First in a three-part series featuring new administrators in the Molalla River School District this fall

KRISTINE THOMAS - Rural Dell Elementary School Principal Larry Conley with his son, Steven, who is in the fifth grade at Rural Dell.Larry Conley couldn’t discuss with his friends or family what he exactly did in his first career.

Now in phase two of his career path, Conley enjoys the fact he can share the details of his day, what he learned and what he did with others.

And while both of his career paths have involved making a difference in the world or his community, and he’s proud of the work he has done, Conley is certainly enjoying what he is doing now.

“It’s work I am passionate about,” he said.

Conley is the new principal at Rural Dell Elementary School.

Laughing, he acknowledges it’s quite the change in scenery from his first career.

After graduating from high school in Pennsylvania in 1982, he joined the U.S. Air Force.

A combination of things led him to this choice, from advice from his father, who was in the U.S. Navy, to the lackluster economy at the time. “I also didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career,” he said, adding the military had good pay and benefits.

He spent the first two years in the military training in Texas, before beging assigned as a Russian Language Intelligence analyst in England. After seven years abroad, he and his wife, Heather, decided it was time to move back to the states to be closer to his parents on the East Coast and be able to visit her family in Oregon. Conley was assigned to a job at the National Security Agency, or NSA.

While he can’t discuss what he did while working for the military, Conley did share “it wasn’t anything like you see in the movies. It’s a lot more desk work and trying to analyze data and events so others could make decisions.”

Working the 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift at the NSA, Conley said he was able to leave work in time to volunteer in his sons’ classrooms. The more time he spent in the classroom, the more he felt drawn to become an educator. He and his wife have four sons, ranging in age from 10 to 30.

With the Cold War over and the first Gulf War completed, Conley said he was given the opportunity to retire early. After almost 14 years in the U.S. Air Force, he began his next career path and moved his family to Oregon, to be closer to Heather’s family and to start on his master’s degree at Willamette University in Salem.

The couple purchased a home in Molalla in 1995.

His educational career includes working with students in the Woodburn School District who left high school without graduating and convincing them to return to earn their diploma; as a fifth-grade teacher at Heritage Elementary School in the Woodburn School District; as an administrator in the Woodburn School District; and as the principal at Hartley Elementary School in the Reynolds School District.

In 2006, Conley was selected as recipient of the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award. According to the Milken Family Foundation, “The award is given to top educators from across the country in recognition of their impressive achievements with students and, more significantly, the promise of what they will accomplish in the future.”

He’s excited to be working in his hometown and even more proud when his son, Steven, asked if he could switch schools so he could spend one year in the same school as his dad before going to middle school next year.

As the new principal at Rural Dell Elementary School, Conley enjoys working with a talented and knowledgeable staff, to share ideas and strategies on how to help each individual student learn and to be part of a team preparing students for their future.

“What I am hoping to continue to build on is a system where we are all working together to understand the best educational ways to support the individual needs of each student,” he said. “We have a fantastic staff at Rural Dell who are dedicated, knowledgeable and professional.”

While both career paths have been as a public servant, he said there is a big difference in working for the NSA and as an educator.

“Working for the NSA is a job I did because the work needed to be done, and I am proud to have served my country,” he said. “But I wasn’t passionate about my job. I found as an educator I am excited to get up every morning and go to work and often get here early. This is work I want to do.”

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