World Premiere announced for The School Project series

October 28th will see the multi-platform world premiere of The School Project, an unprecedented collaboration between Chicago production companies in documenting perhaps the most volatile issue of the city's recent political history.

Examining public education after the fallout from the city’s historic closing of 49 public schools, The School Project, a six-part series of 10-minute segments, will launch with a free public screening and discussion at the Chicago History Museum on Tuesday, October 28. The series’ interactive website will launch simultaneously at, and air on Chicago's PBS station.

The School Project’s co-production partners include Free Spirit Media, Kartemquin Films, Kindling Group, Media Process Group, Siskel/Jacobs Productions, and producers Rachel Dickson and Melissa Sterne. Outreach partners include WTTW/Channel 11, the Chicago Sun-Times, Catalyst Chicago, the Chicago History Museum and

“After the decision to close 49 public schools in Chicago, we knew we had to look at the issue of public education, but we couldn’t cover it alone. We decided to ask other top companies to collaborate with us on the project,” said Jon Siskel, of Siskel/Jacobs Productions.

The October 28th kickoff event “Chicago School Reform: Then & Now” will feature a panel moderated by veteran news journalist Carol Marin following the premiere of the documentary’s first segment, “Chicago Schools: The Worst In The Nation?”, produced by Siskel/Jacobs Productions. The moderated panel will engage in a conversation about the city of Chicago’s reform efforts from the mid-1980s through today. FREE, RSVP here:

The School Project series will look at 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 series examines the roots of these issues and how each policy impacts the wider school community in Chicago and its implications on a national level. The Oct. 28th event will be the first of several in a series of live, free, public events, premiering new installments of The School Project over the 2014-2015 school year.

The first of six The School Project segments, “Worst In The Nation?” 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.

The interactive website,, will allow visitors to watch the documentary and see how it maps to the Chicago Public Schools system. Users can explore news media and content related to individual schools, data trends and demographics, and share their stories and opinions about public school education.

Chicago’s PBS station WTTW will also broadcast each segment during their flagship “Chicago Tonight” News Program, and the Sun-Times, and Catalyst Chicago will contribute additional web-based content.

“A collaboration like this has never been done before, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it,” said Dustin Park, the Executive Producer of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Funders for the series include the MacArthur Foundation, the Chicago Digital Media Production Fund, and the Driehaus Foundation.

Collectively, the filmmakers have won multiple Emmy, Peabody and DuPont Columbia awards, and are responsible for acclaimed projects such as Louder Than a Bomb, Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger, Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters, and The Calling. / #theschoolproject


Media Process Group is a 29 year old Chicago-based production company whose work has been shown on PBS, IFC, Discovery Channel and TLC. Their DP's shoot regularly for PBS' Frontline, CBS' 60 Minutes and for Oprah Winfrey's Prime show. They produced the award-winning Radicle Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger and are currently producing Maya Angelou: The People’s Poet.

Kartemquin Films is an award-winning social issue documentary company based in Chicago since 1996. Films such as The Interrupters, Hoop Dreams, and The Trials of Muhammad Ali have left a lasting impact on millions of viewers. A revered resource within the film community on issues of fair use, ethics, story and civic discourse, Kartemquin is internationally recognized for crafting quality documentaries backed by audience and community engagement strategies. Their most recent films premiered in 2014 are Life Itself, on Roger Ebert, and The Homestretch, on homeless youth within Chicago Public Schools.

Siskel/Jacobs Productions is a Chicago-based documentary and television production company founded in 2005 by Jon Siskel and Greg Jacobs. Their work has been seen widely on Discovery Channel, OWN, A & E and the National Geographic Channel. Their most recent film, Louder Than a Bomb was shown on OWN in 2012 and won the Audience Award at the Chicago, Philadelphia, Palm Springs, Cleveland and Woods Hole film festivals. They also produced the Emmy award-winning 102 Minutes That Changed America for the History Channel in 2009.

The Kindling Group crafts powerful documentaries and engagement campaigns to ignite change. They are known for their innovative strategies that take media and impact across platforms, genres, and technologies. They have produced many acclaimed documentaries including the PBS series The Calling (2010), A Doula Story (2007), and Legacy, a feature length documentary for HBO, which was nominated for a 2001 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and an Emmy for Best Documentary.

Free Spirit Media provides education, access, and opportunity in media production to over 500 underserved urban youth every year. Free Spirit won a Midwest Emmy in 2010 for a PSA they produced and have won several Media That Matters Awards.


“Chicago School Reform: Then & Now” Panel
Tuesday, October 28, 7:00 p.m, Chicago History Museum.

Carol Marin is an NBC5 political editor, Chicago Sun-Times political columnist and WTTW interviewer. Shejoined WTTW’s Chicago Tonight team in January 2006 to host discussions on local issues and news. As a twice-a-week contributor, Marin also conducts timely interviews with Chicago newsmakers. Marin has worked as an anchor and network correspondent, has been awarded two George Foster Peabody awards, two National Emmy awards, and two Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University awards. She has worked for NBC-5, CBS-2, and CBS on 60 Minutes, 60 Minutes II, the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, and 48 Hours.

Victor M. Montañez is a lifelong artist and educator. As an education advocate, he has championed educational fairness and has presented on education leadership and pedagogy issues. He was policy co-director for Designs for Change, the premier school reform, educational research and advocacy organization that led the way for the historic school reform movement in Chicago. His involvement in education spans more than three decades. Victor serves as parent-student services specialist for NEIU's GEAR UP. He is also thefounder of several citywide art and music festivals and collectives.

William A. Sampson is a Professor of Public Policy at DePaul University. He holds a B.A. in Sociology and Psychology from Howard University, an M.A. in Urban Affairs from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, and a PhD from The Johns Hopkins University in Social Relations. He has been a Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University and the President of Chicago United, a non-profit corporation founded by the leaders of the largest companies and partnerships in Chicago devoted to improving race relations in Chicago. Dr. Sampson’s research centers on the relationship of the family to the academic achievement of poor non-white students, and DePaul students have been instrumental in the research that has led to four books published on that subject. His work continues to focus on race, education, and politics.

Penny Bender Sebring is a senior research associate at the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute and co-founder of the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. She is one of the authors of the book Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago, cited as the some of the most important research of the decade by Educational Researcher and Education Next. The research underlying Organizing Schools is the empirical foundation for the 5Essentials Survey, a school improvement survey used by over 5,400 schools in Illinois and districts across the nation. Dr. Sebring earned her BA from Grinnell College and subsequently served as a Peace Corps volunteer and high school teacher. She received her PhD in education and social policy from Northwestern University. She is currently a Life Trustee of Grinnell; the chair of the Policy Advisory Board for Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy; and a member of the board of directors for the Chicago Public Education Fund.