After a successful college career at Samford University with a degree in biology and plans to pursue dental school, Tony Thompson followed God’s call to make a difference in the lives of children.
The Academy of E.P.P., an acronym of its mission to “empower students to succeed, partner with parents, and partner with community,” was founded by Tony’s mother Gay Thompson in 2005. It began as a summer camp and transformed into an official private school. When he graduated in spring of 2014, Tony became the owner and head of school. “While I had developed great relationships with well-established dentists and was very interested in becoming one, I knew God was calling me to something else,” says Tony. “Dentistry is something I could’ve done, but it would not have been my purpose. My purpose and passion is inspiring youth. I’m happy to have a job that I love and one through which I can glorify God.”
As head of school, Tony oversees the teachers and administration and believes his role is to motivate his students to value education and build character, as, he says, they need both to change the world. “I recognize that every kid learns differently, so I encourage the teachers to create lesson plans that will cater to each student – not just the majority. We also over-emphasize the importance of strong character and teach them self-affirmation daily.”
Over the years, Tony gained a breadth of knowledge by watching his mom. As he grew older, he became more and more involved, from doing janitorial work and camp counseling to facilitating transportation, tutoring, and administration. When he became head of school, Tony asked his own former head of school, Westminster Head of School Emeritus Jim Marsh, to mentor him and offer some advice on successful leadership. “I’m young and he’s wiser and more seasoned, so I asked him for insight on being an effective leader, ways to use resources, and how God works through those processes,” says Tony. “He didn’t hesitate to bless me with ideas, wisdom, and encouragement.”
Mr. Marsh visited Tony at The Academy of E.P.P. this winter. “Tony embodies the Westminster vision to prepare more young people to engage the world and change it for Jesus Christ,” says Mr. Marsh. “It was a personal joy to visit him at his school and see him working so hard to provide underserved children from St. Louis with a quality education founded on biblical truth and principles. Tony has taken on a tremendous challenge at a very young age with strong faith and character, energy, and excitement. He is truly changing the world of the children he serves.”
How did Westminster prepare you for your role as head of school?
At Westminster, I interacted with so many teachers, janitors, and administrators who showed me what it means to serve. Mr. Marsh in particular led by his humble service to students, parents, and teachers. If such a well-respected head of school can show great humility, who am I to be prideful about my title? It means nothing if I am not impacting lives. Additionally, Westminster convinced me of the need for the Gospel in education. Since becoming head of school at The Academy of E.P.P., I’ve placed a great emphasis on following Jesus. We pray, praise, and create a lot of dialogue about what it means to serve Christ here.
What have you learned from your former head of school Jim Marsh about being an effective leader?
There are so many things I’ve learned from Mr. Marsh. I think the biggest is when he mentioned he was always open to suggestions from his staff. He wanted to include everyone in the Westminster vision. That’s humility. There are some leaders who have a “my way or the highway” approach. That’s not Mr. Marsh.
How do you motivate your students to value education?
I do my best to show them where education can take them. For example, I was blessed to attend college, and just the other day, I told my elementary students that the things they are learning now are the things that helped me in high school, college, and in my current job. The majority of my students’ parents did not attend college, so I try often to share my own stories or experiences with them and pray that they would become the first in their families to go beyond high school. I try to make it “cool” to be smart.
How do you hope to make an impact in the lives of kids?
Through my role as head of school, I hope to push my students closer to Jesus. A lot of my students have very unfortunate backgrounds. They see and experience things that no child should. I recognize that there are no math problems, spelling words, or science books that are going to help them deal with the storms they have in their lives. My role is simply to show them someone – Christ – who can give them peace, love, and hope in the midst of tough times. At The Academy of E.P.P., we worship, pray, and talk about God everyday. I will never shy away from promoting Jesus in education. It’s the biggest impact that I hope I can make in any student’s life.
Follow Tony on Twitter at @tony_epp.