Director's Office


Robin Appleby, an educator who has led high-achieving schools on three continents, joined the Laboratory Schools as director, effective July 1, 2014. She succeeds David Magill, who retired In June, following an 11-year tenure in the role, one of the longest in Lab’s history.

Prior to joining Lab, Ms. Appleby oversaw four campuses of the Global Education Management Systems American Academies, with a combined enrollment of 5,000 students. From 2009, she served as superintendent/CEO of GEMS Dubai American Academy (DAA), an American/International Baccalaureate K-12 school with 2,300 students. In addition, she currently sits on the board of trustees of the Council of International Schools.

Ms. Appleby has moved to Chicago with her husband, John Leavey, and their daughter, Eden, who will join Lab’s third grade this fall, making Ms. Appleby the first Lab director in decades to have a child enrolled at the school.

Ms. Appleby traveled to Chicago multiple times to visit Lab classrooms, and to meet with students, faculty, principals, and administrators. The entire Lab community was invited to meet Ms. Appleby at a reception held at the Quadrangle Club, and approximately 300 people attended.

“I am struck by the passion with which all members of the community describe their experiences with the School,” she says. “The teachers are passionate, and I see creative, inspiring teaching and happy children.”

Of her meeting with about 20 high school students, she says, “The U-High students spoke of what a special, welcoming place it is, regardless of whether they were ‘lifers’ or new to the community. They relish the traditions that have been established and demonstrate a depth of caring for the history of their school that reflects the faculty’s dedication to its mission.”

Ms. 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, OH; and senior dean at the Nichols School, an independent day school in Buffalo, NY. She began her career in the classroom as a college writing instructor and then as an English teacher at the Nichols School.

David Greene, former executive vice president of the University of Chicago, and John W. Rogers Jr., ’76, chairman of Lab’s Board of Directors, cited Ms. Appleby’s breadth of experience in a message to the Lab 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, her focus on teaching excellence, and an outstanding student experience make her a wonderful choice to lead the Laboratory Schools. ”

As director, Ms. Appleby oversees the entire school, stewarding Lab’s unique culture, supporting the faculty, and encouraging creativity, innovation, and ambition. She is 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.

“I am struck by the commitment and engagement demonstrated by all members of the School community—and the obvious extent to which Lab impacts Hyde Park and the city of Chicago. From the smallest students to second-generation alum, everyone I meet speaks with appreciation of Lab’s very special history,” says Ms. Appleby.

Ms. Appleby still has close ties to her New England roots: She grew up in Rhode Island, where her parents still live, and she and her family have a home in Vermont, “where we spend time in the summer and during holidays and enjoy outdoor opportunities in the mountains,” she says. Mr. Leavey, long an English expat, has an IT background, but has retrained as a teacher and taught high school math at DAA. A fencer, he is also excited to learn more about Lab’s fencing team.

Ms. Appleby earned her BA from Dartmouth, before earning her MA in English literature from the State University of New York at Buffalo and an MS in organization development and analysis from the Case Western’s Weatherhead School of Management.

Says Ms. Appleby, “My family and I are honored to have been invited to join such a dedicated community, and to share in the work of crafting Lab’s future.”

And she describes a less-expected benefit to relocating: “My daughter is a true ‘third culture kid,’ born to parents of different nationalities, and raised in a third country, mostly in Dubai. She is looking forward to living in a place that has rain and snow!”