Rep. Lower tours Montabella Elementary School

By Meghan Nelson • Last Updated 9:06 pm on Tuesday, April 18, 2017

State Rep. Jim Lower, R-Cedar Lake, introduces himself Beth Garcia’s first grade classroom. Lower visited Montabella Elementary School on April 11 and answered questions from teachers and students. — Daily News/Meghan Nelson

HOME TOWNSHIP — As State Rep. Jim Lower, R-Cedar Lake, walked the hallways of Montabella Elementary School, he gets a chance to see what administrators, teachers and students experience there on a daily basis.

Wendy Binge, a parent volunteer and adviser of the school’s student government, reached out to Lower and asked him to visit the school.

“In order to make decisions for our school, (Lower) should have some hands-on experience,” Binge said. “It is important for the entire community, including students, that we see our representatives.”

Rep. Jim Lower sits down with volunteer grandparent Joan Pitts during his visit to Montabella Elementary School. — Daily News/Meghan Nelson

Elementary School Principal Michael Moore and Binge have talked about getting the community more involved with the school. Inviting a state representative seemed like “a step in the right direction” to Moore and Binge.

On April 11, Lower, who represents the state’s 70th District, met with teachers and staff at the elementary school for three hours and talked about ways he and the school could work together.

Moore showcased some of the school’s ongoing projects and technology, including dozens of Chromebooks used for student goal setting and staff work.

“I thought by having Mr. Lower here he could see just how hard the teachers and support staff works,” Moore said. “I wanted him to see how the staff at Montabella Elementary cares for students and forms relationships with students.”

Lower said he was impressed by the interactions with teachers and students.

“It was very evident everyone at the school enjoys working with the students and wants them to succeed,” he said.

Moore also shared his concerns about some of Montabella’s ongoing problems, such as chronic absences.

“If students are absent on a regular basis it is impossible to provide them with an adequate education,” he said. “Multiple sources of data indicates that most students who have a high number of absences perform lower. Unfortunately, when truancy processes are followed some students are pulled for homeschooling. The concern when this happens is if the student is getting an adequate education.”

Lower, at the end of the table and eats lunch while talking with Wendy Binge, parent volunteer and student government adviser, to Lower’s right, and students from Montabella Elementary School. — Daily News/Meghan Nelson

Another concern is hiring flexibility. Moore spoke highly of the substitute teachers who work at Montabella, but there are days when there are not enough substitutes and he has to fill in as the teacher. He told Lower that reducing the requirements for substitute teachers would allow the school to be able to recruit more.

Moore and Lower also discussed creating more flexibility to hire teachers.

“We were curious if there was a way to hire a teacher that had proven capabilities but not a teaching degree without devaluing the teacher certification,” Moore explained.

In Lansing, education is always a hot topic, according to Lower, who is currently working on increasing the availability of skilled trades training and adding more flexibility to the Michigan Merit Curriculum.

After his visit to Montabella Elementary School, Lower and his staff are now researching the feasibility of addressing Moore’s concerns.

Lower ended his visit at Beardslee’s Restaurant in Edmore where he interacted with cognitively impaired students and the elementary school’s student government.

“The visit with Mr. Lower was awesome,” Moore said. “He seemed to be concerned about education as a whole and listened. He also asked for me to stay in contact and email him any solutions I might have.”

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