Contemplations from Kim: From One Year to the Next

By Kim Wargo, Head of School

 Each year provides us with an opportunity to consider what we’ve accomplished – with our individual students and as an educational institution – and what opportunities lie ahead.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of this month's column.

May is a funny time of year in schools.  It is filled with performances, celebrations, and conferences – as we strive to acknowledge all of the growth and progress our students have made during a long school year.  It’s so full that many educators, including me, jokingly refer to this month as the “100 Days of May!”

May, too, is the time when we are just as actively engaged in planning for the upcoming school year. We are hiring new team members, and also thinking about our goals for the year ahead.  

This time of reflection and goal-setting is one of the reasons I love being in education. Each year provides us with an opportunity to consider what we’ve accomplished – with our individual students and as an educational institution – and what opportunities lie ahead.

As we think about the upcoming year, I wanted to provide you a glimpse of the conversations we are having – and the work we hope to do together to make Lab the best place it can be for our students today and tomorrow.

As an institution, we are thinking hard about our strengths as a school and what opportunities lie ahead for us as we approach our 60th anniversary in 2027-28.  Our last strategic plan was adopted by the Board of Trustees in May of 2019, less than a year before the pandemic. In these past five years, we have had to focus on many unanticipated challenges while also working to achieve goals related to student learning and well-being, improving our diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts, engaging families, attracting excellent staffulty, and being good fiscal stewards of our precious resources and tuition dollars.  

In 2024-25, we will embark on a new strategic planning process that will ensure we are focused on the greatest challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for our school as we pass the milestone of 60 years of educating students with learning differences. This process will offer the opportunity for engaging all members of our community in helping us ensure that Lab is here for our current children’s grandchildren.

Even as we think about the long-term sustainability of our school, we are also focused on the experience of our students today. How can we identify the most important ways to improve our practices in order to impact student learning and well-being for students in 2024-25?

I’m sure you have heard the conversation about the impact of our children’s digital lives on their well-being. Much of this conversation is not new; however, a recent book by Jonathan Haidt, The Anxious Generation, has provided a deep dive into the research and given educators and parents a lot to consider. We are currently taking a look at our policies around cell phones and devices, and anticipate sharing some updates to our policies with you over the summer.  

As part of this work, we are inviting our entire community to engage with us through a summer read/listen of Haidt’s work. You’ll hear more about this before the beginning of the 2024-25 school year, but for now, I encourage you to consider adding Haidt’s book (in print or audio), his lengthy article in The Atlantic, or one of his substantive podcasts to your summer reading/listening list.  

We will send these suggestions and links again during the summer, and we look forward to offering opportunities for community conversation throughout the school year on the important topic of how we can better support our children in navigating the ubiquity of their digital lives.

We know that the digital landscape has only added to the challenges many of our students face in developing their executive functions and skills. Our teachers and clinicians work tirelessly to help our students become better planners, time managers, and organizers – and we know there is room to do more in these important areas. Our division heads and clinical directors are working together to provide consistent frameworks for embedding this skill development into the everyday lives of our students. As we embark on a new school year, this will be a high priority for the 2024-25 school year, and we look forward to inviting families into this conversation as well.

One of my core beliefs about education is that the strongest institutions are those that actively attend to the partnership between parents and school. This past year we piloted an offshoot of our expert speaker series through providing “Learning Lab” opportunities on specific topics we know are top of mind for parents.  In our most recent offering last week, we hosted Dr. Clifford Sussman, who presented “Dopamine Teens:  A Parent’s Guide to Healthy Use of Digital Technology in ADHD/LD Students.” While this presentation was geared specifically for Middle School parents, we invite any parents to take advantage of this hour of science-based information and recommendations.

We strive to foster a closer partnership with parents in supporting all areas of our students’ academic and social-emotional journeys. As we think about partnership, our divisional leadership teams are actively engaged in planning other Learning Lab topics, and in considering how we can improve communication with parents across the school year.  

Here are just a few questions we are pondering:

  • How can we provide parents with timely information about student progress in a way that minimizes teacher time away from instruction and working directly with students?  
  • How can we think about our conference schedules to ensure that the opportunities to connect directly with teachers and advisors come at “just the right moments” to help students chart a course toward progress, growth, and improvement?  
  • How can we give parents a better window in to our social emotional, restorative practices, and belonging programming so that we build a common language and foster the shared goal of nurturing a beloved community?  

All of these questions are critical to our planning for 2024-25 and beyond, and we will continue to keep the goal of school-parent partnership as the central driving force in our work.  

Schools work best when there is trust between school, parent, and student, and when we are all focused on our purpose – which at Lab is fostering a community where students with language-based learning differences thrive.

One final question I often get about preparing for a new school year is how can you help? One important way is helping us to welcome new families to Lab.  

Moving to a new school is exciting, but it can also be a little overwhelming. To assist with this transition and to foster greater community, the Parents Association of Lab School (PALS) and the Lab Admissions Office work together to facilitate the Buddy Families Program.  

The chance for each new family to connect with a current Lab family helps to pave the way for a smooth transition. We know that the newest members of the Lab School community truly appreciate this program, whether those families are moving to our school from near or far away.

The time commitment is minimal. When you are paired with a new family for the 2024-2025 school year, simply reach out via email, phone or text, offer a friendly welcome to the Lab community, and an opportunity to connect. It will then be up to you and the new family how you want to move forward. You may want to set up a playdate for the kids, meet for coffee or ice cream, have a Zoom call with the kids or with the whole family or just chat over the phone.

Please consider volunteering for the Buddy Families Program here at Lab. You can sign up via ParentSquare.

Thank you for partnering with us to provide the best possible experience for all of our students. We look forward to celebrating the end of 23-24 and looking ahead to a great year in 24-25.


Kim Wargo
Head of School