GetSmater in collaboration with the Singapore American School. The film titled Changing Education From the Inside Out is a 50 minute documentary about the transformation of the Singapore American School following their journey with the educators from Singapore American School, showcasing the motivations, extensive research and challenges to transforming the education system – breaking frontiers and raising the bar.

Singapore American School (SAS) : Talking About Transformative Education

Dr. Chip Kimball (Superintendent), Jennifer Sparrow, Dr. Tim Stuart


The following content are notes I took during the showing of this documentary. Most of the content has been paraphrased and reinterpreted. If there are any discrepancies or wrong information, please let me know.


Board gave SAS superintendent a mission to reform SAS to prepare students for the future. Specifically, asking the superintendent to courageously challenge the norm and orthodox ways of education. In the old model of education, it’s analogous to a factory producing a line of generic individuals via teachers delivering a pedagogy revolving around fact memorization, etc.

However, the advent of modern technology transformed the landscape for contemporary education. The simple truth is knowledge or information is easily accessible with Google, the challenge is to ask students what they can do with what they know versus what they know.


Dr. Chip Kimball (Superintendent):

  • Seeking to reinvent themselves and their education system for the future career
  • SAS Vision: A world leader in education cultivating exceptional thinkers prepared for the future
  • Documentary purpose: start conversation with educators to change the direction of the future of education

Dr. Tim Stuart advocated that the new trend of education involves collaboration, critical thinking, asking harder questions versus reciting answers to stagnate questions of facts. This would require a more robust grading system in contrast to the A – F system. Some school districts in the documentary adopted a more straightforward system: Exceed, meet, or below expectations.

In reality, colleges don’t accept academically flawless students. For instance, Harvard rejected 4000 applicants who got 4.0s or perfect grades. “The path to an A should not be linear path”

The takeaway is to pursue interesting activities in conjunction with “book smarts”. Extracurricular activities that provide opportunities for students to develop innovative, disruptive thoughts and behaviour are more attractive to educators versus linear perfect grades.  

The new education mantra is personalized learning

Furthermore, the documentary focused on non-mainstream approaches to education like a New Zealand elementary school curriculum where a  young kindergartner was using an electric driver to do woodshop without heavy adult supervision. This can be an example of passion time: giving a student the autonomy and time to learn whatever they want. The theory is, this way they will learn better.

Next, an example of a high school student who was granted permission to conduct her own research project about woman’s hips. What impressed Dr. Stuart was her ability to articulate her views pertaining to woman hip’s from multiple perspectives like biology, physics, literature, history, psychology, and more. This really shocked Dr. Tim Stuart because he never encountered a youth who was able to express a subject in a deep way.

Play is the engine for learning

SAS Student study abroad to Stanford (Space miniature satellite), programing and building the hardware, took a semester off to go to stanford to learn more about space technology. Another SAS went to Brown University, etc to work on projects related to Branding, Marketing, and other subjects

SAS Kindergarten teacher New way of teaching for younger students (kindergarten), instead of answering questions for kids, keep asking new questions so kids can come to their own conclusion.

Play, passion, and purpose are critical characteristics of the human experience


Board of Directors and SAS Staff members engaged in a period of self-reflection, curriculum development (4+ hours per day of thinking, asking questions, sifting through data) to make a educated decision for future educational philosophy and standards for SASA. They brainstormed close to 115 initiatives. Research reveals that you can only focus and accomplish 3-5 things.

In the end, they filtered those plethora of initiatives to these five top initiatives:


What was the most significant leadership lesson for you?

      • (Tim Stuart) Sense of urgency, take an existing school that’s highly successful and how do you create enough urgency to begin the change process. We achieve this by bringing teachers and students to witness other schools to challenge their thinking and standards
      • (Jennifer) Having to know at the core what was most important and be true to the mission of SAS, and being unapologetic about realizing change in the education standards and philosophy of SAS.
      • (Tim Chip) “Build the right team and trust them”. Normally we don’t have the courage to build the right team, hence, have undesired outcomes.

What advice do you have for a leader going through change?

      • (Tim Chip) Build the right team and trust them (audience laughter).
      • (Second Round) In education, it’s not about copying an existing program. The leadership lesson is to be able to influence change in a scalable way for stakeholders, staff, and the such to help them understand the new trend of education.
      • That is true innovation because the lessons we’ve acquired from schools were ideologies and philosophies that has been established for decades upon decades. “Moving from a fear of perfectionism, to a paradigm shift of genuine honesty and courageous commitment to self improvement”
      • (Jennifer) Selecting skeptics and challenging them with the new changes and hearing their feedback
      • (Tim Stuart) Love your employee is the first secret to change. That means, know your teammates on a deeper level like their strengths and weaknesses, and when they’re able to shine

What would you do differently?

      • (Chip) Not creating a secret group when trying initiatives like this (audience laughter)

What do you see in the future regarding learning?

      • (Chip) The future of learning and education is going to be about personalized learning. The education market (the parents) are going to demand this shift. (Specific Example) AT (Advance Topic) program versus AP program to give students a more customized curriculum for students to pursue cultural interest, their passions, etcs. Parents were highly resistant to this change.
      • (Jennifer) Personalized learning is the outcome, the question is how to evolve the process to produce that outcome, and how does that look like? Investigations upon this question is key to actualizing this personalized learning utopia for future students and generations. We used to have high priority on high content knowledge (the-know-it knowledge)
      • (Stuart) How to let students dictate the direction of learning versus having teachers dominate that trend. (Specific Example) Excited about early learning on the curriculum book development end via the DSLO program. Standards have not change, but when the students master those standards have changed.

What are you most concerned about for SAS? (3 years in from the new changes)

    • (Chip) Fear of regression to old standards. How are you implementing design thinking and iteration process? First establish a 20-20 plan that’s 4 years standard and changed it so that its a 100 day plan or semester plan.
    • Creating a timeline and shortening it and having shorter period milestones to measure immediate success and have the most mobility versus waiting for years upon years.


How did the school board determine the budget and elect the SAS leaders?

      • (Answer by former Board Member) Our biggest investment was to invest in a superintendent that was able to take an existing school and bring it forward to becoming something new versus most superintendents who come into a school district to maintain status quo.
      • Biggest push back comes from existing staff/faculties who resist changes. A lot money was spend to change the faculties.


Skip to toolbar