International educator Robin Appleby named next director of Laboratory Schools

Robin Appleby, an educator who has led high-achieving schools on three continents, has been appointed director of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, effective July 1, 2014.

Appleby currently oversees four campuses of the Global Education Management Systems American Academies, with a combined enrollment of 5,000 students. As executive principal, Appleby is responsible for supporting and supervising school leadership, monitoring curriculum and ensuring standards for values-based education for an international student body.

Since 2009, she also has served as superintendent/CEO of GEMS Dubai American Academy, an American/International Baccalaureate K-12 school with a student body of 2,300 students, representing 100 nationalities. In addition, she currently sits on the board of trustees of the Council of International Schools.

Appleby previously served as high school principal at the American School of the Hague; director of the upper school at Hathaway Brown School, an independent girls’ secondary school in Shaker Heights, Ohio; and senior dean at the Nichols School, an independent day school in Buffalo, N.Y. Her career began as a college writing instructor and then as an English teacher at the Nichols School.

David Greene, executive vice president of the University of Chicago, and John Rogers Jr., chairman of the Laboratory Schools Board of Directors, cited Appleby’s breadth of experience in a message to the Lab Schools community announcing the appointment.

“Robin has led increasingly complex and diverse school communities during her career, bringing them together through a commitment to high-quality education and strong, respectful communities,” they wrote. “Her global outlook and her focus on teaching excellence and an outstanding student experience make her a wonderful choice to lead the Lab Schools.”

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 1,830 students from nursery school through 12th grade.

As director, Appleby will oversee the nursery school, kindergarten, primary school, lower school, middle school and high school, stewarding their unique cultures, supporting their faculties, and encouraging creativity, innovation and ambition. She will be responsible for developing the human and financial resources the Schools need to continue to excel, and promote a community that engages alumni, families, the University and the City of Chicago.

“The Laboratory Schools represent a unique opportunity for an educator, in the U.S. and around the world. From their beginning under John Dewey to the remarkable educational programs that have inspired and shaped Earl Shapiro Hall and the new Arts Hall, the Laboratory Schools have continued to demonstrate new ways to provide each child an education that is both challenging and nurturing,” she said. “In particular, the Schools’ setting within the University of Chicago provides a rich and rare opportunity to tap the intellectual and physical resources of a higher education leader, and promote new collaborations.”

Appleby was selected after an international search that began in January. The search committee held numerous meetings with faculty, parents, students, alumni, administrators, and conducted a survey of the Laboratory Schools community.

“This is an exciting moment in the life of the Laboratory Schools. The search provided us with an opportunity to reflect on what is most important to us as a community and to think ambitiously about our future,” said Emily Buss, the Mark and Barbara Fried Professor of Law and a member of the Laboratory Schools board, who chaired the committee. “I am grateful for the deep commitment of my fellow committee members, and delighted that the work of the whole community has yielded such an outstanding appointment.”

Janice Moy, a sixth-grade humanities teacher at the Laboratory Schools who served on the committee, said that the wide variety of voices that informed the search kept returning to the same themes.

“We were looking for someone who has a deep respect for Lab’s progressive tradition, and who also has the leadership and vision necessary to guide the Schools as we grapple with the idea of what ‘progressive’ means in the 21st century,” Moy said. “Robin’s diversity of experience and her enthusiasm for working in complex environments give us confidence that she is the right person to take Lab into the future while still holding on to its essence—that is, all those things that make Lab uniquely Lab.”

Appleby grew up in New England and earned her bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College, before earning a Master of Arts degree in English Literature from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a Master of Science degree in Organization Development and Analysis from the Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. She is married and has a 7-year-old daughter.

She will succeed David Magill, who announced in January that he would retire after 11 years as director. During Magill’s tenure, student diversity and capacity for special needs students have grown; financial aid has increased more than 300 percent; and the Schools’ endowment has doubled. Magill launched the expansion of the Schools, which will provide more opportunities for University families and for students from across area, and led the Lab+ campaign that has made the expansion possible through new and improved facilities that support the work of faculty and students.