180 Days: Hartsville

Thornwell School for the Arts Principal Julie Mahn talks with students during the filming of '180 Days: Hartsville,' a PBS special, airing March 17.

HARTSVILLE, S.C. -- Hartsville’s quest to improve test scores and graduation rates of its public school students, while working to ensure that students have equal opportunities, will be the focus of a PBS special airing March 17 on South Carolina ETV.

The “180 Days: Hartsville” documentary will air in two back-to-back segments from 8 to 10 p.m., followed by a panel discussion from 10 to 11 p.m.

The series explored what it takes for a “small South Carolina town to meet the needs of its students during a massive reform effort,” according to SCETV.

To do this, the film followed Thornwell School for the Arts and West Hartsville Elementary to document struggles with national Common Core standards, funding and the individual needs of students.

Camera crews began filming on the first day of classes. The documentary draws on the testimony of principals, teachers, Darlington County Superintendent Eddie Ingram, Harris DeLoach, retired chairman of Sonoco Products Company, community leaders, and a single, working mother of a fifth-grader.

“As a first-year principal last school year, I was extremely nervous about the idea of being followed around by cameras and wearing a microphone all day,” said Tara King, principal at West Hartsville Elementary. “I didn’t really know what to expect, nor was I sure that I knew what I was doing. However, I knew that my purpose as a principal was to do what is in the best interest of children. With this as my focal point, the cameras and microphone became almost invisible.”

Pierre Brown, a teacher interviewed in the special and a graduate of Francis Marion University, said he is one of the only male role models in some of his students’ lives. He shared the experience of being a math and science teacher at West Hartsville, and how important he sees it for his students to have positive male role models.

DeLoach will discuss the millions Sonoco Products Company invested in the city’s public school system to raise test scores.

“I hope parents, political leaders, community leaders, and educators see that public education is not broken,” Ingram said. “Educators across the country are like those depicted in the film, dedicated to the students, passionate about learning, determined to see the students succeed. Their efforts often are unnoticed or, worse yet, are criticized and maligned. And yet every morning across the country, they go back to the classrooms to buck the tide and to make a difference.”

The team that filmed “180 Days: Hartsville” earned a 2013 Peabody Award for its documentary “180 Days: A Year Inside An American High School.” The team “headed to Hartsville to take a fresh look at the nation’s educational crisis,” SCETV said. Jacquie Jones and Garland McLaurin serve as co-directors of the film.

“With poor children now representing a new majority of public school students, it is more critical than ever that successful models in education be explored as part of the school reform movement to ensure the American dream is attainable for all of our children,” Jones said. “Hartsville has proven that if the right forces in a determined community come together to put children first, that tangible results will follow.”

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting funded the special through “American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen” a public media campaign with a focus of stemming dropouts by supporting community-based solutions. The National Black Programming Consortium produced “180 Days: Hartsville.”

Following the documentary, a panel discussion will “explore in more detail the vision for Hartsville, how Sonoco Products Company is making a difference and how other school districts can learn from the Hartsville experience,” SCETV said.

The three-hour block of “180 Days: Hartsville” will be shown again March 19 on SCETV, beginning at 7 p.m. The special will air again March 23 at 8 p.m.

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