Archive for Thursday, May 31, 2001

De Soto High School says goodbye to a classic educator

May 31, 2001

For Bonnie Montgall, success was turning a generation of De Soto High School students into readers.

"I just hope somebody, somewhere along the line enjoyed reading," she said. "It's a lifelong pleasure."

On Memorial Day, Montgall listened as students in a sophomore honors English class presented book reports. They will be among the last students she introduces to the literary classics. After a 26-year teaching career, the last 22 at De Soto High School, Montgall is retiring.

This year, Montgall taught a section of sophomore, junior and senior English. The sophomore and junior sections are honors classes. She admitted it's a perk that comes with her seniority. Honors classes are smaller, especially on the sophomore level, and have motivated students.

Still, Montgall said her demands are the same for all classes. Her students know they won't be reading the latest Stephen King thriller for her class.

"I read everything they read," she said. "There are just some things I'm not going to read. There is just so much out there that is not good literature. Plus, the parents object.

"I try to get them to read things they wouldn't pick up on their own."

Success comes when students find they enjoy the books she makes them read.

"A lot of them do," she said. "They'll tell me when they do. I've even had seniors tell me they enjoyed Macbeth, if you can imagine that."

Much has been made of the declining student performance in English in the past few decades. Montgall said she believes she has witnessed some of that. She attributes much of the decline to the biggest change she has witnessed in her years of teaching.

"So many kids work," she said. "They leave school everyday and work late. You assign work that doesn't get done. They have to support that car."

Several years after she started her teaching career in Missouri 36 years ago, Montgall took a 10-year break to raise her three daughters, Jennifer, Kristen and Amy. She resumed her career in the Shawnee Mission district middle school, but jumped at the chance to teach in De Soto because she wanted to teach in a high school and in a smaller setting.

"We actually live in Lenexa, but I consider myself part of De Soto," she said. "All three of our daughters went to school in De Soto. It was excellent atmosphere to raise children."

All three of her daughters married military officers stationed in far-flung posts.

"That's one of the reason I'm retiring," she said. "I want to see my grandchildren."

Her husband, Mike, a former school administrator with time in the De Soto district, retired last year. The couple has an antique business that will keep them busy, she said.

One of the most difficult things about any retirement is leaving close friends behind. Montgall said recent developments in the district eased her transition.

"It's not as hard (retiring) this year as it would have been last year before the schools split," she said. "I already feel I've lost so many of my friends."

While the year was a transition to her retirement, it also served as a link to earlier days at a smaller De Soto High School.

"It had very much the same flavor as it did back then," she said. "It was nice to get back to a small school again. That's one of the reasons we chose De Soto."

Next year will be a transition for De Soto High School as well. Montgall was the first and only head of the school's language arts department.

Karen Wall, who serves as head of the school's social science department, said Montgall left a legacy with the district's younger teachers.

"You could tell by the number of the young teachers from Mill Valley who came to her retirement party that they really had a lot of respect for her," Wall said. "She is one of the most conscientious teachers you'll ever find. She sets such a high standard for herself."

Montgall deflected any talk of her influence. She said the best advice she can give young teachers is that they love their work.

"The most important thing for young teachers is to really like the kids," she said. "If you don't like and respect them, you won't get anywhere. If they know you do, you can get everything you ask from them."

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