Education

For retiring Marion school leader, military service still a guidepost

Superintendent Chris Dyer of Marion Independent School District departs this month

Chris Dyer, seen Wednesday with his wife’s service dog, Avery, at his home in Marion, is retiring as superintendent of the Marion Independent School District. “I think ‘retirement’ is kind of a misnomer. I think it’s transitioning from one job to another job,” the former military officer said. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Chris Dyer, seen Wednesday with his wife’s service dog, Avery, at his home in Marion, is retiring as superintendent of the Marion Independent School District. “I think ‘retirement’ is kind of a misnomer. I think it’s transitioning from one job to another job,” the former military officer said. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MARION — Chris Dyer’s first retirement was 24 years ago.

Living in Northern Virginia with his wife and their high school-aged boys, Dyer had spent years in the Army. He was deployed to Vietnam, did three tours in Germany and jumped from planes with the 101st Airborne.

When the military wanted to send him to a post in France, though, his family decided it was time for Dyer, then 46, to get out. He retired a colonel.

Dyer, 70, attended another retirement party this month — this time as superintendent of the Marion Independent School District. After two full careers in the military and in education, he said it still is hard to imagine settling into a traditional, quiet retirement.

“You get that service need — you grow up in the military, you see your parents doing service,” Dyer said. “Then you move into, how do I continue to serve and do this with kids? Realistically, when you look at soldiers, they’re 17, 18, 19 years old. You look at high school kids — there’s a lot of similarities.”

Teachers were in short supply in the mid-1990s, Dyer said, and after 15 hours of coursework — he already had a bachelor’s degree in engineering — he was certified to teach.

It was the start of another long, fulfilling career, he said.

“It gave me an opportunity to give back and to stay around younger people,” he said. “At the same time, there’s a lot of challenges in education no matter where you go, and it provided me an opportunity to grow and to learn. I don’t know that you could ever stop growing as a teacher because every year you gain another strategy.”

Dyer witnesses CHANGING ENVIRONMENT in education

Dyer taught high school in Virginia for five years before taking a job as a principal in upstate New York. He went on to be superintendent of districts in Pennsylvania and New York, then Iowa.

When he began his education career, “education was a lot like the military,” he said — with teachers standing and lecturing their classes on a regimented schedule.

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“The transition that I’ve seen going from a ‘teaching’ environment to a ‘teacher facilitating learning’ environment has probably been the greatest challenge,” he said.

Integration of technology — each Marion student in fifth grade and beyond has a laptop — also has evolved considerably in his career. With it has come new demands on students as they’re exposed to a litany of social platforms.

“When I came out of high school, I was pretty good in math and I was pretty good in science, so I was going to go be an engineer,” Dyer said. “Whereas today if I wanted to be an engineer, would I be a bioengineer? Would I be an environmental engineer? Would I be a chemical engineer? The opportunity array has gotten so big. I think the opportunity for personal satisfaction is a lot higher, but it puts more stress on the kids.”

DYER SAYS MARION leaders ‘IN A GREAT POSITION’

Upon Dyer’s official departure June 30, Assistant Superintendent Janelle Brouwer will replace him as head of the 2,000-student district.

“He continually encouraged those around him to broaden the perspective of what is possible,” Brouwer said in an email. “Mr. Dyer encouraged and fostered connections within the community, various organizations, and the school district. I had the opportunity to learn from his tireless work ethic and big-picture leadership, appreciating how he kept students as the central focus.”

Brouwer has been somewhat in training for the district’s top job for years, Dyer said.

“The leaders that are there will have the opportunity to continue to grow, as they have for decades,” Dyer said. “They’re just in a great position.”

Starry Elementary Abuse case plagued his tenure

The fallout over a teenager’s abuse of kindergarten students at one of the district’s elementary schools, Starry Elementary, has plagued Dyer’s tenure with the district. The teenager was convicted in 2017, and the teacher who oversaw the classroom where he volunteered was cleared of criminal charges last year.

Dyer, as superintendent, said little about the incidents or subsequent police investigations. It was frustrating for him, he said, and something he wishes he could have done differently.

“When there’s criminal investigations going on, you don’t have the capability of being able to communicate with your community because police have told you not to do anything,” he said. “You are told that if you do that, you’re going to be interfering with a criminal investigation.

“My upbringing and my training tells me that I’ve got an order — and that order is it’ll be a misdemeanor, and I will be committing a violation of the law if I communicate with the community and do my job.”

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Six families have filed lawsuits against the school district in relation to sexual abuse at Starry. Five have been settled.

No plans to leave Iowa in retirement

Dyer’s departure was predicated on good timing for the district, as well as for his family, he said.

“It’s not that I don’t feel excited about Marion,” he said. “But I’m excited to be around my sons, and work where they are.”

Dyer and his wife, Cheri, have a son who lives in Seattle and practices dentistry and a son who teaches and has a young family in Clarinda in southwest Iowa.

“I think ‘retirement’ is kind of a misnomer. I think it’s transitioning from one job to another job,” Dyer said. “ ... The military works 24/7 365, and you don’t get rid of that intensity for the rest of your life.”

Iowa is a good place to be in education, he said, and he doesn’t expect he and his wife — originally from Iowa City — to leave the state.

“I think I owe it to my gal,” he said, to stay.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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