PIQUA — With professional and personal lives that have taken similar trajectories, it seems fitting that Dwayne Thompson and Tony Lyons now are working side by side to lead Piqua City Schools.
Both are Piqua natives who began their careers as teachers, though Lyons taught in a different school district before returning to PCS; both eventually became school principals; and perhaps most significantly, both recently were appointed to the top of the district’s administrative ladder — Thompson as superintendent and Lyons as assistant superintendent.
To understand how the two ended up where they are, it’s necessary to know their individual stories.
“I was born and grew up in Piqua,” Thompson said. “I attended Favorite Hill Elementary School in grades K-6, Bennett Junior High School in grades 7-8, and the Piqua High School in grades 9-12.
“I loved growing up in Piqua. I felt like this city had a great history and a lot of pride, and my education prepared me well for college and the work force.”
After graduating high school in 1987, Thompson worked for 2 1/2 years to save money for college, first attending Ohio University for a bachelor’s in education, then Wright State University for his master’s degree and superintendent certification.
“I remember coming back (to Piqua) after graduating from college and thinking, ‘I’m home,’” Thompson recalled.
He began his professional journey in 1993, teaching kindergarten, and third and fifth grades. Before a full decade had lapsed, Thompson would create and implement the district’s first all-day kindergarten program, be named Piqua City Schools Teacher of the Year in 1999, and be chosen as a finalist for State Teacher of the Year Finalist in 2000.
The following year, he would become principal of Favorite Hill, a position he held for seven years. During that time, he worked with staff, students and parents to transform the school’s rating from “Academic Watch” to “Excellent.”
Thompson left Favorite Hill to serve as a director of curriculum and instruction, before being appointed assistant superintendent in February of this year. His stint in that post was short-lived, as then-superintendent Rick Hanes announced his resignation in June, and Thompson stepped up to fill Hanes’ vacated seat.
“I feel fortunate to work in a district that has a supportive board and community. We have many great things in place that we will continue,” Thompson said. “I will have many new members on my leadership team this school year. It will be important to pull this incredible talent together as a team and focus our work on supporting principals with their leadership, teachers in the classroom, and support the staff that engage with our students each day.”
Lyons expressed a like-minded sentiment about supporting principals and staff, punctuating his statement with, “At the end of the day, the teachers and staff are the most important thing to the success of our children.”
Encouraging teachers and staff certainly were integral to his own success, Lyons noted. An alum of Washington Primary and Bennett Jr. High, Lyons left Piqua High School in 1991 with no doubt that his future lay in the educational field.
“I had great teachers when I was (in school). Particularly, I go back to people like (government teacher) Barb Davis and (English instructor) Bev Pratt, who made me think that I could be a teacher some day,” he said.
His first job after graduating the University of Dayton in 1995 was teaching social studies at Trotwood-Madison Jr. High School; he would go on to teach at the senior high, and serve as head football coach and athletic director before moving on to the Northridge district. But ultimately, Lyons was drawn back to his old stomping grounds.
“I’ve had the opportunity to be in other districts, but being able to come back and contribute to a place that gave me the ability to go out and have success … it feels great to be able to come back and give back,” he said. “I want to do everything I can to allow my hometown school district to have success.”
His first year back, the 2006-07 school year, he was hired as assistant principal at Piqua High School. In 2010, he took over as principal, the position he held until being named assistant superintendent just last week.
Because Thompson had just graduated high school when Lyons was an incoming freshman, the two just missed meeting as teens. But the last decade has found them crossing paths on numerous occasions.
“I was able to serve on the district committee that selected Mr. Lyons as the Piqua High School principal,” Thompson revealed. “I was then able to work with him when I served as the district curriculum director. Professionally, we have had a great open and honest working relationship with each other that has been positive.”
As if they didn’t have enough in common already, Thompson and Lyons are both married to fellow Piqua educators.
Thompson’s wife, Merrianne, teaches fifth-grade science at Piqua Central Intermediate School, while Lyons’ wife, Kelli, was director at the Edison Early Learning Center for numerous years, and will begin teaching pre-school at Piqua Catholic this year.
Thompson and Lyons are devoted family men, with both citing their favorite pastime as spending time with their wives and kids.
Lyons and his wife share four children: Ashley Gerlach, 20, a student at The Ohio State University; Bailey Lyons, 19, who is deployed in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army; Jonathan Gerlach, 18, who will be a freshman at Edison in the fall; and 13-year-old Caleb Lyons, who is entering seventh grade at Piqua Junior High.
“My wife and I are kind of homebodies. When I’m not working, I spend time with my family, as much time as we can spend together,” Lyons said. “That’s my priority.”
Thompson, the father of 9-year-old twin daughters Brenna and Julia, and son Wesley, 8, echoed Lyons’ perspective.
“Being with my family is a priority. I already feel like time is flying by and I don’t want to miss out on those important stages of my children’s lives,” he said. “My kids and wife are my greatest supporters and I want nothing more than to be with them when I’m not working.”
Reach Belinda M. Paschal at (937) 451-3341