‘Go Public’: A Film That Champions Public Education


It’s a familiar story. A tax bill designed to generate much-needed funding for local public schools is soundly defeated by voters, who, post-election polling reveals, cite images of failing schools, teachers who care little for the students in their classrooms, and parents who’d rather leave the public school system.

When this happened in Pasadena, California, filmmakers and public school parents Jim and Dawn O’Keeffe didn’t get mad, they got busy. “We were told by people that the main source for voters’ negative views about our public schools were films like Waiting for Superman, and anti-public education campaigns by so-called education reformers, they never went inside our schools to see what they were really like,” explains Jim O’Keeffe, a director and cinematographer and professor at USC School of Cinematic Arts.  “We realized this was our chance to give the public a look at what’s really happening inside our schools. If the voters had been in the schools and seen the great things happening there, perhaps the parcel tax vote outcome would have been different.”

The result? Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District, a documentary in which 50 small-camera crews followed a wide-ranging group of individuals who attend, support, and work in the Pasadena Unified School District, a racially and economically diverse district of 28 public school campuses.  Screening in theaters during American Education Week and in the coming months. Go Public tells the story of one full day, from sun up to long after sundown.

“Teachers, students, custodians, principals, volunteers, and parents are shown during a typical day, doing all of the things to make a public school district function,” says Go Public producer Dawn O’Keeffe. “Too much focus has been placed on what supposedly is broken in public school education. Our documentary captures the many good things that go on every day. “

The documentary follows individuals like Franklin Elementary third grade teacher Esther Chun, who greets each student with an inspiring quote, Alison Garfinkel, eighth grade history and English teacher at McKinley K-8, and Washington Middle School custodian Felix Lopez.

“When you see what’s really going on at the schools, it will impress and excite you, and make you want to be a part of it,” says special ed teacher Kathleen Bautista, also in the film.  “This film shows you the reason we need to financially support and champion our local public schools.”

Go Public recently screened at the NEA Student Conference in Las Vegas, receiving an enthusiastic response from student members and is scheduled to screen at the NCUEA Fall meeting in Austin, Texas in December.

How can you see Go Public?

Go Public has partnered with TUGG.com, a web-platform that helps individuals, groups and organizations set up personalized movie screenings in theaters across the country. The screenings can include panel discussions with local education experts immediately following the film.  If you’re interested in hosting a screening of  Go Public in a community venue or on campus, visit www.gopublicproject.org