In 2006, former DJ, point guard and teacher turned first-time principal James O’Brien opened a small public high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where 1/3 of residents live below the poverty line and the graduation rate is 40%. With infectious optimism, O’Brien and his team of eight undertook an unconventional and ambitious mission: create a school with an arts-oriented curriculum that also emphasizes self-development, community collaboration and social change. Initially, the buzz from everyone was that this was a dream come true. But conflicts arose when untested idealism was challenged by long-standing realities far bigger than school.
Over four years, this heartfelt verité film follows the journey of students, parents and educators striving to make a difference in the futures of young people whose lives are stark representations of our country’s education and opportunity gaps. Through the prism of one inner-city public school, we witness complexities faced by urban public schools and communities everywhere.
Reviewed at the Hamptons Film Festival, the Hollywood Reporter critic John DeFore wrote:
Setting aside political debates over school funding and philosophy to examine one school’s real-world experience, Jyllian Gunther’s The New Public goes to Bed-Stuy, New York City to see whether one experimental school can live up to its own ideals. Biting off a realistically small piece of this subject and showing enough of it to create a strong emotional involvement, the doc is a fine addition to the larger conversation.