July 2, 2007

Dallemand Begins Learning School District’s System, Culture

By Edie Grossfield, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

Jul. 2--The transition from East Coast to Midwest began recently for Romain Dallemand, the superintendent of Rochester public schools, who started his new job today.

He'll have a sharp learning curve in the following months, not only learning about the public school system here, but about the culture of Minnesota, and of Rochester specifically.

But Dallemand has had some experience stepping out of his comfort zone and into new ways of life. It began at age 15, when his family moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., from Port Au Prince, Haiti.

"I didn't know a word of English," Dallemand said. "French and Creole were the languages I used to speak. It was a major culture shift, culture shock."

Dallemand was placed in an English language learner program in Brooklyn's Prospect Heights High School.

When asked if he experienced racism and teasing during his school days because he was black and an immigrant, Dallemand simply responded "Yes, sadly," but he declined to give details.

"I overcame hardship and discrimination, and I still have to deal with some of those issues today," he said.

When he was young boy in Haiti, Dallemand dreamed of someday becoming an engineer. However, the move to New York changed his mind.

He started at Brooklyn College as a pre-med major, and ended up in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in psychology from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan.

"I was fascinated with psychology. It really changed the way I looked at things," he said, listing off some of the theorists he found so interesting. They included Sigmund Freud, Abraham Maslow and Jean Piaget.

After his bachelor's, Dallemand began studying for a master's degree in mental health and a doctorate in special education.

He said he also was working as a mental health therapist during his graduate studies, and that led him to shift his career plans from the mental health profession to education.

"I began to realize that many of my clients really had issues that started at a very young age. So, that's when I decided to become an educator, so I could influence them at an early age rather than as adults when most of the damage has occurred already," Dallemand said.

His first jobs in education were as a special education teacher and then a school counselor in the Miami-Dade County public schools.

His following jobs were: a consultant for New Haven, Conn., public schools; the director of pupil personnel for Torrington public schools in Torrington, Conn.; principal of the Hartford Transitional Learning Academy in Hartford Public Schools; and, finally, assistant superintendent for special education at Hartford Public Schools.

As he thinks about some of the differences and similarities between Hartford and Rochester schools, Dallemand said Rochester is a higher performing school district that offers many more academic and extracurricular activities than Hartford.

Several years ago, Hartford was similar to Rochester in the make up of its student population, Dallemand said, with about 25 percent being students of color and immigrants.

Over the years, however, the demographics changed dramatically, as more immigrants arrived and white students left the district for the suburban schools.

Dallemand said Hartford didn't promptly address a growing achievement gap between white and minority students, which eventually led to an overall lower achieving district. In fact, Hartford is one of the lowest achieving districts in Connecticut today, he said.

He said he sees an opportunity in Rochester to tackle the achievement gap now, before it becomes a much larger problem for Rochester.

"The concern is for all students in the district to be successful, and support from the community is very crucial," he said.

This week, Dallemand plans to sit down with district administrators and go over desegregated student performance data to study the nature of the achievement gap in Rochester.

"And we're going to make closing the gap a preeminent priority. And, it ought to be for the entire community, because I believe that having a gap is one of the largest threats to our democratic ideals," he said.


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