First-elected black Oktibbeha Co. school superintendent ends tenure

Published 3:57 pm Monday, December 24, 2007

Walter Conley, the first-elected black superintendent for the Oktibbeha County School District, has ended his 20-year tenure.

Conley, 60, was defeated in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary by James Covington Jr., principal of East Oktibbeha County Elementary School. Covington also won the election for county superintendent on Nov. 6.

Conley left office last week and his long tenure was celebrated by residents, co-workers and friends Saturday. He graduated in 1964 from B.L. Moor High School (now East Oktibbeha County High School) and received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Tougaloo College in 1968. He also received a master’s degree in mathematics education from Mississippi State University in 1974 and a doctorate in educational leadership from MSU in 1996.

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“It really was, I guess, a dream come true having graduated in 1964 … ,” Conley said of becoming superintendent of the county schools.

Conley began his teaching career in the Oktibbeha County School District as a math teacher at the former B.L. Moor Attendance Center in 1968 and worked there until 1977.

“As I taught, I saw a need to get in a position to make changes in the district,” Conley said. In 1987, he successfully ran for Oktibbeha County School District superintendent and became the first black elected superintendent for the district.

Though he was the first black elected superintendent for the county district, Conley said a black woman (who he did not name) was previously appointed to serve out the term of a superintendent who resigned in 1983.

He said the education field has evolved, thereby changing education in the county district.

“One change that has impacted the district is the accountability,” Conley said. “When I became superintendent, accountability was there but it was in the background.”

He points to the district’s numerous achievements during his tenure —— the naming of the two elementary schools with Closing the Achievement Gap Awards in 2006-2007 out of 12 schools in the state, state championship wins from the boys and girls basketball teams at EOCHS and more.

He said he plans to take some time off, for a little while, to spend with his wife, Gloria, their three children — LeVardis, Kristy and Brent— and two grandchildren— Javier and Jourdan.

“I know I cannot go home and just sit around,” he said. “That would drive me crazy.”