Fayette losing school board chief

Fayette County school board chairman Larry Conner has accepted a job in Jonesboro, Ga., and will resign his post on the board at the end of the month.

Conner is credited with improving northern Lexington schools and the achievement gap between black, low-income, special needs students and their peers.

Conner, 58, has been on the school board since 2001. He began his first day Friday as human resource officer for the Clayton County Board of Education.

Before retiring last year, Conner had been director of human resources for the Kentucky Department of Education and chief operating officer at the Kentucky School for the Blind-Kentucky School for the Deaf.

Conner spent much of his time on the board fighting for better facilities for the north side of town, including a new Bryan Station High building. The $43.9 million high school opened on Jan. 3, 2007. He also pushed for William Wells Brown Elementary, a new school that opened Wednesday near the former Bluegrass-Aspendale public housing project.

Conner “provided strong leadership as the board chairman, advocating tirelessly for all kids,” Superintendent Stu Silberman said. “Under his guidance, our board has helped move our school district and community forward … Larry is a tremendous human being who wants what's best for all people. He's been a strong mentor and inspiration for me. Fayette County will miss Larry, but we wish him well.”

Conner was born in Bourbon County and spent 35 years in Lexington. It was an agonizing decision to leave Lexington, he said. But he wants to help turn around a district that was plagued with much of the same problems Fayette County faced years ago, he said.

“The trust level between the board, superintendent and staff certainly needs to be developed,” Conner said. “We need to get focus on student achievement.”

Conner became chairman of the board nearly two years ago after Kathy Lousignont resigned when her husband took a job in Kansas. Conner had served as vice chair for four years before that.

Conner's departure will be a loss to the board, said P.G. Peeples, director of the Lexington Urban League and a longtime member of the Equity Council, which monitors the school district.

“The board chairman and the superintendent need to have chemistry,” Peeples said. “And Larry and Stu did have that. And subsequently the other board members had trust in both of them. That's true leadership.”

Peeples commended Conner for getting the community to support a school tax increase of 5.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value to support construction and renovation projects in the district. The tax increase went into effect in January.

Passage of the nickel tax “spoke volumes about the confidence the community had in the board,” he said.

Board member John Price said Conner helped hold the board together when Silberman was out of central office for nearly three months after a bicycle accident in October 2006.

“Larry kept our focus going; he kept us moving forward,” he said.

Under Kentucky statute, the state commissioner of education will have 90 days to appoint someone to the open seat. The appointed school board member will serve for one year, and the position will be up for election in the fall of 2009.