21st Century Schools
The Saturn School of Tomorrow
A story of educational reform
proposed in 1988, the Saturn School (yes, it's name was taken from the non-traditional
was the first practical example of school reform to come under national scrutiny.
While it went "on-line" in 1989, it incorporated many of the changes
educational reformers are yet calling for today:
questions are yours to answer as you explore our site.
A Vision of Educational Reform
February 9, 1986, Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of
Teachers, gave a passionate speech addressing the need for fundamental change
in America's educational system not unlike the innovations that were taking
place in the automobile industry. The assembly line approach to education
was unrealistic and ineffective in preparing children to become users and
managers of information in a global society. Moved by this speech, a District
Administrator working in the student records area, and with ten years prior
experience, Tom King, had a vision to be the first district in the nation
to plan a transformed school. A school focusing on student and teacher empowerment.
Essential to a successful transition into society are higher order thinking
skills and a joy for learning. Children needed to become life-long learners.
Saturn School of Tomorrows' motto: was conceived, "High Tech, High Teach,
High Touch". A whole child approach where learning was not constrained
by an arbituary time frame and whose menu of classroom instruction focused
on mastery and cooperative learning. Parents and students in conjunction with
the teaching team would develop each childs' Personal Growth Plan and sign
a contract committing to a high level of involvement.
pursuing his vision, Tom King formed a partnership with:
the partnership in place in 1989, and no federal money for the first two years,
the vision was ready to move into a reality. The Saturn School of Tomorrow;
a non-graded, middle magnet school for grades 4 thru 8, where ongoing evaluation
would be used to create a true learning organization.
Bush made a visit to the school in 1991 that set the stage for a media blitz.
One of the positive aspects of this visit is that it helped the school receive
funding. However, the negative aspect of all that attention is that some people
may have been watching with a very critical eye.
the media attention has faded and the original teachers are all gone. The
community has changed and the school has gone through a period of dropping
test scores in math and science.
of the problems with reform efforts like this one is that school administrators
are under can be pressured to dismantle the reforms when students do poorly
on standardized tests. Of course, it could be seen as unfair to judge a school
incorporating different educational goals by the same standards as traditional
would argue that this is not what Saturn is all about. It is important to
note that Tom King, the prime mover behind the Saturn School, is the first
to point out that this school never claimed to have all the answers, only
questions. Perhaps the reform process is in a stage where these questions,
that Saturn raised, are trying to be answered. The school should be expected
to change. If it didn't, then it would fall into the same trap as traditional
most peculiar thing about education is that it takes motivation for any learning
to occur. If the Saturn School is able to motivate its students to do something,
then perhaps this is really what the school is all about. If the students
want to be there and the parents are involved, success can not be far off.
"I love this school," and eleven year old Saturn student said in
1991. "If I was to go to any school in the world, I'd choose Saturn."
story of the Saturn School offers, not so much a pessimist's view of change,
but, perhaps, some hope and more than one lesson. In the article below, Tom
King, no longer associated with the Saturn School, but still a proponent of
educational reform, discusses them in the briefest possible space.
the largest fact Saturn reminds us of is that any worthwhile, sustainable
reform requires consensus and cooperation. When just one constituent of education
(students, teachers, administrators, staff, parents, higher ed, government,
and the tax-paying community at large) is left out in an attempt at reform,
or otherwise feels slighted, the negative impact can be enough to kill the
this sense, the pace at which change takes place is at least as important as its scope.
To be most successful as educational reformers, we may have to forgo the swiftness
and and comprehensiveness we would like to see in order to bring all the constituents
along together. We may also have to become a little better, or quite a lot
better, at listening than we are at talking.