‘She always led from the heart’: WDMCS mourns loss of Dr. Phyllis Staplin
Phyllis Staplin, Ed.D., who served as an educator at West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) for 33 years and is the namesake of the district’s performing arts center, died Thursday morning after battling acute leukemia.
She was 78.
“Phyllis just really understood how essential the arts were, how they impacted learning and the importance of the arts in lifelong learning,” said Superintendent Lisa Remy, Ed.D. “Her energy and her love for not only learning, but for students—that was Phyllis. That’s what you saw all the time.
“She always led from the heart.”
During her WDMCS career, Staplin was a driving force for the arts and education. She spearheaded the implementation of the Artful Learning/Leonard Bernstein Center Model at Hillside Elementary and the Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) program at all elementaries.
Staplin oversaw Valley High School’s award-winning music, fine arts, and speech and debate programs during her tenure as director of curriculum. She also facilitated and supported all aspects of the Grammy Signature School Award presented to the Valley High School music department in 1999.
Staplin retired from WDMCS in 2012.
“She was always looking at the cutting-edge and what could we do as a system to really bring a wide breadth of programming to the students,” Remy said.
In 2011, Staplin was a recipient of the Leadership in Diversity Award by the Chinese Association of Iowa. She was recognized as Iowa Educator of the Year by the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute in 2006 and was named Fine Arts Administrator of the Year by the School Administrators of Iowa in 2004.
Staplin served as a board member with the Civic Music Association and the Des Moines Symphony and Academy. She was also part of the Des Moines Symphony Association Board of Trustees as well as the FY18 BRAVO Greater Des Moines Counsel to the Board. Additionally, she was a Sister Cities Commission member.
The Staplin Performing Arts Center, which opened Nov. 16, 2014, and is located at Valley High School, was dedicated in Staplin’s honor on Nov. 12, 2015. She spoke humbly during the final few minutes of the hour-and-a-half-long ceremonial event.
“For it is in this space—this home for the arts, this auditorium, the foyer, the atrium, these classrooms—that creativity and artistry connect with performance,” Staplin had said. “It is where communication and collaboration come together and inspire students and teachers to be more than they ever thought they could be, discover themselves in drama, visual arts, and music.
” … It is a home for the hearts—built on sincere and warm relationships at many levels past and present.”
Staplin is survived by her children, Elizabeth Tausner (Eric) and William Staplin, Ph.D. (Ruth); and five grandchildren, Mena, Benjamin, and Samuel Tausner, and Mary and Esther Staplin. She was predeceased by her husband, Carl Staplin, Ph.D.
Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. on Monday, July 2, in the lobby of the Staplin Performing Arts Center. A funeral service will be at noon on Tuesday, July 3, at St. Timothy’s Church in West Des Moines.