1960s Duluth educational pioneer dies
A former Duluth resident credited with creating an individualized instruction model that became nationally recognized has died. Thorwald (Tory)Esbensen, 88, who was born in Eagle River, Wis., and died earlier this month in Yuma, Ariz., was assist...
A former Duluth resident credited with creating an individualized instruction model that became nationally recognized has died.
Thorwald (Tory)Esbensen, 88, who was born in Eagle River, Wis., and died earlier this month in Yuma, Ariz., was assistant superintendent of Duluth public schools for about five years in the 1960s and the dean of instruction at the College of St. Scholastica from 1970 to 1973.
In the 1960s, students at three schools -- Franklin/Nettleton, Chester Park and Congdon Park elementaries -- were given individualized assignments designed to fit their skill levels, said his daughter, Julie Sedore.
"They worked on assignments at their own pace to develop a sense of responsibility," she said.
University of Minnesota Duluth professor emeritus Tom Boman wrote in a 2005 column for the News Tribune: "Individualized Instruction, according to the theory, would provide more time and attention for poor, low-achieving students to achieve up to grade level ... it became a nationally recognized model."
The Chester Park school was also laid out in a new way for the time, with an open concept where kids with the same level of contracts worked together in groups.
"There were people constantly coming to Duluth in the '60s to observe these schools and these kids working," Sedore said.
As federal money rolled in, Boman wrote, the model was introduced in selected junior and senior high schools.
But the "federal money well started to run dry," he said, and "Duluth's individualized instruction programs slowly faded away."
Esbensen also wrote two books: "Working with Individualized Instruction: The Duluth Experience" and "Family Designed Learning." He went on to become assistant superintendent of Edina, Minn., schools, spent time as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Education and founded Micro-Ed, a K-6 educational software company.
"I went into education as a result of my father," Sedore said. "He was always inventing educational games for us. It's nice to go out having some kind of mark on the world."