Return to Headlines

WDMCS Welcomes Assistant Principals for All Elementaries (03/09/2023)

March 9, 2023 | West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) is excited to share that the Board of Education approved 10-month assistant principals for all of our elementary schools beginning in 2023-24 at its Jan. 23 meeting. These new positions will begin July 1, 2023.

District leadership requested the additional principal roles to provide consistent support and leadership across all eight of our elementary schools. Jordan Creek and Westridge elementary schools previously shared an assistant principal position as the two elementaries with the highest enrollment.  

Dana Allen is Clive Learning Academy Assistant Principal  

Dana Allen currently serves as the interim principal at the Downtown School with Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS).  She previously served as assistant principal, instructional coach, building technology specialist, building testing coordinator, and a member of the leadership team. She leads the building crisis team and is a Level 1 investigator. Prior to these positions, she was an instructional strategist for five years with DMPS and taught elementary-age students from 2008-2013.

Allen received her Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education from Simpson College in 2008, followed by a Master of Arts in education, Urban Network Principalship, from the University of Northern Iowa in 2018. One reference noted her technology background is a strong asset. “Dana is very savvy integrating technology into her teaching and planning. She is also very proficient in developing and delivering professional development. This helps her delivery and planning to be very explicit, visual, motivating, and collaborative.”


Sue Lawler is Crestview School of Inquiry Assistant Principal

Sue Lawler is currently the associate principal at Mary Welsh Elementary in Williamsburg, Iowa, where she has served since 2020. Prior to taking on that leadership role, she was a principal for eight years at Sawyer Elementary in Ames, Iowa. She also has experience as an instructional coach with Ankeny Community Schools and as a teacher with Southeast Polk.

Lawler attended Iowa State University for both her Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education and master’s degree in educational administration. One reference described Lawler as a “thoughtful leader who has a solid grasp of curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices.” They went on to say, “the district, building, students, and families wherever she serves will be better because of her.”



Emily Backus is Crossroads Park Elementary Assistant Principal  

Emily Backus joins WDMCS from Johnston Community School District (JCSD). For the past three years, she has served as a full-time student support facilitator. In this role, she developed authentic relationships with students, staff, and families. This helped her deescalate student behavior situations, connect families with community support systems, and provide training for staff. Prior to this position, Backus was an academic and behavior teacher for students in grades K-5 with JCSD. Early in her career, she gained teaching experience at Pleasant Valley Community School District in Iowa and Pioneer Central School District in New York.

Backus received her Bachelor of Arts in education from Niagara University in New York, followed by a Master of Education in literacy from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She also has a Master of Education degree in educational leadership from Western Illinois University. One reference shared, “Emily has in-depth knowledge, understanding, and experience working with a variety of student populations…. She has a strong background in supporting students’ academic needs.”

Leah Holcomb is Fairmeadows Elementary Assistant Principal  

Leah Holcomb comes to WDMCS from Carver Elementary in DMPS where she serves as an instructional coach. From 2020-22 she worked at Edmunds Elementary as a reading and math interventionist after working as a fifth grade teacher in the Norwalk Public School District for several years. Holcomb began her career as a fifth grade and third grade teacher for DMPS.

Holcomb earned her Bachelor of Arts in elementary education in 2011 from Grand View University, followed by a Master of Science degree in educational leadership from Drake. A colleague of Holcomb’s recommended her for this leadership position because “she is focused on results and processes to achieve those results. She has a passion for enhancing learning for students and staff.”



Jackson Anderson is Hillside Elementary Assistant Principal  

Anderson is a high school principal with BCLUW Community School District in Conrad, Iowa, where he has served since 2020. Prior to this leadership role, he worked as a special education teacher in Gladbrook-Reinbeck Community School District. During his six years with the district, he developed a program for alternative education, taught, and worked in a variety of other coaching roles.

Anderson received his Bachelor of Arts in elementary education from Wartburg College, followed by an endorsement as a grades 5-12 strategist from Morningside College. Most recently, he earned his Master of Arts in educational leadership from the University of Northern Iowa. One reference shared about his strong connection with students, “Whether it be coaching, sponsoring, or supervising, he has been dedicated to students. Jackson has pushed kids to be better people and students. He is someone that students like to be around, yet they respect him as an educator who cares about each student as a person.”


Jeannette Barnes is Jordan Creek Elementary Assistant Principal  

Jeannette Barnes will serve as assistant principal at Jordan Creek Elementary full time, after serving both Jordan Creek and Westridge since 2021. Barnes previously served in the Waukee Community Schools for 13 years. In that time, she was an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instructional mentor for students as well as an ESOL teacher and elementary classroom teacher. Prior to Waukee, Barnes lived in Colorado for over a decade where she was both a literacy coach and interventionist. She began her career in the Waterloo Community Schools system where she focused on early childhood literacy.
Barnes earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Northern Iowa, followed by a master’s degree in effective teaching from Drake University. She is earning a doctorate in educational leadership from Drake.


Erin Willoughby is Western Hills Elementary Assistant Principal  

Erin Willoughby is another familiar face with WDMCS. Since 2016, she has been a learning supports/family engagement coordinator for the district. She taught for two years with WDMCS prior to taking on the coordinator role. Willoughby began her teaching career in Colorado, where she taught for Aurora Public Schools for five years.

She earned her Bachelor of Arts in behavioral science from Metropolitan State University of Denver and received an elementary K-6 licensure from the same school. She then obtained a linguistically diverse education certificate from Regis University. After moving to Iowa, Willoughby obtained a Master of Science degree in educational leadership from Drake University. A WDMCS colleague noted her growth mindset. “She demonstrates a willingness to further her learning and is a change agent that positively impacts the community she serves. Erin is organized, efficient, and dedicated to providing students support in order to help them be successful at school.”


Tyson Heuton is Westridge Elementary Assistant Principal  

Tyson Heuton has been with WDMCS since 2011. He started his teaching career with kindergarten students, then taught third and sixth graders before becoming a district curriculum lead in 2021. He has also served on various leadership teams and substituted with DMPS prior to joining WDMCS.

Heuton earned his Bachelor of Arts in elementary education from the University of Northern Iowa. He then obtained a master’s degree in human resources management from California Coast University. Most recently, he attended Drake University for his PK-12 principal endorsement along with a specialist degree in educational leadership. One reference commended Heuton on his connection with students. “His content knowledge and caring attitude towards kids is the complete package. I feel very confident in recommending Tyson for an administrative position and know that he will be an asset.”

We are excited to welcome all of these leaders to WDMCS and look forward to adding their expertise and passion for education to our dedicated team of professionals who support student success.