Documentary shows a year in the life of Raleigh teacher/activist

A new documentary puts the spotlight on a Raleigh high school teacher and education activist while providing the public a realistic look at what it means to be an educator.

Teacher of the Year” follows Angie Scioli during the 2013-14 school year as she juggles being a social studies teacher at Leesville Road High School in North Raleigh, leader of the Red4EdNC teacher advocacy group, a Moral Monday protestor, a wife and mother. The film premieres Thursday at Wake Forest University’s Teachers, Teaching and Media Conference.

“This is a story that people need to hear,” said Rob Phillips, the film’s co-director and a Leesville High teacher. “Quite frankly, it’s a story for now.”

Terry Stoops, director of education research studies for the John Locke Foundation, called Scioli a “fantastic teacher.” But he cautioned against putting too much stock into considering Scioli as a typical teacher.

“It is a narrow look at one person’s experience and generalizing that experience over the whole teacher workforce,” said Stoops, a former teacher.

Phillips and Jay Korreck, who also used to teach at Leesville, were out to create a film that challenged how Hollywood portrays veteran teachers as hacks and good teachers as outsiders.

The co-directors focused on Scioli, a teacher since 1993 whose awards include being a Teacher of the Year at Leesville. Soon after filming, Scioli became an activist because of some state legislative changes, such as awarding vouchers for students to attend private schools, removing job protections for new teachers and ending extra pay for new teachers who receive master’s degrees.

“This is the best time possible for the movie to come out because with the approval of (U.S. Education Secretary) Betsy DeVos, we’ve kind of awakened a lot of people to what nationally could happen if what went on in North Carolina is any indication,” Scioli said.

“We’ve awakened people on the whole education issue, and they’re not satisfied with the answers they’re receiving.”

The film stays with Scioli throughout the school year through moments such as grading papers while on a family trip and being shocked when learning that student test scores used to evaluate her performance were so poor. Yet a year later, she said, her scores sharply improved even though she made no changes.

“Everybody who has ever looked at their life and wondered if it’s sustainable will find something in this story,” Scioli said.

Phillips and Korreck are hoping to get the film before as many people as possible, including at film festivals. Publications such as the Huffington Post and the Atlantic Monthly have given the documentary recent media coverage.

Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of Public Schools First NC, which helped the directors, said people need to see the documentary.

“Maybe this is an opportunity for people in our community to look at our teachers as real people and the hard work it takes to be teachers today in Wake County and North Carolina,” she said.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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