Born into poverty to a single mother with only a sixth-grade education, Romain Dallemand moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., from Haiti and had to learn to speak English.
With those strikes against him, Dallemand faced an uphill climb to academic success, the Bibb County schools superintendent told the crowd at Friday’s celebration of the Bibb County school system’s strategic plan, which he has termed the Macon Miracle.
Dallemand, who went on to earn four degrees before he turned 30 and took his first superintendent’s job at age 38, said if he was able to jump the obstacles in his life, any Bibb County student should be able to receive a top-notch education.
“We are going to make the Macon Miracle a reality in Macon, a reality in Bibb County,” he shouted amid applause.
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Friday’s celebration of his plan follows fall planning sessions for system staff and months of work gathering community feedback.
On Feb. 3, Dallemand shared with board members and the community the proposed strategic plan, which includes bold changes for the system such as allowing students to choose their schools based on their academic interests, extended school days, eventual year-round school and adding Mandarin Chinese as part of every students’ curriculum.
In his remarks Friday, Dallemand said there are parallels between the vision of success for all of Bibb County’s students in the “Macon Miracle” and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
In his famous speech, King used the imagery of dreams to connect the people’s common goals of a more equal society, Dallemand said.
“Nothing could have been more powerful to inspire the masses and unify them with a common purpose,” Dallemand said. “It was natural to refer to the vision as a dream. He did so with a sense of purpose. What would Dr. King say to Bibb County? What would Dr. King say of us dreaming together?”
King was passionate about education, Dallemand said, and would have worked to bring opportunities to all students.
The Friday event came just one day after about 200 Bibb County students protested in front of the school board office and after parents packed a school board meeting to weigh in on the plan, which has become a controversial proposal.
But other than some traffic issues, there were few hitches Friday.
Though there had been rumors that people who didn’t have invitations to the event might not be able to get in to the Coliseum, no one was turned away. In fact, there were several hundred empty seats when the presentation began just after 1:30 p.m. The Coliseum has about 7,100 permanent seats, and there were several hundred seats set up on the arena floor.
As people entered, they were handed a 26-page booklet that provided an outline of the plan’s various aspects.
Board member Tom Hudson said he was inspired by Dallemand’s personal success story and thinks the community needs to come together for Bibb’s students.
“It’s not about the superintendent. It’s not about the board,” said Hudson. “It’s about our most precious resources -- our children.”
School leaders will seek more feedback from employees and the community to continue shaping the plan in the coming weeks, Dallemand said.
Parents, community members and others have asked for opportunities to give feedback since Dallemand unveiled the strategic plan last week.
“I am proud to be part of the community that boldly stated they wanted change,” Dallemand said Friday. “The desire for change was reiterated over and over again last night at the board meeting. We agree that we want better results for our students.”
While board member Lynn Farmer said she still has questions about the financial specifics of the plan, she praised Dallemand for listening to community members who said they wanted to take more time before the plan is approved and provide their input.
“I think he heard a lot of parents,” she said.
On Friday, the superintendent also discussed safety measures to include increasing security at all schools, transitioning students from youth detention centers into alternative learning environments and providing social and mental health services.
He also asked people to keep an open mind about the plan.
“You will learn more about the strategic plan. Until then, I impress upon you that you not close your mind to the possibilities for students because of misinformation,” he said.
Friday’s event also featured dance, acrobatic and musical performances by 18 students from China’s University of International Business and Economics, which tied in with Bibb’s plans to teach Mandarin to students. The school system did not incur any costs associated with the performance, Dallemand said.
Bibb County school leaders are looking to work with the Confucius Institute at Kennesaw State University to teach Mandarin.
While no details have been worked out, the institute at Kennesaw State already works with Hall and Whitfield County schools, as well as the Georgia Virtual School, said Barry Morris, Kennesaw’s vice provost for global engagement and strategic initiatives.
Some, like Hartley Elementary School parent Sharon Smith, showed enthusiasm after Friday’s presentation.
“I thought the event was awesome and showed the spirit of Macon,” Smith said.
After reviewing the plan, Alan Thiese, a former Bibb school board candidate, said he is impressed with it.
“This is the stuff,” he said.
Others left the event without any new answers about the plan.
“We didn’t learn anything we haven’t already heard,” said Tanner Pruitt, a Central High senior who helped lead Thursday’s student demonstration against the plan.
“There are more questions than answers. We don’t have anything we didn’t already have before.”
Telegraph staff Phillip Ramati and Liz Bibb contributed to this report. To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.