Romain Dallemand is the new superintendent for Bibb County Schools in the city of Macon, Georgia. When he took control about a year ago, more than half of the student population had left school before graduation, and almost 500 students were expelled annually due to disciplinary problems.
So Dellemand helped develop a plan he labeled the “Macon Miracle,” a course of action described by the school system as a “comprehensive strategic plan designed to ensure that each child is given a chance to achieve success in a 21st century, multi-ethnic global society.”
According to Dellemand, the plan includes intensive English and mathematics courses along with a controversial mandate: all students learn Mandarin.
“For the students we have in school today — students who are in kindergarten or elementary school — in their world, Asian culture will play a major role ... Mandarin Chinese will be a language that benefits them greatly,” he says.
“The positive reactions have been overwhelming,” he says, explaining that of some concerned critics, however, have been “very vocal.”
One concern that has been voiced, for example, regards those brought in to teach Mandarin. Recruited via the Chinese government-backed Confucius Institute program, the new educators, some parents feared, would be conduct communism lessons in class.
“That is not true. That is not the case,” says Dellemand, adding that parents are invited to visit the classroom and observe for themselves.
Under the plan, the institute covers costs and pays salaries of Mandarin teachers sent to Macon, something Dellemand says factored heavily in his decision to implement the program.
“I would not have been able to afford this," he says. "In fact, the reason why we have not been able to offer another language especially at the elementary level is that we cannot afford it.”
Nevertheless, the superintendent says the Mandarin program presents students in his district “the opportunity of a lifetime.”