I am leery of anything described as a miracle, but that is what the new Bibb superintendent is pledging for the 25,000 students in his district under his ambitious plan for reviving the district.
One of the most miraculous goals is a 100 percent high school graduation rate by 2023
Last week, Superintendent Romain Dallemand fulfilled his promise to shake up the sluggish system, unveiling his Macon Miracle blueprint to decidedly mixed responses. (There are more than 400 comments on the Macon Telegraph website, most of which could be described as skeptical and angry.)
The Macon Miracle blueprint is candid about the district’s challenges: With 41 schools in the District, only 24 of them made Adequate Yearly Progress for 2010‐2011. Discipline data also raises concern for the future of Bibb County, Georgia, and the United States. In 2010‐2011, almost 8,000 students were suspended for a total of 48,000 days of missed instruction. Nearly 500 students were expelled, 703 students dropped out of school completely and the District’s 9th grade cohort graduation rate was 44.6%.
The plan contains 100 action points, including closing schools, a dramatic restructuring of grade configurations, a move to year-around schools, Chinese classes for all students from pre-k to grade 12 (they would be phased in starting next year with teachers hired from China), schools of choice that students could pick based on their interests and dorms for students in need.
Bibb would move to k-3 elementary schools, grades 4-through-7 middle schools and grades 8-through-12 high schools. (I am not sure of the research underpinnings for this configuration. In my earlier reporting on k-3 models, I found the research suggests that children lose ground in transition years so fewer transitions are better)
Bibb students would go to school longer each day for a weekly gain of 10 hours. K-3 students would have 90-minute reading blocks every day.
The system would drop from 1,179 teachers to 856 teachers through attrition for a savings of $19 million in a five-year period. Bibb would shutter 12 elementary schools and save $4.5 million. The high school schedule would change from the current four block schedule to a seven period day, which somehow would save $1.5 to $3 million dollars.
I get the sense reading the blueprint that almost every conceivable reform has been tossed into the mix. I am not sure that a document with so many layers and so many moving parts is the answer. It seems to me that successful turnaround models begin in a single school with a community-wide commitment to put students first.
I have getting e-mails all week from unhappy parents and teachers in Macon. One of their complaints — Beverly Fraud, are you listening? — is that discipline has eroded under Dallemand.
Even students are complaining about the lack of discipline in their schools. The community is still reeling from the alleged rape of a student with special needs during the day in a school rest room. Two hundred students protested the plan Thursday at the Bibb school board offices.
There is already a parent petition under way to fight the plan.
The Bibb board expressed some concerns at the unveiling of the plan last week, according to the news story in the Macon Telegraph:
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.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog