By John Eby
March 26, 2012
CASSOPOLIS – State Sen. John Proos practiced what he preached to kindergarteners Monday afternoon at Sam Adams Elementary School.
Proos, R-St. Joseph, read “Click Clack Moo — Cows That Type” by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin, about Farmer Brown’s cows’ demands when they find a typewriter in the barn and go on strike, joined by hens withholding eggs. It wins out over the Michigan-made wildlife photo book “Lost in the Woods” and “Hop on Pop” by Dr. Seuss, whose birthday leads off March Reading Month. Students’ kites fly on one corridor, tails telling how many tales each read.
Sam Adams is home to 572 students grades K-6 with two enclosed playgrounds. Proos graduated from Lake Michigan Catholic High School in 1988. He and Kristy have three children, who also include Jack, third grade; and Elena, fourth grade.
“I read to my kids every night,” the lawmaker said, emphasizing that reading at school is only half their job.
Children ask if Proos knows President Barack Obama. “I was at a breakfast with him in February, but I have not met him. He’s almost as tall as I am (6-foot-3), but he’s got a better jump shot. President (George W.) Bush is shorter, 6-foot-1. His dad is taller, 6-foot-4. President Clinton and I are about the same height.”
Proos looks like he’s empaneling a grand jury when he directs each student to raise their right hand to swear they will practice reading every day, including summer.
“Computers help” him do his job. So does his Taurus commuting between the 21st Distict of Cass, Berrien and Van Buren counties and Lansing. “But the most important thing I do in my job,” a boy named Logan guesses, is listening.
“I learn when I’m listening and show respect to others,” Proos said.
Proos switches to listening mode for a tour, which, thanks to a $16 million bond, added two new wings for fall — one for kindergarten and first grade classrooms and another two-story wing for second through sixth grade rooms; 31 new rooms were added to the former high school.
The bond ushered new technology into classrooms, including interactive whiteboards, laptops, document cameras, iPads and surround sound systems in each classroom. Lower grades rolled into Sam Adams from Frank Squires, which will house the administration, making Red Brick School expendable.
Proos peaks in on fifth graders creating dinosaur PowerPoint presentations.
Principal DeeAnn Melville-Voss, a former Miss Cass County who has been with the district for 22 years, including as a teacher and coach, decorated her office in an inviting pirate motif, including a life-size cutout of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow from the four-film franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Proos, who oversees the $2 billion corrections budget, shares with librarian Jean Porath, who divides her time between Sam Adams and the junior/senior high, his frustration that prison libraries seem better staffed, with a librarian, assistant librarian and librarian supervisor. “That makes no sense to me.”
Porath, a Dowagiac graduate who has been integrating 15,000 to 20,000 volumes 2½ days a week with a paraprofessional, asks, “Can I have that many people?” Voss treats sixth-graders as mentors for younger students. “They take being leaders of the school very seriously.”
Proos chats with third-grade teacher Joan Potter, who expects her daughter in Texas to make her a grandmother over spring break. He wonders about correlation between “a big new beautiful building” and parent engagement.
“They want to take care of the building and their children to have Ranger Pride,” Voss said, “and focus on positives — not negatives. We offer support and help — values like we were raised with. Parents know I and my very caring staff are here to take care of the kids, who need this quiet and structure.”
“You can feel it when you come in” after ringing the buzzer, Proos said.