Principal bids students goodbye after 6 years

June 13, 1996|By A SUN STAFF WRITER

The students in last lunch period at St. Jane Frances School in Riviera Beach had a surprise guest yesterday. Sister Mary Monaghan, who will step down as school principal this summer, ate her last lunch with the children she has come to love.

"There's a sadness there," said Sister Mary, 59. "I always looked forward every day to coming to this school."

Sister Mary is stepping down after six years in which she installed Spanish classes for middle school students and a "Great Books" program modeled on the one at St. John's College in Annapolis, in which students are assigned books to read and discuss in class.

"It gives them good literature to read," said Joan Williams, who has been teaching fourth grade at St. Jane Francis for 22 years. William Kerner, a social studies and religion teacher, said Sister Mary, who has undergone abdominal surgery three times in as many years, spoke volumes through her actions as well as her words.

"We all knew she had physical problems, but she just continued to work at it and give her best effort," he said. "Everything was geared to making things right for the children."

The children say they are saddened by her decision to leave.

"We wish she stayed," said seventh-grader Billy Coursey. "She listens to you when you have questions."

"I'm really going to miss her," said fourth-grader Meghan Eckerl. "She's the only principal I've ever had."

Sister Mary is not leaving education entirely. After a four-month sabbatical at a religious retreat near Gettysburg, Pa., she will return to the classroom as a middle school math teacher. She doesn't know at which school she will be.

Some may see a return to the classroom as a demotion, but she doesn't. "It's just a change of pace," she said.

Sister Mary began her 38-year career as an educator in 1958, teaching sixth grade at Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Baltimore. After teaching math in Havre de Grace, Fairfax, Va., and Tampa, Fla., she became principal at St. Jane Frances in 1990.

For now, she is counting the days before she cleans out the principal's office she has occupied for the past six years.

"It hasn't really hit me," Sister Mary said. "I think the greater hit will be when I don't go to school that first day [in September]."

Fourth-grader Caitlin Kazmerski said she "would do anything" to convince her principal to stay, but Sister Mary said she has no plans to do that.

"It's always hard to move to a new place because I've been happy at every place I've been to," she said. "But every goodbye is another hello, and I promised them I would come back."

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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