Staff cuts, longer school days among ideas Dallemand presents to the board of education for Bibb schools

Strategic plan, called "Macon Miracle," also touts school closures, organizing grades differently

acastillo@macon.comFebruary 4, 2012 

The Bibb County school system’s new strategic plan aims to cut staff and close up to 12 schools, saving the system more than $23 million over several years.

“I’ve been saying for a very long time, since I came to the district, I am not here to tweak the system, I’m here to build a new school system,” Superintendent Romain Dallemand said at a called school board meeting Friday afternoon to unveil the plan to board members.

The plan -- which Dallemand calls the “Macon Miracle” -- also would structure schools differently. Elementary schools would include students from kindergarten through third grade, while middle schools would cover fourth through seventh grades. High schools would include eighth through 12th grades.

The plan also calls for longer school days.

During Friday’s meeting, which drew a large public audience, Dallemand said there are more than 100 action steps involved in putting the plan into place. That plan includes six touchpoints, including students and technology.

There are now 1,179 teachers in Bibb County’s public schools, excluding special education teachers, according to the plan. Under a reconfigured system, the schools would need just 856 teachers. Those staff reductions would be met through attrition, Dallemand said.

Cutting 300 positions would save the system $19 million between 2013 and 2018, officials said. The plan also projects a savings of about $4.5 million by closing up to 12 schools. Officials say they haven’t determined which schools would close.

Dallemand said his goal is to have a 100 percent graduation rate by 2023. He also announced ambitious plans to increase SAT performance, as well as the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses and dual enrollment offerings.

However, while the school system is projected to save millions through 2018 and potentially lower the millage rate by 4 mills, school transformation will require a lot of upfront spending, Dallemand said.

Board President Tommy Barnes said that when the board hired Dallemand, they wanted someone to shake up the system, which he has done.

“(The plan) is different,” Barnes said. “It’s bold and aggressive.”

Board member Lynn Farmer asked about the plan’s costs, but school administrators said those details would not be known until the plan is approved by the board and administrators begin working out details of how the plan would work.

School officials need to be upfront about the costs required in setting the plan in motion, Farmer said.

“The devil is in the details, and there are not a lot of details,” she said after the meeting.

During the presentation, board member Gary Bechtel asked Dallemand what part of the plan addressed school safety, alluding to the report of a rape at Northeast High School last month.

School administrators responded by saying that the plan includes more training for students, teachers and staff, as well as creating two alternative schools.

“What are you (doing) to address ... in this particular plan that we’re serious about keeping schools safe?” Bechtel asked again.

That’s where providing “wrap-around” services such as counseling and mental health services come in, to reach students before they misbehave, several administrators responded.

Often, students who misbehave don’t have the same opportunities as others, said Jane Drennan, deputy superintendent for teaching and learning.

“We have to treat every child if they can learn. We have to do everything so they can be successful,” Drennan said. “There’s the idea if someone misbehaves, they have to get out of schools. We as adults have to deal with behavior and learn why they behave the way they are.”

Incidents such as the alleged Northeast rape could have happened anywhere and point to the need for change, Barnes said.

“It’s not symptomatic of a school. It’s symptomatic of our district,” he said.

Farmer said the district has a responsibility to provide opportunities for students, but she also said, “I do think we have to acknowledge that we are responsible to keep everyone safe.”

The plan is meant to address problems in the system, Dallemand said.

“I’m extremely concerned with the current system,” he said. “I’m extremely unhappy with the way the system is so deteriorated. I am bringing a solution to fix it. What we have is unacceptable.”

Dallemand also said all students will learn Mandarin Chinese, beginning in pre-K, and all students will get free Internet access at home. By working with local organizations, he said, low-income students will get home personal computers.

The Chinese instruction could begin as early as this fall. Language instruction will be phased in at the elementary schools, and the goal is to have the programs in place by fall, though delays could be expected as teachers come from China and might have to deal with visa issues, Drennan said.

Middle schools would begin teaching Chinese in 2013-2014, and high schools would begin teaching it the following year.

Once a student moves through the system from pre-K through 12th grade with Chinese instruction, “they should be pretty proficient,” Drennan said.

As for teachers, Dallemand discussed new initiatives for education and training for teachers, including an “educators academy.” He also stressed that teachers need to be more proficient in technology and called for a “comprehensive technology development plan.”

Dallemand also talked about switching Bibb schools to a year-round school calendar. That change wouldn’t go into effect until fall 2013 at the earliest.

Dallemand’s plan has been a year in the making. During the first few months of his tenure, he met extensively with the public, community leaders and school employees to gather ideas and input.

Dallemand has said his restructuring will boost student achievement. He has said he wants students to be able to pick the school they attend based on the area of study they’re interested in. That school model is not in the works for next school year.

The Rev. James K. Baker, associate pastor at New Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, responded enthusiastically to the plan, including the idea of year-round school.

“The vision talked about a lot of change in the current system and the need for change,” he said.

Dallemand is scheduled to present the plan to the public Friday at the Macon Coliseum. Schools will close early that day. Board members are scheduled to vote on the plan after that presentation.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.

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