WALNUT CREEK -- A high school principal whose acceptance of $40,000 in payments to lead a Model United Nations program ignited controversy in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District has resigned.
Northgate High School Principal John McMorris announced his resignation June 30 in an email sent to the school's staff and parents.
"For six years, it has been my biggest honor and highest accomplishment to be your principal," McMorris wrote. "Together, we have moved Northgate forward and created a strong, collaborative and supportive community between all the stakeholders of our school."
During his tenure Northgate added Advanced Placement classes, installed field lights and begun construction on a pool, and recorded increases in test scores, McMorris said.
"I am forever indebted to everyone's hard work, dedication, and support," he wrote.
McMorris did not give a reason for his departure, and did not respond to requests for an interview.
Earlier this year McMorris acknowledged accepting $20,000 payments from his school's Parent Faculty Club -- a nonprofit funded through donations from students' families -- in each of the past two years in exchange for advising and leading the 12-member Model U.N. program.
McMorris also served as vice president on the PFC's executive board, but said he recused himself from voting on the payments.
The revelation drew criticism from teachers and others upset that a salaried administrator would accept such a large sum. McMorris's annual salary was $108,602.
While McMorris said he had received approval for the compensation from previous MDUSD Superintendent Steven Lawrence, current Superintendent Dr. Nellie Meyer told McMorris he could not accept any further payments.
Meyer's office also opened an investigation into whether any other district administrators had accepted similar compensation, and did not find any similar cases. Meyer could not be reached for comment last week.
Mt. Diablo teachers union President Guy Moore said at the time that a typical stipend for leading a Model U.N. program is less than $1,000 per school year.
Moore declined to comment last week on McMorris's resignation.
Former Northgate history teacher Michael Nicholson was critical of McMorris' leadership and questioned a number of his actions.
"I think the man was well-intentioned, well-meaning, but he has some problematic judgment and that often caused problems at the school with teachers, with students, with staff and with some parents," Nicholson said.
Still, many other parents supported McMorris and the changes that took place during his tenure. Tony Ucciferri, a father of three children who attended Northgate, blamed school district politics for ultimately removing McMorris, whom he saw as a positive influence on the school.
"John really turned things around and made the campus an attractive environment, a place where kids wanted to be," said Ucciferri, two of whose children participated in Model U.N.
"I'm kind of upset about it, because of knowing we're losing somebody who finally came in and saved the day," he said.