The Principal Story 

a PBS Documentary Film on School Leadership 

Airing nationally on PBS on September 15, 2009 (check P.O.V.  for local listings)/

Welcome to THE PRINCIPAL STORY, a national broadcast film and media outreach project, commissioned by The Wallace Foundation. Its purpose is to raise the visibility of leadership as a lever for school improvement, especially in our most challenging schools. NSDC was honored to contribute to this comprehensive initiative about the importance of the role of school principal. Produced by NSDC, THE PRINCIPAL STORY Field Guide accompanies the film and Clip Reel.

This project is part of THE PRINCIPAL STORY outreach campaign, which is made possible by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, a source of ideas for improving school leadership.

Visit For more information and research about education leadership, visit the Wallace Knowledge Center at

About the Film

THE PRINCIPAL STORY portrays the challenges principals face in turning around low-performing public schools and raising student achievement. This intimate, emotional one-year journey is seen through the eyes of two dynamic principals: one in only her second year in the Chicago Public School System; and the other, a seven-year veteran in Springfield, IL. The film reveals the struggles these leaders face as they keep their focus on improving teaching and learning amid the competing demands of managing their staffs and engaging their students and communities.

About the Filmmakers

Tod Lending
Executive Producer, Producer, Director, Cinematographer

Tod Lending is an Academy Award®-nominated and national Emmy-winning producer/ director/writer/cinematographer whose work has aired nationally on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and HBO; has been screened and awarded at national and international festivals; and has been televised internationally in Europe and Asia. He is the president and founder of Nomadic Pictures, a Chicago-based documentary film and television production company; and director of Ethno Pictures, a not-for-profit documentary film company.

David Mrazek
Producer, Director, Sound Recordist

David Mrazek is an award-winning producer/director/writer of numerous prime-time PBS history and science documentary series, as well as documentaries for The History Channel and Travel Channel. Mrazek’s work includes The Great War series, The Kingdom of David, The Duel and Woodrow Wilson, among many others. 

About the Principals and Their Schools

Kerry Purcell, Principal
Harvard Park Elementary School, Springfield, IL

During her six years as principal of Harvard Park Elementary School (pre-K-5), Kerry Purcell was instrumental in supporting the school’s successful move off the state watch list. The school made approximately a 45 percent gain in reading and a 50 percent gain in math scores. Most notable is Kerry's work around data interpretation and analysis, building and sustaining professional learning communities, and creative use of fiscal, human and time resources to support school improvement.

Tresa D. Dunbar, Ph.D., Principal
Henry H. Nash Elementary School, Chicago, IL

Two years ago – after five years of turmoil at Nash Elementary School (pre-K-8) under six different principals – Tresa D. Dunbar, Ph.D., took over as school leader. Tresa had been an assistant principal at Nash, leaving in 2001 to pursue principal training. She returned as a novice principal with a mission of change and a commitment to improving instruction and academic achievement. Already, many strides have been made: reading and math scores have risen, and Nash has been honored by Mayor Richard M. Daley for progress on the ISAT.

About the Outreach Partners

THE PRINCIPAL STORY media outreach campaign includes a network of national professional associations that are helping to elevate the visibility of education leadership as critical to raising student achievement in our nation’s schools. These outreach partners are providing content expertise and hosting events to reach key constituencies in a position to change policies and practices.