The Shipley Magazine

Q&A with Jim Staples on Shipley’s Shift to Coeducation

Former teacher, coach, and administrator Jim Staples was hired in 1974 to coach Shipley’s first boys’ soccer team. He was a critical figure in Shipley’s transition to coeducation until he left the school in 1989 to pursue a career in marketing. Later, he rejoined the Shipley community as the parent of graduates Claire ’05, Natalie ’10, and Kevin ’13. “They all came from the same gene pool. They came from the same house. But they could not have been more different, with different needs and different interests. Shipley managed to make a home for all three of them.” 

How did you end up working at Shipley?
I was a senior at Princeton in 1973-74 and got my teacher’s certificate in English. (I had studied philosophy, which I actually ended up teaching.) I sent out some resumes and I got an offer to interview at Shipley. I had never heard of the school. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and I was in college in New Jersey. So I said, “Shipley… I wonder if anybody here at college knows anything about it.” I had a directory of all the freshmen at Princeton, which listed what school everyone came from. I started to flip through it and, of course, came to Caroline Buck [Caroline “Cackie" Buck Rogers ’73] right away.

Out of the blue, I called her up and I said, “You don't know me from Adam, but I have an interview at The Shipley School to teach. Is there any chance you could meet me at the student center and I'll buy you a beer and pizza? Maybe you could tell me something about the school?” Luckily, she said yes. She was the first person from Shipley I ever spoke to, and we had a great conversation. 

I interviewed, got an offer, and moved to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania in the summer of ’74. I started teaching Lower School Bible history to grades three through six. They asked me to start an elective in philosophy, which I did for the juniors and the seniors. They also asked if I would start a boys’ soccer team. I had played soccer in college, so I said, “Sure, glad to do it.” And that was how I started at Shipley.

Tell us what it was like when you first started working at Shipley.
I met John Rainey in August of ’74 and we bonded right away. He’d been hired to teach middle school math and to be the head of the boys’ athletics and coach basketball. I worked with him to get the soccer team going. We became fast friends and have been friends for close to 50 years as a result. In 1974 there were only eight boys in the Upper School and 300 girls. I turned to John and said, “You know, I may not be a math teacher like you, but to the best of my knowledge, it takes 11 kids to make a soccer team and we have eight, so we've got some work to do!” And that's when we recruited some boys from the middle school, to help us start off the program. It was really a Motley crew!

We didn't play in a league for a long time. In fact, all through my tenure of coaching the boys’ team from 1974 to 1989 we weren't in a league at all. John [Rainey] was terrific. He would constantly look for other schools that had lower level programs where we could at least begin, where we had a chance to get out there and try, which is what we did. It was a way to start. It was important to show up in the community and compete with the schools around us. Whether you’re a fan of athletics or not, athletics was an important way for us to establish Shipley’s brand as a coed school. I’m proud of the fact that by 1987, Shipley’s boys’ soccer team beat Haverford’s varsity squad. It was a big deal.

Over the years we were able to build the level of competition. By the time the class of 1980 came in, with David Hunt, Tad Friend, Ned Etris, and all those guys, we had some really strong players and we could start to play JV teams or varsity B teams and start to up the level of competition. We had quick growth after that. By 1987, I’m proud to say that we beat Haverford’s varsity team. 

What were some of the challenges you faced in attracting boys to Shipley?
The primary challenge was gender related and stemmed from community perception. It was a huge hurdle to get boys to come to what was previously an all girls school, because whether you like it or not, the community perception was that there must be something wrong with any boy to go to Shipley. 

On the other hand, you had Episcopal, which was going coed at the same time, and the perception was that there's nothing wrong with girls who go to an all boys school. They are leaders. They are willing to take on a challenge. They must be strong and athletic and intellectual and all the positive things. They're willing to be pioneers. 

I heard innumerable times, “If you had more boys, we'd send our son to your school.” Of course, what we wanted to say was, “If you sent your son to our school, then we'd have more boys!” 

What was it like to teach at Shipley during the shift to coeducation?
Shipley had been an all girls school since 1894. A fair number of teachers were not ready to have boys in their class. Teaching girls is one thing. Teaching boys is another thing. Teaching a coed class is something different. For me, that was terrific because I had gone to an all boys school as a kid, and then I was at Princeton while it was becoming coed, but only 25% of the class was female. Then I came to Shipley, which was basically an all girls school by numbers and by culture, but it was beginning to change. 

Many teachers adapted, but many did not. I loved having boys and girls together in the classroom. As the philosophy class changed over the years and became fully coed, it was so much more dynamic and interesting and fun. It was a much richer experience for me as a teacher—and I hope for the students as well. 

It really sold me, as someone who had grown up in an all boys school, that coeducation is the way to go. 

Any final thoughts about Shipley’s shift to coeducation?
It was a seminal time for the School. A lot of different people were involved from a lot of different angles, and all of us worked really, really hard to make it happen. 

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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.