Documentary series tackles school reform issues

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The first in a series of short documentary films on education issues in Chicago will premiere on WTTW Chicago Tonight and also at a public forum at the Chicago History Museum at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28, which will be live-streamed on CAN-TV27 and at schoolprojectfilm.com.

The forum panel will include Victor M. Montañez, who was policy co-director at Designs for Change, the leading research and advocacy organization behind the creation of local school councils; William A. Sampson, professor of public policy at DePaul University and former president of Chicago United; Penny Bender Sebring, co-founder of the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, and Angela Rudolph, an education consultant and former program officer at The Joyce Foundation. Veteran broadcast and print journalist Carol Marin will moderate.

Entitled “The School Project,” the six-part film series is the work of a unique collaboration of five of Chicago’s top documentary production companies: Free Spirit Media, Kartemquin Films, Kindling Group, Media Process Group and Siskel/Jacobs Productions.

“After the decision to close 50 public schools in Chicago, we knew we had to look at the issue of public education, but we couldn’t cover it alone, said Jon Siskel of Siskel/Jacobs Productions. “We decided to ask other top companies to collaborate with us on the project.”

The first film, “Worst In The Nation?” centers on the contention by former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett in 1987 that Chicago had the worst schools in the country.

Catalyst Chicago is one of several outreach partners that are keeping their audiences up to date. The others are WTTW/Channel 11, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago History Museum and Ebony.com.

The School Project series will look at the recent mass school closings in Chicago, the expansion of charter schools, the controversy surrounding standardized testing, school discipline policies and the history of reforms and educational models.

An interactive website, www.schoolprojectfilm.com, will allow visitors to watch the documentaries online and obtain data trends, demographics and, where available, stories on individual schools.

Stay tuned for updates not only about The School Project but also about a year-long community engagement campaign  Catalyst Chicago is planning to mark its 25th anniversary in 2015.