Students protest "Macon Miracle" school plan

acastillo@macon.comFebruary 10, 2012 

Two Central High School seniors led an energetic crowd of about 200 students in a demonstration outside the Bibb County school board offices Thursday to air concerns about Superintendent Romain Dallemand’s plan to overhaul the system.

Seniors Brett Felty and Tanner Pruitt, dressed in suits, said they wanted to encourage transparency from school leaders and raise students’ questions about a plan that will impact current and future students.

“We want what’s best for our school system,” Pruitt said. “We want the students to be able to share their voice in the plans being made.”

Board members had considered voting on the plan this week, but they are delaying a vote to seek public input.

The students met at Tattnall Square Park about 7 a.m., then drove to the parking lot beside the Music Hall of Fame. Led by Macon police, they walked to the system’s central office on Mulberry Street. They wanted to give Dallemand a letter, counterproposals to parts of his plan and a petition signed by Central students and others across the system.

Instead, they were greeted by David Gowan, the system’s director of risk management, shortly before 9 a.m. Gowan remained outside talking with students for almost 45 minutes. The students wanted to go upstairs to talk to school officials, but they were told no.

“We’re trying to be as transparent in the process as possible,” Gowan told them. “We believe anything we can do to improve that, we’re going to try to do.”

Among the students’ concerns are that Dallemand’s plan calls for adjusting school policies to make sure that all students, especially minority students, are represented in all academic programs, such as gifted classes and extracurricular activities. Participation in those activities should depend on the individual abilities and circumstances of each student and not depend on filling quotas, the students have said. They also raised concerns about school discipline.

Gowan delivered their documents to Dallemand’s office. The superintendent was not in the building, though, but was attending a training session at Hutchings Career Center.

The students told Gowan that teachers are afraid to voice their concerns about the plan, called the “Macon Miracle,” and that school leaders have not spent enough time in school or sought students’ perspective on the proposal. Pruitt said he was named to a Bibb student advisory council in October, but that it has not met this school year. He raised similar concerns about a parent and teacher advisory council, too.

Pruitt and Felty said there is a lack of communication between school leaders and the community.

“We’re continuing the dialogue with you,” Gowan said.

“But right now, we need the dialogue to start -- it hasn’t started yet,” Pruitt responded.

Gowan said employees have opportunities to meet with Dallemand every week, and top administrators hold meetings in schools weekly.

Felty said students have tried to reach out to school leaders, but they have not been receptive to their requests for a meeting.

“Once again, they will not listen to us,” Felty said. “It kind of feels like they’re stuck up in their high tower, literally right now, and are not coming down and will not talk to us now ... and also the entire time this has been going on.”

While Felty and Pruitt said they would not attend Thursday night’s school board meeting because of a mock trial event, they said they would continue their efforts and encourage other students to contact their board members.

If “we do something and your friends do something and your friends’ friends do something, something will happen with the board of education and Bibb County schools,” Pruitt said. “That’s what we want. That’s the change we want to make. This is a cause and an issue that is bigger than every one of us.”

Felty and Pruitt also met with deputy superintendents Jane Drennan and Susanne Griffin-Ziebart Tuesday night after media reports about Thursday’s planned demonstration.

“It shouldn’t have taken a media storm to do that,” Pruitt said.

Drennan and Griffin-Ziebart likened the strategic plan to deciding to go on vacation -- you choose your destination before you figure out exactly how to get there, Felty and Pruitt said However, you also must decide whether the trip is feasible, the students said in response.

Students at the rally also had other concerns about the plan, from possible school overcrowding to way grades would be aligned under the proposal.

Jamila Colvert, a Central sophomore, expressed doubts about having eighth-graders in high school.

“They’re not ready to be in high school,” she said.

Though the event was spearheaded by Central students, it also drew pupils from other high schools, including Rutland, Howard and Westside.

R.L. Bell, a senior at Rutland, came to the protest with his younger brother, a first-grader at Porter Elementary, in mind.

“I want the school system to be as good as when I grew up in it,” Bell said.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, 744-4331.

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