Two-time Sundance Film Festival director Kevin Willmott appeared on Ruckus to talk to Mike Shanin about his Gordon Parks Elementary documentary.
The hour-long documentary delves into the Kansas City, Missouri charter school that serves some of the city’s neediest kids, and was in danger of being shuttered by the school board last year. It premieres at 8pm, November 12 on KCPT.
The film, shot over an entire school year, is directed by Kevin Willmott, photographed by Eric L. Smith, edited by Mark von Schlemmer, and produced by Scott Richardson and Sam Zeff for Do Good Productions. Nancy Seelen is Executive Producer.
“As part of their fundraising efforts, they approached me to participate in a big event they did at the Gem Theater. And I really got involved because of Gordon Parks. Gordon Parks was a big influence on me as a kid. And after that I heard about the problem that the school had and how it was shut down.”
“Yeah, they have a board and a large group of supporters of the school, so they went to court and they were able to win the case. The thing that’s really interesting about the whole thing was, I think, the thing we raised in the film, is just the idea of is it fair to close a school because of low test scores and particularly kindergarten through second grade age children. What do we expect academically from them?”
“A lot of children come from Operation Breakthrough, which is a day care, child care center, on Troost that deals with some of the poorest kids in the city and they kind of serve as a feeder to Gordon Parks Elementary School, and so really a core part of the population at this elementary school are some of the poorest kids in Kansas City.”
“One of the big kind of ethical debates that we try to capture in the film is just that, you know, you’ve got people that are heavily disadvantaged, a lot of them homeless, moving around the city a great deal, transition all the time, and at the same time, you want to see DESE’s point of view which is we’ve got to make sure these kids get a great education and can function in the real world.”
“I think the thing is that question of is it fair to really close a school because of low test scores? And do test scores, do they really accurately kind of measure progress of a student? Is that really the thing that we want to use to measure a student’s success?”