GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH Romain Dallemand in the conference room adjacent to his office at the Bibb County School Board offices. Dallemand is at the end of his first year as Superintendent of Bibb County Schools.
A year into his tenure as Bibb County school superintendent, Romain Dallemand is about to deliver a plan that could transform the makeup of the school system.
He’s overhauled the district’s command staff, removed and then rehired employees and announced that students will be able to choose which school they attend next year based on their academic interests.
Some board members praise Dallemand for his bold ideas and methodical approach to problem-solving. Others are criticizing him for a lack of communication and transparency with the board -- and the public.
Dallemand’s first day on the job in Bibb County was Feb. 1, 2011, after leading Rochester public schools in Minnesota.
Perhaps the most-talked-about feature of his first year has been his plan to improve student achievement in Bibb County. While Dallemand has said he will unveil details of the plan Feb. 10, he has already hinted at some of his ideas, such as teaching students Mandarin Chinese.
Dallemand considers sessions with central office employees and board members, as well as meetings at schools and in the community to gather feedback and insights, among the highlights of his first year in Bibb County. In year two, Dallemand said he will focus on introducing his plan, dubbed the “Macon Miracle,” and getting it going.
“We’re looking forward to unveiling the strategic plan,” Dallemand said Tuesday. “I think the Macon Miracle will really help improve this community.”
Several board members asked about Dallemand’s first year said that education is back on the minds of residents since Dallemand took the helm, and that’s a good thing.
“People are talking again. The community is talking about education. Parents are talking, principals and teachers are talking. People are starting to take a more realistic look at the school system, good and bad, and that’s a positive thing,” board member Sue Sipe said.
Dallemand came in with new, innovative ideas that include technology and evidence-based research, said board member Tom Hudson, who praised Dallemand for involving the public in the strategic planning process and having weekly meetings with the community and employees.
“Many times, plans are made for the people that are impacted, but they do not have input from the beginning. People do not buy in,” Hudson said. “Since he’s had people in there giving their input, it’s a plus for the district.”
At the same time, Dallemand been methodical in developing the plan, board President Tommy Barnes said.
“When you’re eager to have things change as eagerly as the board was and I was personally, to wait a year, we have had to be patient,” Barnes said. “As far as the process, now’s the time.”
Dallemand’s plan will focus on student achievement and safety in schools. The latter need was driven home in recent weeks after students at Northeast High School were charged with raping a 16-year-old special-needs students in a school restroom.
Some board members believe that the safety of students and school employees, however, has been compromised under Dallemand’s leadership.
“All other parts of the plan are superfluous if the students are not safe,” board member Gary Bechtel said.
Schools are not disciplining and removing students for serious offenses, board member Lynn Farmer said. Fewer students are facing a suspension of more than 10 days or being expelled. In turn, there are significantly fewer evidentiary hearings in Bibb County schools this year. In 2010-11, there were close to 1,000. As of November of this school year, there were about 20, Farmer said.
“Look at the incidents. You can tell a difference in the punishment this year and last year,” she said.
Dallemand denied that teachers have been pressured to give reduced punishments to students, and the proper documentation from schools is required before a student can be expelled, he said.
A student at Appling Middle School was arrested on gun and marijuana charges on Dallemand’s first day on the job, and he said safety remains at the top of the list for him.
“I’m extremely concerned that these things happened at our schools,” he said. “I’m extremely concerned.”
Bechtel, Farmer and Sipe also raised concerns about Dallemand’s communication with the board, all saying that they have been finding out more about what’s going on in the school system from school employees, among others, but not Dallemand.
From Bechtel’s point of view, board communication has been “very disappointing.” He said previous Bibb County superintendents have been more transparent with board members than Dallemand has.
“I get the sense that he finds the board a nuisance,” Bechtel said.
The relationship between the superintendent and board members has changed since Dallemand has taken office, several board members said. After governance training in June, school administrators are expected to assert control over day-to-day matters. School board members should not micromanage, but make decisions that affect the system’s big picture.
Barnes said board members are adjusting to those more strongly defined roles, but it’s ultimately for the best, he said.
“We have to give him the flexibility to do his job. Then we can hold him accountable if he does not deliver,” Hudson said.
Bechtel and Farmer said they are getting fewer updates on the progress of school programs, as well as fewer in-depth discussions about how money is being spent.
“The taxpayers feel how their money is spent on a day-to-day basis is their business. That’s what the constituents feel. He may feel it’s micromanaging, but I have constituents that feel that it’s their business,” Farmer said. “I personally feel that’s their business. Therefore it’s my business, and I’m elected to represent them.”
Dallemand said his philosophy is not to comment about school board members, and he would not address communication issues involving board members.
Board member Wanda West said Dallemand’s vision -- and changes in general -- are going to be difficult for some people and exciting for others. The school system and its leaders are working in the best interests of its students, she said.
“It’s not just changing for change’s sake,” she said. “It’s changing in response to goals, the mission, changing in response to needs, the change in response to the next steps, to meeting higher demands.”
Dallemand says his plan will help improve the school system, and the community should support it, Hudson said.
“We can’t keep doing things the same as in the past and expect different results,” he said. “It’s been a positive rather than a negative.”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.