Christy Perry announces she’ll retire at end of school year

Salem-Keizer Superintendent Christy Perry takes a selfie with summer 2019 graduates from Roberts High School. Perry announced she’s retiring at the end of the 2022-23 school year (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Superintendent Christy Perry says her ninth year leading the Salem-Keizer School District will be her last.

Perry, 56, announced her retirement at the end of a school board work session Tuesday evening, triggering an emotional close to the meeting. She said she plans to serve for the 2022-23 school year and wanted to give the school board a long notice period so they have time to hire a new leader.

“It feels like the district’s in a good place and it’s time to think about how we transition leadership,” Perry said as she began to cry. “I won’t say more than that because it’s super emotional in a really great way.”

Perry came to the district in 2014 after serving as superintendent of the Dallas School District for a decade. She’s led Salem’s schools through a major construction push, a significant expansion of career and technical education programs and the Covid pandemic. In 2020, her peers across Oregon named her the state’s Superintendent of the Year. She was also a finalist for the national award.

Salem-Keizer has about 40,000 students and is Oregon’s second-largest district.

Perry told Salem Reporter she still loves her job and would gladly do the work for another five years, but she’s also eager to spend more time with her children, who live nearby, and her three grandchildren.

“More than anything I’m just really ready to have balance in my life,” she said, noting she has another grandchild on the way. “The last couple years hasn’t allowed that because (the workload) is much more than it’s ever been.”

Perry made equity a focus of her tenure as superintendent, at times butting heads with school board directors, particularly after deciding last year to remove police officers from district schools. 

That decision remained a flashpoint during this school year as some parents and educators decried what they described as a more lenient approach to school discipline, while others criticized the district’s investment in more security officers and called for more money to be spent on mental health resources for students of color.

Perry said her priorities for the upcoming school year include getting the district’s shift toward a restorative model of school discipline more cemented so it “can’t be derailed,” and increasing parent involvement in schools coming out of the pandemic.

“Letting parents see the good work of our classrooms and our educators is going to be really important,” she said.

She said her decision to retire now was also influenced by trusting the current school board to choose a successor. 

“They’re really thoughtful and will be careful and have a good process,” Perry said. 

The board is currently led by Chair Ashley Carson Cottingham and Vice Chair Maria Hinojos Pressey.

“I’m happy for you, disappointed for us because we’ve only had one year on the board getting to work with you and you’ve been such an asset to every community served,” Carson Cottingham said during the board meeting following Perry’s announcement. “I’m glad we get you for another year.”

She said board leaders will begin working with district employees to start a search process and determine a timeline.

Perry said she hopes the board will have a new superintendent chosen later this school year so she’s able to help with a transition.

“I’ll do whatever is best for the new leader. If that means help, that’s great, I will be there. If that means stepping back and really not helping and that’s right, I’ll do that too,” she said.

Perry said she’s proudest of the improvements the district has made in high school graduation rates during her tenure, from 71% of seniors graduating in 2015 to 81% in 2021. She also cited the opening of the Career Technical Education Center, a magnet program for high school students across the district, and the expansion of other career-focused programs at middle and high schools across the district.

“I got to stay the amount of time to really invest deeply in schools and the district,” she said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.