publicly, despite being part of Perry’s personnel file. 

“In this case,” he responded, “the District consulted with legal counsel and determined that Mr. Perry’s privacy interest in certain records did not outweigh the public interest in disclosure, given the ongoing allegations of impropriety regarding his release [from his principal position].”

He cited various court cases as precedent, adding, “In short, in California it is now settled law that well-founded complaints against public employees are matters of public concern.”

Tigers Fight Back

Perry poses with a “Continuation Education Options” educator-of-the-year award in 2019. | Photo via NHUHSD.

Lisa Hansen is the main organizer behind “Eye of the Tiger: Guardians of Arcata High School.” She and her fellow team members — Diana Cavinta, Sue Moore, Sue Reeser and Jan Schmidt — have been among the most vocal defenders of Perry, and they’ve raised a variety of objections and concerns about the manner in which the board decided his fate.

In statements made at subsequent meetings, and in Gallegos’ letters to the district’s legal counsel on their behalf, the “Eye of the Tiger” guardians have alleged that at the March 12 meeting the Board of Trustees failed to abide by California’s open meetings law, the Brown Act, by not clearly identifying on the agenda that they’d be considering Perry’s dismissal in closed session, thus giving the public an opportunity to weigh in.

They also allege that Trustee Theresa Grosjean, who abstained from the vote to dismiss Perry, nonetheless violated conflict-of-interest rules in the Political Reform Act by participating in the closed-session deliberations beforehand. (Grosjean’s supervisor at her place of employment is Julie Perry, Ron’s wife.)

In response letters, attorneys with School and College Legal Services of California (SCLS), the firm representing the district, say these arguments lack merit. The board followed the explicit language of the Brown Act, they say, and there has been no evidence that Grosjean participated in the board’s deliberations.

But the legal battle remains active, with Gallegos and SCLS exchanging letters. Initially, the “Eye of the Tiger” team aimed to force the board to rescind its decision and reinstate Perry as principal. Now that Perry has accepted a position at Eureka High, Hansen says their goal is to improve the board’s procedures and to shine a light on the administrative deficiencies and injustices that led to his departure. 

In pursuit of their mission, the team has conducted interviews, researched previous board decisions and even questioned the qualifications of Kristin Ferderber, a middle school principal in Salinas who has been hired to replace Perry. They’ve also amassed dozens of documents, including letters of support for Perry, procedure manuals, board correspondence, emails, voicemails, testimonials and more.

Addressing Macdonald’s 2023 disciplinary letter, Hansen said their team has been contacted by a parents whose complaint led to one of the investigations, and this parent blames other members of the AHS administration employees in the district office, not Perry, for mishandling matters.

Hansen and her team say Perry never got the support he needed to succeed. They argue that under Macdonald’s leadership, the district stopped conducting staff surveys; that Arcata High School has fewer administrators per student than other schools in the district; that the board is disproportionately filled with trustees from McKinleyville; that Macdonald and his team didn’t exhaust all administrative remedies before dismissing Perry; and that the board failed to consult with important stakeholders (the Arcata High site council, its students, parents/guardians, etc.) before making its decision.

Public Outcry

The first board meeting after Perry’s dismissal, held in the Arcata High library on April 9, overflowed with Perry supporters, including students, staff members and parents, who demanded answers, decried the board’s “mistake” and sang Perry’s praises

Dressed in orange and black as a unified show of support, they described Perry as a dedicated, compassionate and capable leader who cares deeply about student success and shows up to more student events than any principal in recent memory.

“He encourages us, cheers us on, helps us get to class on time and, most of all, puts his heart, soul and NBA Finals-worthy announcing voice into everything he does,” said Melanie Luh, Arcata High’s associated student body president.

‘I have never encountered a stronger natural leader nor anyone with more passion and loyalty for Arcata High School.’
–Lisa Hansen

During her own turn, Hansen said she has “never encountered a stronger natural leader nor anyone with more passion and loyalty for Arcata High School.”

