Dallemand: ‘Many dots’ not aligned in school system

On Romain Dallemand’s first day on the job as Bibb County’s school superintendent, campus police arrested an Appling Middle School student on gun and marijuana charges.

It emphasized to Dallemand that his plans to focus on student discipline and school safety are a necessity.

“I’m very concerned about the safety of the students,” he said during an interview. “Schools have to be conducive for students to learn and staff members to teach.”

That view has struck a chord with school board members such as Sue Sipe.

“We want to remove all obstacles to students’ learning -- identify them and remove them,” she said.

School safety and discipline are just two of several areas that Dallemand plans to spend the next several months addressing as he works with the community to build a plan to overhaul the Bibb County school system.

Dallemand has hit the ground running in his new job. Before his second week had ended, he had already met with employees in the central office, administrators at each high school and members of the community.

He also held one-on-one interviews with each member of the school board before presenting them with his “entry plan” at Thursday’s school board committee meetings.

All that on top of moving his family from Rochester, Minn., where he served as superintendent for three years, and getting them settled in Macon.

Both of his children are enrolled at Howard Middle School.

“We’re still working through the transition,” he said. “There’s still a lot of boxes to unpack.”

Getting started

Dallemand’s first order of business was to meet with employees at the central administrative office to get a better feel for every department.

Campus Police Chief Daniel DeCoursey said his session with Dallemand covered a variety of topics, such as the department’s responsibilities, challenges and resources.

“I gave him the state of the department -- some of the challenges we’re facing,” DeCoursey said. “It was really just bringing him up to speed on the issues we face. But it was an excellent dialogue.”

Bibb County school spokesman Chris Floore said it was much the same when he gave Dallemand a tour of the system’s communications department.

“It was a very relaxed communication,” Floore said. “It was a very honest conversation.”

Dallemand promised board members he would have a new organizational chart by the end of March that would revise the current leadership in the central office, the first of many changes he plans on making as part of his school system makeover.

If people within the school system are nervous about what change could mean for their departments or jobs, Floore and DeCoursey said they haven’t heard of it.

“In specific, no,” Floore said. “What does change mean overall? (Dallemand) has a vision of learning, and it’s about lining things up to meet that vision.”

Dallemand has said as much.

“There are many dots right now that are not aligned,” he said. “We have to have the system working on the same page.”

To do so, Dallemand said it will require him to meet with as many stakeholders as possible -- parents, teachers, employees, students, school board members and community partners -- and synthesizing as many of their ideas as possible to come up with a plan.

He wants the process to be an open one, he said.

“In the next three or so months, I want to learn about the district -- everything that is going on.”

School board members say Dallemand has been receptive to their input.

“Everyone who has a vested interest will have the opportunity to be heard,” board member Tom Hudson said. “There’s going to be accountability. It’s all about the children and education system in Bibb County.”

In addition, Dallemand told the board he wants to hire an independent auditing company to assess the school system’s academic data, including test scores, graduation rates, dropout rates and more, to have an impartial understanding of the issues facing Bibb County students in the classroom.

“Not everyone is moving in the same direction,” he said.

That’s similar to what Dallemand did when he first took over in Rochester. He used data he had accumulated about that school system to develop a plan designed to close the achievement gap among a significant percentage of the student population.

At the time, Dallemand referred to the difference as “an opportunity gap,” not an achievement gap, noting that every student needed an equal opportunity to achieve success. Dallemand said much the same thing during his investiture ceremony at Central High School on Jan. 31, telling members of the Bibb County community that the gap exists not just in Bibb County, but nationally.

In Rochester, Dallemand ended up taking information from about 450 people to develop a five-year plan for change in that school system. Dallemand drew some criticism for implementing change in Minnesota. As one former school board member there noted, change often provokes resistance.

Dallemand said he knows some people might resist change in Bibb County as well.

However, he said, “I was hired to bring change. That’s why I’m here.”

Making changes

Dallemand declined to make comparisons between the Bibb County school system and the Rochester system at the time he took it over.

“I’m not getting into a comparison of one to the other,” he said. “There are different state (education) laws, different cultures. They are two different things, and I’m not going to compare the two.”

But his approach to effecting change will likely be similar.

Once Dallemand collected all the pertinent data in Rochester, he began making changes based on the information. Test scores in Rochester showed increases in all subjects, and the change was effective among students of all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.

Black students, Latinos and non-native speakers of English showed the most dramatic jumps in test score improvement.

That hasn’t stopped residents within the Bibb County community from criticizing Dallemand already. One caller to the “NewsTalk Central” radio show last week claimed that Dallemand had already hired five people from Rochester to come work in Bibb County.

Not true, said Dallemand, who added that he hasn’t spoken with anyone from his old job about coming here.

“Any position that is open, we will conduct a national search and look for the best candidates for those positions,” he said.

In his brief exposure to Macon, Dallemand has noted how involved the community as a whole is with the school system.

“I’ve been impressed,” he said. “I’ve found that this is a community where people truly care about the outcome for their children. People want the best education. Parents want their children prepared for the future. Among the staff, individuals are working very hard and they want to see the district improve.

“It’s very encouraging.”

Information from Telegraph’s archives was used in this report.