About 200 people attended the Sept. 3 screening in Parker of a documentary critical of the Douglas County School Board’s education reform efforts.
Brian Malone, a Castle Rock native and filmmaker, produced, wrote and directed “The Reformers,” a 75-minute exploration of the impact of education reform on both a national and local level.
The event was presented by Taxpayers for Public Education, a nonprofit that sued to stop the Douglas County School District’s voucher program. An eight-person panel discussion featuring community members, former DCSD employees and teachers’ union officials followed the screening.
The documentary received a standing ovation from an audience largely critical of the current school board’s directions and policies.
“It was a thrill, although I will say I’m not altogether surprised,” said Malone, adding the self-funded film cost about $20,000 to make. “There’s been a lot of interest and a lot of anticipation on what the film has to say.”
Malone, whose two children attend DCSD schools, maintains the board is carrying out an agenda largely unsupported by parents and teachers, and that its policy changes have been poorly implemented.
The film includes local interviews with Taxpayers for Public Education board members, former DCSD Superintendent Rick O’Connell, Douglas County teachers’ union president Brenda Smith, former Thunder Ridge High School teacher Brian White and several unidentified Douglas County teachers whose faces are shadowed. Four recent Douglas County high school graduates also are featured, saying some of the district changes negatively affected them as they applied to colleges.
In the film, four national experts question the research and potential for-profit motives behind school choice.
The documentary has footage from Douglas County School Board meetings, but does not include interviews with any board members, administrators or board supporters. Malone said DCSD officials repeatedly turned down his requests for interviews. The only pro-school-choice supporter interviewed is Republican former state lawmaker Nancy Spence.
DCSD spokeswoman Michelle Yi emailed a comment on behalf of the district.
“The district did not participate in the making of this film, and district officials have not seen the film," the email reads. "We are proud to empower parents with choice and offer a world-class education to all students, which includes opportunities for more collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity in our classrooms."
Malone was kicked out of an August 2012 school board meeting and charged with disrupting a lawful assembly after stepping out of a taped-off area that DCSD reserved for media. The charges later were dropped. Despite that experience, Malone maintains he approached the project with an open mind.
“It was only from the experience of shooting this film that helped me develop my opinion,” he said. “I stand behind the film. And I stand behind my point of view.
“I’m tired of all the anger; we’ve got to move above that and beyond it. This is about getting this community to stand up (and) decide what they want for their public school system. But if this county doesn’t wake up, we’ve got a real problem.”
Future screenings of the movie are planned and Malone also is distributing free copies.
“Right now I’m just focused on getting this film in front of as many eyeballs as possible in Douglas County before the November election,” he said.
The terms of four current board members expire in November.