The words “school principal” conjure different images – disciplinarian, or building manager and bus scheduler, maybe the lonely hero trying to save a troubled school. Or we may even go back to the word’s original roots – “principal teacher” – the person who guides teaching and learning throughout her school. What’s the real story of being a principal? What should that story be if we care about improving kids’ learning?
Since 2000, The Wallace Foundation made a commitment to lifting the quality of education leadership as a critical, yet often-missing ingredient for improving teaching and learning. Ten years later, Wallace and its partners have learned a lot about what makes for effective school leadership. The foundation’s hope is that the documentary film
THE PRINCIPAL STORY will give people a much clearer, true-to-life picture of what principals do each day, how important that leadership is to improving schools, and how vital it is to give principals the training and support they need to succeed. To download free publications on education leadership please visit the
THE PRINCIPAL STORY is a national PBS broadcast film and media outreach project. Funded by The Wallace Foundation, the documentary and related video and print materials are designed to connect educators, policymakers and those interested in learning more to reliable, useful resources. The film, produced by Nomadic Pictures, premiered on September 15, 2009 as part of PBS’s acclaimed P.O.V. series.
To order a DVD of the full documentary, please go to the
Order Film page. Outreach Extensions is managing the national media outreach campaign.
About the Film
THE PRINCIPAL STORY portrays the challenges principals face in turning around low-performing public schools and raising student achievement. This intimate, emotional one-year journey is seen through the eyes of two dynamic principals: one in only her second year in the Chicago Public School System; and the other, a seven-year veteran in Springfield, IL. The film reveals the struggles these leaders face as they keep their focus on improving teaching and learning amid the competing demands of managing their staffs and engaging their students and communities.
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About the Filmmakers
Executive Producer, Producer, Director, Cinematographer
Tod Lending is an Academy Award®-nominated and national Emmy-winning producer/ director/writer/cinematographer whose work has aired nationally on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and HBO; has been screened and awarded at national and international festivals; and has been televised internationally in Europe and Asia. He is the president and founder of Nomadic Pictures, a Chicago-based documentary film and television production company; and director of Ethno Pictures, a not-for-profit documentary film company.
Producer, Director, Sound Recordist
David Mrazek is an award-winning producer/director/writer of numerous prime-time PBS history and science documentary series, as well as documentaries for The History Channel and Travel Channel. Mrazek’s work includes The Great War series, The Kingdom of David, The Duel and Woodrow Wilson, among many others.
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About the Principals and Their Schools
Kerry Purcell, Principal
Harvard Park Elementary School, Springfield, IL
During her six years as principal of Harvard Park Elementary School (pre-K-5), Kerry Purcell was instrumental in supporting the school’s successful move off the state watch list. The school made approximately a 45 percent gain in reading and a 50 percent gain in math scores. Most notable is Kerry's work around data interpretation and analysis, building and sustaining professional learning communities, and creative use of fiscal, human and time resources to support school improvement.
Tresa D. Dunbar, Ph.D., Principal
Henry H. Nash Elementary School, Chicago, IL
Two years ago – after five years of turmoil at Nash Elementary School (pre-K-8) under six different principals – Tresa D. Dunbar, Ph.D., took over as school leader. Tresa had been an assistant principal at Nash, leaving in 2001 to pursue principal training. She returned as a novice principal with a mission of change and a commitment to improving instruction and academic achievement. Already, many strides have been made: reading and math scores have risen, and Nash has been honored by Mayor Richard M. Daley for progress on the ISAT.
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About the Outreach Partners
THE PRINCIPAL STORY media outreach campaign includes a network of national professional associations that are helping to elevate the visibility of education leadership as critical to raising student achievement in our nation’s schools. These outreach partners are providing content expertise and hosting events to reach key constituencies in a position to change policies and practices.
- American Association of School Administrators
- Council of Chief State School Officers
- National Association of Elementary School Principals
- National Association of Secondary School Principals
- National Association of State Boards of Education
- National Conference of State Legislatures
- National Governors Association
- National Staff Development Council
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