Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018 | 2 a.m.
There are few classroom subjects students loathe as much as mathematics.
Maybe a few will forge sick notes to skip gym class, or a handful of literary-repulsed pupils will use a movie adaptation as a reference for a book report, but phrases like binomial coefficients and linear regression send tremors of fear down the spines of schoolage children everywhere.
For half a century, John Perri, 71, has worked with equal vigor to change that mentality in the Clark County School District.
“I started in 1969 — same year as man landed on the moon as a reference,” Perri said. “I've taught every math course that ever existed, and I taught math courses that don't exist anymore.”
Throughout his 50 years of teaching, he has mustered up more than a few ways to keep students engaged in learning concepts from puzzles that illustrate geometric principles to prime numbers used in factoring for algebra.
“I create little funny sayings,” Perri said. “For example, a lot of kids have heard about prime numbers, but after 2 and 3 they kind of get lost. So I say, OK, well, the first prime numbers are 2, and then 3, and then 5, and prime numbers are friends. And if you need more friends, you go to 711.”
Perri has taught at four different school high schools in the district. He started when he was 22 at Western High School, where he taught Spanish and math. In 1971, he created a computer science class at Western. He stayed there for 29 years before teaching at Cimarron and Durango high schools, and Southwest Career and Technical Academy, where he now teaches. He is one of the longest-tenured teachers in CCSD, and he says he has no plans to retire in the near future.
“I enjoy other people learning from what I have to offer, and then there's the reciprocation. I learn from the people that are students that I have taught — I have learned and grown because of them,” Perri said. “I feel like I've impacted their life, but in turn, they've impacted mine.”
Throughout his career, Perri has taught the joys of math to generations of children in the Las Vegas Valley.
“I’ve had children of children I’ve taught. I taught the parents. I taught the students. At one point — a couple years ago — I even had a grandchild of a former student,” he said.
His own children, two sons and a daughter, were also educated in the school district. Perri made it a point that he wouldn’t teach his own children, though; instead they attended and graduated from Bonanza High School.
Perri doesn’t hesitate to boast about his former students, some of whom have gone on to become lawyers or judges.
“A few of them went into teaching, which was kind of amazing,” he said.
Perri knows the impact a teacher can have on students.
“I had influences from some of my former teachers in middle school, in high school. And there were some people that were friends of the family that were teachers, and they impacted me to the point where I said I wanted to be like them, or I want to do what they do.”
Among them was one who was an electrical engineer. He encouraged a young Perri to hone his math skills. That mentor bequeathed his engineer’s toolbox to Perri when he died, and to this day Perri still treasures the item.
But CCSD could have missed out on Perri’s vow to teach the joys of mathematics to generations of its students.
Perri, originally from Salida, Colo., about 100 miles southwest of Denver, could have gone anywhere in the country after he graduated from college.
“When I initialized the contract (with CCSD), I had 35 school districts that I could have taught in — 35 different communities from East Coast to West Coast,” Perri said. “But I picked Las Vegas and they picked me.”