About The School Project

In 2013, Chicago Public Schools announced that an unprecedented 49 neighborhood schools would be permanently closed. 

A team of documentary filmmakers began following affected families and educators, policymakers, and advocates as the closures unfolded — and their stories became a jumping-off point for exploring so many urgent questions facing public education today. The School Project uses an interactive map, documentary video, news coverage, and conversation to deepen our understanding of how these issues are unfolding across Chicago. Dive in, and add your voice to help strengthen public education in America.

The project includes six 10-minute documentary shorts on a variety of public education topics that rolled out during the 2014-2015 school year. 

October 28, 2014: Chicago Schools - The Worst in the Nation?
This segment will address Chicago’s grassroots, education reform efforts of the late 1980s, which were already building at the time then-U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett bestowed the notorious “worst in the nation” title on the city’s schools. The segment will also explore why the phrase has been re-quoted for three decades, and what the city can do to get rid of that title for good.

January 22nd: Chicago's School Closings
On May 22, 2013 the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced that 50 schools would be permanently closed making it the largest school closings in American history. We follow the story of one family who is affected by the school closings and must navigate their way through the process, while exploring some of the key events surrounding the closures and examines the larger implications of this policy, in the context of the last decade, featuring the voices of Terry Mazany, Andrea Zopp, Jitu Brown, Wendy Katten, David Vitale, Stephanie Farmer, and Karen Lewis, among others.  

March 5, 2015: The Impact of School Discipline Policies
Young documentary filmmakers from Free Spirit Media are exploring the impacts of discipline policies on students, school communities, and society.  Historically, excessively punitive policies have served to push allegedly disruptive students out of class and school, and have fueled the school to prison pipeline (a term that illustrates the severity of the issues).  This piece examines the movement toward more youth-centered, restorative justice practices, which began as a grass-roots effort and have subsequently been adopted to district leadership.

March 31, 2015: Testing Season
5pm at the Chicago Cultural Center
Last year the CPS "testing season" was dramatic, with a record number of parents opting out of the soon to be discarded ISAT. Teachers at two schools refused to administer the test, resulting in CPS issuing threats of disciplinary action. This year the opt-out movement is focusing its efforts on "parking the PARCC"; delaying the implementation of the new state test. The concerns about the roll out of this new test are so widespread that even CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett has requested a waiver from the state, which was denied. Jumping off from the Opt Out movement, this segment looks at the history, philosophical underpinning, implementation and costs of standardized testing.

April 25, 2015: UnChartered Territory with WTTW
2pm at the Chicago Cultural Center
Over the past few years charter schools have proliferated across Chicago and the nation.  But surprisingly few people know exactly what a charter school is and where the concept came from.  In this segment we’ll explore the unlikely history of charters and then talk to a variety of proponents and critics of the charter movement.   We’ll examine issues such as the growing trend toward privatization of public schools, the idea of ‘choice’ and how it affects the system, and the role of innovation in charter schools.

May 21st, 2015: Teaching
Part of a Catalyst Chicago Critical Conversation town-hall forum on the “The High School Challenge."

Many methodologies and teaching philosophies came out of the effective schools movement of the 80s and 90s. Since then, teachers, students, parents, administrators and community members have been working at the local level to improve Chicago schools using the research, knowledge, resources and infrastructure that already exists, while a centralized system has repeatedly instituted new, cutting-edge reforms that don’t always work. This segment of The School Project explores one model that has quietly been getting results year after year. Catalyst’s “Critical Conversation” will look at challenges and opportunities for high school reform, with attention to equity, resources, expertise, diversity and impact on special education.

You can also learn more and share your story about education in Chicago at our "School Stories" page here.







Email us at [email protected]

For press inquiries, please contact Emily Strong.

Share your story with The School Project.

The Team

Executive Producers
Bob Hercules and Gordon Quinn

Supervising Producer
Rachel Dickson

Danny Alpert and Jon Siskel

Segment Co-Directors
Paris Brown, Skyler Dees, Rachel Dickson, Jackie Gonzalez, Bob Hercules, Greg Jacobs, Jeff McCarter, Rachel Pikelny, Gordon Quinn, Chad Rispalje, and Melissa Sterne

Post Production Supervisor and Editor
Melissa Sterne

Online Outreach Director
Laura Wilson

Multimedia Producer
Emily Strong

Directors of Photography
Ines Sommer, Mike Swanson, Keith Walker

Still Photography
Bill Healy