Dear Lab Community,
Despite the freezing temperatures outside, Lab feels very much a warm and embracing place right now. Students and faculty alike have returned to school rested and with renewed energy after the winter break. The mood is upbeat and very much one of “scholarship, creativity, and confidence.”
I began this year thinking about issues of continuity and change and focused on helping our community to inhabit our new spaces, to animate them with the spirit, the ideas, and the values that define Lab.
As we head into the rest of the school year, I think it worth reminding ourselves of the context that shapes those objectives:
- More than 30 faculty and staff are new—including the interim director and the High School principal
- 293 new students are learning, making friends, and feeling what it means to be Labbies
- 190 new families are experiencing Lab’s special community
- We are benefiting from an additional 63,000 sq. ft. of new space
These numbers add texture to the fact that we are a school that has been through a period of remarkable change. At the start of the school year I commented that we are a community united by a passion for ideas. Now, I feel that I can safely say that we are also a community united by a sense of optimism for our school, our community, and our children.
Lab has formally accepted the recommendations from the ISACS accreditation Visiting Team report. And while several of the recommendations indicate that there is work to be done to bind together a community for whom a period of significant institutional change has hindered a sense of belonging—the work to rekindle that sense of belonging seems to be taking root.
Our new spaces feel alive, rich with possibility, and very much a home for our people, for our teaching, for our learning. As hoped, we are seeing a flourishing of new ideas and intellectual engagement. At Earl Shapiro Hall, in the High School, and soon in the Lower School, we are outfitting maker spaces that foster the hands-on learning experiences so central to a Deweyan education. And in virtually all grades, students are engaged in exciting activities that build interconnections between science, art, and computational thinking.
This week Lab students, faculty, and staff will participate in a series of activities and assemblies to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. The week began with one event of particular note, the UChicago MLK Celebration at Rockefeller Chapel on Monday evening. The University took as its theme a question posed by Lab students: Why Must We Continue to Sing this Song? The Chicago Children’s Choir (which includes many Lab students) performed and the final musical selection featured U-Higher Alex du Buclet leading We Shall Overcome. While our connection to the University is often one in which adults guide our students, on Monday, Dewey would have been proud. Our children were leading the adults.
The Lab experience is shaped by the full participation of all of us, and so I thank you for your ongoing commitment to our mission and to our children. I hope to see you at the upcoming Dewey Dance, on Saturday, March 4 in Kovler Gym. Now that Connections (Lab’s gala fundraiser) will be happening only every other year, this more informal 80s-style “gym dance” will allow Lab adults to visit with one another and to celebrate the school year. Invitations will go out by email in the coming weeks.
Until then, welcome back to school, and welcome to the New Year.
Beth A. HarrisInterim Director
About Ms. Harris
Beth Harris has worked for the University of Chicago for 30 years, serving as University Vice President and General Counsel for 13 years.
During her tenure, she developed a deep understanding of the governance and operations of complex academic institutions. She advised senior managers and academic officers in four divisions, five professional schools, and across other units including Argonne and Fermi National Laboratories, the University Press, Court Theatre, and the University’s two museums. She also served as University representative on a variety of University Boards among them the Laboratory Schools and the University of Chicago Charter Schools Corporation, as well as the UChicago centers in Paris, India, London, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
Ms. Harris served on the Laboratory Schools Board of Directors from 2002 through 2015, during which time she was closely involved in most major initiatives including the decision to expand the Schools and undertake the current campus renovation and construction.
She is a member of the Chicago Network, has served on the board of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, and is a past president of the Hyde Park School of Dance.
Ms. Harris received her JD from Northwestern University, her MA from the University of Houston, and a BA from the University of Chicago. All three of her children attended Lab from nursery through 12th grade.