Charles Abelmann, an educator who has led highly regarded independent and public schools and worked on international education at the World Bank, has been appointed director of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.
Since 2010, Abelmann has served as head of school at Barrie School in Silver Spring, Md., an independent school for students 18 months through grade 12. He has strengthened academic programs at Barrie, in part by ensuring coordination among divisions and promoting pedagogical innovation. He developed a teaching fellow and intern program, and formed partnerships that attracted guest artists and visiting teachers from other countries. Under his leadership, the school became a convener on important topics in education, and formed local and global partnerships that provided new opportunities for students and faculty to build community and support social responsibility.
Prior to his leadership of Barrie, Abelmann served in a variety of roles for the World Bank, including overseeing its investments in education programs in Indonesia, China and Mongolia. He conducted policy analysis and aided in capacity building with ministries of education and local governments across East Asia and other countries including Latvia, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Guatemala and Colombia. Earlier in his career he served as principal of Janney Elementary School, which is part of the Washington, D.C public schools, and was special assistant to the superintendent of the D.C. public schools.
“The Laboratory Schools have a legacy of outstanding and innovative education, and Charlie will provide the strong academic leadership needed to continue and enhance that tradition,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “He is also committed to fostering vibrant connections between Lab and the rest of the University, which will bring multiple benefits to our community.”
Abelmann, whose appointment is effective July 1, holds a bachelor’s degree in English and religion from Duke University and a master’s degree and doctorate in administration, planning and social policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He has two sons, Tobias and Emilio.
“We have been greatly impressed by Charlie’s passion for education, his breadth of experience and his enthusiasm for collaborating across the Lab community to advance teaching, learning and the development of students,” said David Fithian, executive vice president of the University, who has oversight responsibility for Lab and its director.
As Laboratory Schools director, Abelmann will oversee the nursery school, kindergarten, primary school, lower school, middle school and high school, stewarding their distinctive cultures, supporting their faculties, and encouraging creativity, innovation and ambition. He will be responsible for developing the human and financial resources the Schools need to continue to excel, promoting a community that engages alumni, families, the University and the city of Chicago.
Abelmann said that during his visits to Lab he has been impressed by the confidence of the students, the integration of the arts into school life and the strong sense of community.
“I am excited to join a school with such a rich history and deep connections to the University, and to help chart the path forward to continue a tradition of excellence and innovation,” Abelmann said. “I grew up around university life, and I am eager to be part of a community that is so engaged in the education of children and youth, and that places a high value on questioning and collaboration.”
“Our search committee was unanimous in its enthusiasm for Charlie’s candidacy,” said David Kistenbroker, chair of the Laboratory Schools Board. “His style of leadership is characterized by excellent analytical skills, compassion and a strong vision for education. He has shown an affinity for collaborative work with boards, parents, teachers, staff and students. We look forward to welcoming him to our community.”
American philosopher and educator John Dewey founded the Laboratory Schools in 1896 to test and demonstrate his educational theories. Since then, Lab has continued to be an integral part of the University of Chicago, now serving more than 2,000 students from nursery school through 12th grade.
Abelmann succeeds Beth A. Harris, who has served as interim director since 2016. In a message to the Lab community announcing the appointment, Fithian and Kistenbroker thanked Harris for her work over the last year. Harris served on the Laboratory Schools Board from 2002 though 2015 and was the University vice president and general counsel for 13 years.