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James Perry reflects on past experiences, educational goals

Talya Berner
Direct of Student Life James Perry poses with his those part of his Peer Leadership class. Throughout the year, the group meets periodically, with his students mentoring Grade 9 advisories.

Director of Student Life James Perry was first introduced to teaching through his former colleague, a co-coach of the baseball team he previously trained. His coaching partner’s friend, Chuck, led him to apply for his first job at a school. 

“I met with him and I remember thinking, like, ‘Wow, [a teaching career] could really happen,’” he said. 

Early life

Perry said “there was a lot of moving” in his earlier life, living in places ranging from California to Japan. 

“Most of my childhood was back and forth,” he said. “I literally moved every two years of my life.” 

James Perry rides a bike over a ramp he and his made in Virginia.

Perry describes the idea of home as “complicated.” To cope with the change, he said he joined many sports teams. 

“I loved baseball and basketball,” he said. “Those were my two favorites. I ran cross country for a couple years in high school. I was very slow, but I liked it. Sports have always been a fun part of what I did.” 

Perry said his love for sports allowed him to make close connections, but it was difficult for him to retain friendships.

“I was an only child, and I would always lose my closest friends, so I spent, like, a lot of time without really close friends because they take a while,” he said. 

Throughout his high school years, Perry said he did not struggle academically.

“STEM classes came really easy to me and school just wasn’t that hard,” Perry said. “I was smart enough and it probably wasn’t all that challenging.”

Perry said his strong affinity for STEM subjects helped him decide what he wanted to pursue in higher education. 

“The only reason I was an engineer in college, quite honestly, is because I was good at math and science, and I knew it paid reasonably well,” he said.

 Based on his personal experience, Perry said he is constantly telling students to “pursue their passion” and “do something you’re interested in,” and that is something he wished he followed back when he was in high school. 

Early career

Drawing on his math-related strengths in high school, Perry started as an investment banker at a small firm. While he said he acknowledges there was a potential career there, he admits that he did not have a strong passion for investment banking. 

Following his banking job, Perry started teaching middle and high school math. In addition to teaching a number of math classes, Perry coached one sport per season and waited tables by night. 

“It all felt rather risky at the time,” he said, “But, once I got through those first few years, it was great.”

Teaching career

At the time, Perry said he was unsure that teaching was right for him. 

“I thought I’d do it for like a year or two while I figured the rest of my life out, and that was 23 years ago,” he said.

In Perry’s current role at the school, which he has held since July 2014, he is responsible for a variety of tasks, ranging from disciplinary action to administrative meetings.

“I can’t imagine my life if I hadn’t taken this leap of faith to come here,” he said. 

At the school, as part of his role as Director of Student Life, Perry also handles disciplinary processes and works with the Student-Faculty Disciplinary Board. 

“I mean, there’s obviously the discipline part of my job, which, ironically actually does bring me closer to some students and it’s a good way to connect with them, but clearly that’s not my favorite bit,” Perry said. 

James Perry with students part of one of his first math classes in Atlanta, Georgia.

Perry said that overseeing disciplinary cases, both those sent to SFDB and those handled internally, has been transformational in understanding students’ development.

“I love seeing kids be able to own and reflect and process and grow from things,” he said. 

Perry said he values the community at the school and believes creating a comfortable and consistent environment for students is important. 

“I kind of feel like I have three homes,” he said. “The idea of, like, where your home is, is a complicated one for a lot of folks in this community, and for me, it is too. I want people to feel like this is their school home, and feel comfortable in their school home.” 

As a student, Perry said he did not feel a close connection to his schools, and his goal is for students to feel comfort in school that he did not have. 

Ultimately, Perry said through his role at the school he wants to establish “a home away from home” that champions establishing close relationships. 

“I get that some students are going to need and want that connection more than others,” Perry said. “But, for people who want it, I want them to have it, and even for people who don’t appreciate it, I hope that they feel it.” 

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About the Contributors
Talya Berner, Media Team
Talya Berner ('26) is a member of the Media Team for The Standard in Advanced Journalism.
Inez Stephenson, Media Team
Inez Stephenson ('26) is a member of the Media Team of The Standard in Advanced Journalism.

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