Acclaimed award winning documentary filmmaker, Jacquie Jones tackles education reform in the southern states with her new film, 180 Days: Hartsville. This film is part of a series and is the second one of it’s kind to tackle this issue. The first being 180 Days which followed students, teachers and families for one school year in a high school in Washington D.C. Jacquie Jones sat down with Parlé Magazine to discuss her new documentary 180 Days: Hartsville, as well as the state of education and what could be done to improve it.
Parlé Magazine: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Jacquie Jones: I’ve been working as a documentary film maker for PBS for 20 years. I am a Howard University graduate and Stanford film student. My work has primarily been around African-American history and culture. The first documentary I produced for PBS was called Africans In American, it was a four part series on slavery. I also did a documentary called Matter of Race, which was a look at how communities were changing across the nation. These communities were previously black and white, but now they’re predominately Black and Latino. For 9 years I was the Executive Director for the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC). The National Black Programming Consortium, founded in 1979, is committed to enriching our democracy by educating, enlightening, empowering and engaging the American public about the Black experience and by investing in visionary content makers. NBPC provides quality content for public media outlets, including, among others, PBS and PBS.org and BlackPublicMedia.org, as well as other platforms, while training and mentoring the next generation of Black filmmakers.
Parlé: Can you tell us about your documentary 180 Days: Hartsville?
Jones: The documentary takes place in Hartsville, South Carolina. Garland McLaurin (Co-Director) and myself wanted to show how one town turned around their school system from being rated “below average”. The series will introduce viewers to a handful of characters including Monay Parran, a high school dropout and single mother struggling to raise three children while juggling two jobs, and her bright son Rashon, a fifth-grade student in West Hartsville Elementary, whose behavior is threatening his own educational future. As well as some people involved in the educational system such as Thornwell Elementary School principal Julie Mahn, the daughter of sharecroppers and the first in her family to go to college; Tara King, a once troubled student now principal of West Hartsville Elementary School; Pierre Brown, one of the only male role models in his students’ lives; Harris DeLoach, executive chairman of the Hartsville-based Sonoco Products Company, who has invested $5 million of Sonoco’s money in the city’s public school system to raise test scores; and Darlington County Schools Superintendent Dr. Eddie Ingram, a 30-year veteran of public education and new kid on the block.
Parlé: What inspired you to make 180 Days: Hartsville?
Jones: A few years ago we started a series called 180 Days as way to look at contemporary African-American communities and how they were dealing with their current educational reform movement. The first 180 days was filmed at a high school in Washington, D.C. which aired in 2013 and won a Peabody Award as well as a few other rewards. 180 Days: Hartsville is the second film in the series and the idea for this one was to look at a small rural southern town as compared to a big city like Washington, D.C.
Parlé: What can viewers expect from this new documentary?
Jones: It’s not a continuation in sense of the story but it is a continuation at taking a fresh look at what’s going on across the country with the educational system. Very few people have an idea of what’s really going on. We all know about the big debates going on in Washington, D.C. about public school and school reform but takes inside look on how these school are effected on a day to day basis. We take an in-depth look for about a whole school year from the first day of school to the last to see how life unfolds for teachers, families, students and the community.
Parlé: With all the issues facing the African-American community, what made you want to focus on the education aspect?
Jones: One of the challenges with this issue is that everyone is focused on the problem with education, we’re not only focused on the problem but also where a solution can be found. As a society, the way we’ve approached education reform has been backwards in a lot of ways. We haven’t addressed the real problem which in most cases is poverty which in itself leads into another series of issues.
Parlé: Are you on social media?
Jones: Twitter @blkpublicmedia, @jjones_nbpc, we’re also using the #180dayspbs
Parlé: Do you have any last words?
Jones: A lot of people aren’t aware that it is possible to create networks of support within your own communities. We’ve almost forgotten how important communities can be. We’ve got to start thinking what’s best for the whole community not just for yourself especially when we make decisions about taxes, funding and education.
Readers can catch 180 Days: Hartsville, Tuesday, March 17 on PBS, Check your local listings for air date and time in your area. 180 Days: Hartsville. They can also catch 180 Days: A Year Inside An American High streaming on Netflix and for free on ww.pbs.org.