Published Online: February 15, 2013

Documentary on public education debate finds voice

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — An Emmy Award-winning narrator is now part of a West Lafayette schools documentary that officials hope will serve as a catalyst in reshaping the national dialogue surrounding public education.

Peter Coyote, who has appeared in more than 100 films, including "E.T." and "Erin Brokovich," and has narrated more than 165 documentaries, will lend his voice to the in-progress documentary "Rise Above the Mark."

West Lafayette Superintendent Rocky Killion made the announcement Thursday afternoon before screening the film's second trailer for teachers and administrators gathered in the West Lafayette Jr.-Sr. High auditorium.

"We are on a mission to raise awareness about what's happening in public education," Killion told the assembled teachers. "We are on a mission to tell our story."

Production began last year on the film, which is expected to be released this spring. The first trailer was released in August, the Journal & Courier reported (http://on.jconline.com/12QScUf ).

It included interviews with education historian Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education; former Finnish minister of education Pasi Sahlberg; and Marc Tucker, CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy and author of the five-year education report "Tough Choices or Tough Times."

Since then several more names have been added to the project, including author and speaker Jamie Vollmer and Seth Phillips, principal of P.S. 8 in Brooklyn.

"As hard as my days have gotten here sometimes — I've had some hard days — I can always say at least I'm not in Indiana," Phillips says in the second trailer.

In 2011, amid a heated and polarizing debate, state legislators enacted a bevy of education reform laws, including the nation's most expansive system for providing tax-funded vouchers for public school students to transfer to private schools.

"You hear often about the bottom line," said high school science teacher Dave Collins. "They don't understand what we're trying to do here. We're trying to educate tomorrow's leaders, and we need the resources to be able to do that and do it well."

Junior high teacher Lisa Mills praised the trailer. She hopes the film's message will resonate with those arguing for a more business-minded and competitive education system.

"It takes away an aspect that was more collaborative and makes it competitive," Mills said.

"And that doesn't work in education. Even at the heart of legislation that's meant to make schools better, it feels punitive."

The documentary is just part of the project's endgame, which would see West Lafayette create a pilot system to unshackle teachers from state mandates.

To date, the West Lafayette Schools Education Foundation has raised more than $60,000 specifically earmarked for the documentary and to create and support that pilot system. No tax dollars were used for the project.

But while filmmakers originally started out to tell a West Lafayette-based story, Killion said the film has evolved.

"What has happened is we've gone from a more local, maybe regional, piece to now we are ready to take this to a national level of prominence," Killion said.

The creative team behind the project spent months courting a different well-known Hollywood actor to narrate the film. That effort stalled due to scheduling conflicts. The team finally moved on and approached Coyote.

Coyote has proven to be a strong ally, Killion said, and has even submitted the project to famed documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney for his consideration.

"(Coyote) wanted me to tell you," Killion told teachers, "that he is a 100 percent supporter of public education, he is a public school product from Iowa and he will do everything he can to help our school district tell this story and support what we're doing."

Now that the project has found its voice, the filmmakers will continue interviews and fundraising leading up to the yet-to-be scheduled premiere this spring.

"Stay tuned," Killion said.

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Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com


This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Journal & Courier.


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