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Petersburg Rising, through the vivid personal stories of students, celebrates how one community rallied behind an inspiring leader to support its schools, breaking generational cycles of failure and underperformance to achieve success through re-accreditation.
Petersburg, VA was once home to the largest free black community in America, and fell into financial ruin a century later, after a major corporation pulled up stakes. For more than a decade following, schools in Petersburg struggled, failed, and even lacked basic accreditation. Students dropped out in large numbers and faced tough times at home in one of the state's most impoverished communities. It looked to be all too common American story of economic boom-to-bust, until an extraordinary group of leaders entered the picture to turn the tide by investing in children and their education. Petersburg, Virginia was to be a new model for the state, and perhaps the nation.
When Dr. Marcus Newsome announced his retirement as superintendent from a neighboring wealthy, successful school district in order to act on his second doctorate in divinity, he was asked if he would instead consider running the poorest, lowest performing district in the state. Upon taking on the superintendency of Petersburg City Public Schools in 2016, the move was equated to "Michael Jordan coming out of retirement" by a school board member. Yet the challenges ahead remained enormous.
Petersburg was millions of dollars in debt with the district near default on teacher paychecks. Hope was missing in the city. Petersburg Rising is a story told through the struggles and triumphs of five students followed throughout one school year. The film proves that new results come with new resources and support, and that ultimately, there are no "throw away" kids, only kids being "thrown away".
FILMMAKER'S STATEMENT: "When my longtime friend and colleague told me he was leaving one of the most successful, wealthy and largest school districts in the state of Virginia to run the poorest and lowest performing one a few miles away, I immediately asked: How can I help? Dr. Marcus Newsome replied that he had no money to offer, but that people in Petersburg, VA had come to believe, and thereby recreate, the negative news told about them. If we could change the narrative, we could change the schools, and if we could change the schools, we could change the city.
After the anger and protest that consumes our nation to achieve racial equity and social justice, the road to recovery will being with education. This is the story of Petersburg Rising, seen through the eyes of 5 students we followed for a year. This is a chance to change the trajectory of their lives, and that of future generations of an entire city. By doing this, we can also change other cities, states and regions."
— Alan Blankstein