When the board cut off public comment after just 20 minutes, with the room still packed, attendees were angered, and as reported in the Mad River Union, supporters chanted Perry’s name when they eventually left the venue. At last weekend’s Arcata High graduation ceremony, Perry received a standing ovation from students and other community members.

“It’s been said that I have many friends,” Perry said by phone earlier this week, “but I would prefer [to say] I’ve earned the respect and friendship of many quality people.” 

He acknowledged that he was an at-will employee, meaning Macdonald and the board were entitled to fire him for virtually any reason at all. But he sees the public response over the past three months — and last weekend in particular — as vindication.

“The argument of the collective masses, whether it be parents, students or teachers, was they just that they disagree [with the board’s decision], and I think that the last week’s events are testimony to the fact that they are likely correct.”

Macdonald said that while he “most definitely” considers the opinions and experiences of the school community when making personnel decisions, the diversity of opinions may not be fully reflected by the apparently unified voices at recent board meetings.

“I receive feedback every day from staff, parents and students regarding the performance and effectiveness of our site principals,” Macdonald said. As for the disciplinary letter from 2023, Macdonald said he released it because he was legally obligated to do so, not as a personal attack on Perry. He even agreed with Perry on this: The incidents referenced in the letter do not represent the totality of his reasoning for recommending dismissal.

“While there’s a lot of attention on that one document, decisions like this aren’t made based on one incident or one document,” he said.

Ron Perry’s Final Principal’s Report

The NHUHSD Board of Trustees met again this past Tuesday, and at the outset, one of the trustees pulled an item off of the consent calendar. The item called for the board to accept the latest batch of principal’s reports, which are typically routine updates about progress on school goals.

But Clerk-Trustee JoAnn Moore flagged Perry’s report for discussion.

“I have been coming to board meetings for more than 17 years, pretty regularly. … ,” she said. “I have never seen a principal’s report that was submitted for Arcata High like this before. Ever. For somebody who taught history, the amount of self-serving and disinformation that was in that report is remarkable.”

In particular, she called attention to Perry’s closing paragraph, where he says, “The decisions and actions of the board and superintendent have exacerbated the sense of toxicity amongst staff, students and families this spring. The overwhelming flow of messages voicing opposition to these decisions is testimony to the depth and degree of the emotions in our community and the feeling that significant errors were made.”

Fellow trustee and Board President Natalie Giannini called out another paragraph, one in which, under a section for reporting on progress toward meeting equity goals, Perry notes that Arcata High finally has a new scoreboard, which he says “creates more equity between our athletic programs at AHS and those at MHS.”

Giannini felt that was inappropriate. 

“I think it’s really frustrating to see the AHS principal’s report put a scoreboard under equity … ,” she said. “To use [that section of the report] to make a final dig was, I feel like, insulting to that work, and that really upset me.”

Grosjean was upset by the report, too.

“For me, the accusation that we are fully responsible for any toxicity in this district is super disingenuous,” she said, and she suggested that his comments reflect “a selfish need to get the last word.”

The board wound up voting 4-1 not to accept Perry’s final report.

Clearly, while Perry has moved on to a new district, the Arcata High community remains divided and destabilized by the events of the past few months. 

Hansen said she found the board’s decision not to accept Perry’s final principal’s report “crazy,” saying it offered accurate information and valid evidence about the current state of affairs.

Reached by phone Friday morning, Perry said he considers everything in that report factual and based on the feedback he’s received from members of the school community. Comments that “might be seen as critical by some are what we need to hear in order to move our school forward,” he said.

In our initial interview earlier this week, Perry said he is “coming to grips” with what has happened and where he wound up.

“The opportunity to go back to Eureka is is a great, great thing,” he said. “But more importantly, I’ve been reaffirmed with the opinions of people who matter more than that of one individual — or the collection of five individuals. You know, the people I love and respect have voiced their opinion that this was an error.”