As Tod’s producing and directing partner, I would like to add a few observations. For better or worse, a school is the sum of its many complicated but essential parts. Our challenge as filmmakers was that we had to keep our eyes on the principals while navigating all of these other parts. We could only touch on so many aspects of a principal’s job. The relationship between the principal and the district office is crucial, but we would have needed a miniseries format to do justice to it. For the purposes of effective storytelling, Tod and I could only scratch the surface of these relationships.
During our research phase, we visited many prospective schools. We found it fascinating that we could feel the warmth and security of a well-run, well-cared for school the moment we first walked through its doors. Tod and I often commented on that sensation, and on the fact that a principal’s passion and commitment is reflected not just in the paint and student work on the walls, but in the energy emanating from the classrooms. We continued to experience this as we visited schools in Kentucky, Georgia and Oregon to film different programs that are helping principals focus on instruction. The School Administration Manager (SAM) project in Louisville, Ky., for example, showed how effective it can be for a principal to have an administrative partner. The principal can then spend more time as an instructional leader in classrooms and with teachers. The school we visited in that city, John F. Kennedy Montessori, was so inviting and vibrant that Tod and I wanted to experience elementary school all over again. These schools and projects are presented in short vignettes on the outreach DVD.
The need for better leadership training and on-the-job support became obvious to us. As Tod stated, a principal’s job is amazingly multifaceted. Prospective principals must be well trained in how to handle (or delegate) it all; otherwise they may burn out. It is our hope that the film and related outreach video and print materials can be utilized by public television stations, national partners and other outreach participants to generate local dialogue and build awareness about the importance of education leadership and the role of principals as instructional leaders. For the issue is not just that more resources are needed, but that people need to “think differently,” to paraphrase the old Apple ad. Our featured principals say this a lot, but it bears saying again: Those working in education have to make decisions based on putting children first. With that mantra in mind, you can’t go wrong.
Tod and I both came away from the filming experience believing that social service resources must be allocated to challenged schools and consideration given to rewarding teachers and principals who choose these schools. Another element presents both the toughest challenge for principals and the greatest reward — parent commitment and responsibility. Dunbar struggled with that issue in her seventh grade parent meeting.
Tod and I were honored to work side by side with our talented principals and their dedicated teachers and staff. As documentary filmmakers, we find that one of the joys of our business is experiencing new worlds and capturing them for others. This is perhaps the most important story to be told: The future of our nation is with our children — all of our nation’s children.
David Mrazek — Producer, Director, Sound Recordist, Chicago, 2009