By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
The School Project is hosting the second of its six-part screening series on education issues in Chicago at the University of Chicago Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts’ performance hall on Jan. 22. The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research will also release a new report during the discussion segment of the screening.
At the event, which will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Logan Center, 915 E. 60th St., there will be a screening of the short documentary “Chicago Public Schools: Closed.” The documentary follows Rousemary Vega, a parent-turned activist, through the maze of hearings and protests that preceded the largest school closings in American history. Public education figures — including Terry Mazany, Linda Lutton, Andrea Zopp, Karen Lewis, David Vitale, and Jitu Brown — are also featured in the documentary, discussing decades old education policies, demographic shifts, and the challenges facing Chicago Public Schools today.
After the screening Elaine Allensworth, director of the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, will release and discuss the consortium’s report on the effects of the closing of 49 Chicago Public Schools in 2013. After the report is released Laura Washington, Chicago Sun-Times columnist and political analyst for ABC 7, will lead a panel discussion about the issue.
“What we’re trying to do is tackle the importance of public education and its role in democracy,” said Bob Hercules, co-executive producer of The School Project with Gordon Quinn and co-director of “Chicago Public Schools: Closed” with Melissa Sterne. “We will not be rehashing the closings but looking at what we can do now to begin moving things forward.”
Hercules said after the announcement of school closings in March 2013 producers Jon Siskel and Greg Jacobs approached him and cinematographer Keith Walker about creating a documentary about the historic event.
“The story was too big for us to handle so we reached out to different film companies and freelance producers,” Hercules said. “We came together to tackle school closings but other things came up so the project grew from a documentary to a web series.”
Each film company covered a topic in the six-part documentary series that examine local perspectives on 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. The first part of the series “Chicago Schools: The Worst in the Nation?” was shown in October at the Chicago History Museum.
Upcoming screenings include “The Impact of School Discipline Policies,” March 5, at North Lawndale College Prep Collins Campus; “Testing Season,” March 31, at the Chicago Cultural Center, and “Charter Schools: For Better or Worse,” April 25, at the Chicago Cultural Center. The final segment of the series, “Effective Education in Neighborhood Schools,” will be shown in May at a location that is yet to be determined.
The School Project has been working with partners, including the Chicago Sun-Times, WTTW, Chicago Tonight, Catalyst Chicago, Community Media Workshop and CAN TV, to move the project forward. Its partners have contributed in areas such as providing photos and footage for all six segments and helping to promote screening events.
“This is an unprecedented collaboration that we have with media and outreach partners,” Herculues said. “It’s amazing to me and it’s been a joy to work together.”
In addition to the media partnerships The School Project is connecting with the community through their website schoolprojectfilm.com and social media by providing a map of schools and inviting communities to share their school stories and get involved by joining the local school council, becoming a mentor and attending Chicago Board of Education meetings.
“Even with the reform of the ‘80s through local school councils parents still feel left out sometimes,” Hercules said. “We’re using social media to give people a voice.”
All of the documentary screenings are free and open to the public. The School Project asks that those who plan to attend R.S.V.P. online at eventbrite.com.