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It’s been a challenging year for retiring MSA principal Susan Moench

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Susan Moench retires from Mount Saint Agnes in August after 14 years as principal of the school (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
MSA principal Susan Moench with Maddox Lightbourne and (back, from left) Elizabeth Furtado, Simon Turner and Rhiannon Rushe (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
MSA principal Susan Moench with (back from left) Maddox Lightbourne, Simon Turner and Rhiannon Rushe. Elizabeth Furtado is in front (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
MSA principal Susan Moench with (from left) Mia Wolffe, Lucas Furtado, Faith Looby and Jaishun Jones (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Susan Moench while a student at MSA (Photograph supplied)

Thanks to Covid-19, Sue Moench has had a challenging final year as principal of Mount Saint Agnes Academy.

Her work day begins at 6.10am, when she has to ensure that traffic can move freely around the school. She then turns her hand to helping take the temperatures of around 200 students and making sure they sanitise their hands before they head into school.

“We have to get here early enough to put traffic cones out on Elliott Street, Dundonald Street and on Washington Street,” the 66-year-old said. “We want to make sure that when parents start dropping kids off we are not holding traffic up. The children come in through five different entrances now, because of pandemic regulations.”

Ms Moench will retire at the end of August, having spent 14 years as principal of MSA and 41 years in education.

“I will miss the friendships the most,” she said. “This is the one place where I always feel very comfortable. People feel like family here and they look out for each other.”

She was a student at the school herself in the 1960s.

“Back then the school was taught by nuns,” she said. “The Sisters of Charity were very active.”

At MSA she was active in Sister Joseph Anthony Ferraz’s popular glee club.

“She was a very strict disciplinarian, but she had a tremendous love for her students and a passion for her music,” Ms Moench said. “That is what she wanted to instil in all of us.”

Another teacher who inspired her was an art teacher, Sister Mary Theophane.

“There was a really strong arts community that came out of her work,” Ms Moench said. “Another prominent nun who left her mark on Bermuda was Sister Jean de Chantal Kennedy. She was a Bermuda historian who was the best history teacher ever.”

At that time the school was located on Cedar Avenue where the Clara Mohammed School is today.

“That was referred to as Experiment Hill at one time,” she said. “The current MSA location opened in 1967. I was in Grade 7.”

She remembers having to carry her desk from the old school to the new one.

“There was still construction going on for at least a year after we moved in,” she said.

Ms Moench fell in the middle of Reginald and Zita Pitman’s three children and was the only girl. Her father sold televisions before becoming a telecommunications officer for government.

Her mother, who was originally from Lethbridge, Alberta, came to Bermuda as a nurse.

She was the second generation in her family to attend MSA. Her father went there in the 1920s for two years.

He died of a sudden heart attack when Ms Moench was in Grade 12. She said it was not just a loss for her family, but the community.

“He was prominent around the school,” she said. “He was chair of the men’s committee but he also was involved in making sure all the electronics in the school – the PA systems and clocks – worked.”

Her brother Ted had already graduated her mother was left to raise Ms Moench and her younger brother Bill on her own.

“She was very ambitious,” Ms Moench said. “Early on, she ran her own little nursery school, and then she ran a small hotel in Sandys – Sugar Cane Guest House. It was on East Shore Road.”

She did not initially intend to become a teacher.

After graduating from Mount St Vincent University in Canada she joined the hotel industry for two years, working as a front desk night auditor.

“I really wanted to be in business,” she said. “I had a lot of friends who were in business. In the work I was doing I did a lot of training. I liked the idea of breaking things down into little chunks and being able to explain them to people. I thought this was more my calling.”

She went back to university and then spent six years teaching business education at what is now Nova Scotia Community College.

“I ended up at the University of Alberta doing a master's degree in industrial education and vocational education,” she said.

It was there that she met her husband, Ken Moench, also a teacher. They married and lived in Medicine Hat, 90 miles from where her mother grew up.

“That wasn’t by design,” she said. “But it did give me the chance to get to know my mother’s relatives.”

She was a classroom teacher, then a vice principal and then principal of a large high school.

“I did do some time in their district office as an assistant superintendent, but I much preferred to be with the kids,” she said. “I wanted to return to the school.”

After her husband fell ill and died in 2007, Ms Moench decided to return to Bermuda to see her family.

“The job for principal of MSA was being advertised. My mom was ageing at the time. I moved back home to help take care of my mother. I got the job at MSA.”

During her days as a student at MSA, classes were sometimes as large as 50 students. She has worked hard to bring those numbers down.

“The maximum now in a class is 20,” she said. “Today, we know more about how kids learn, and the value of differentiated instruction. It is important to meet each child where they are at. It is very difficult to do that when you have 50 kids in a class, but more manageable when you have 20, because you can personalise the instruction more.”

Under her leadership MSA became an Alberta Accredited International School offering the province’s curriculum from kindergarten to Grade 12.

“I wanted to make sure MSA was achieving the same standards as international schools,” she said. “Once we investigated, it was evident we needed to attach ourselves to a standardised curriculum.

“We landed on Alberta, primarily because they do standardised testing. Our students do standardised tests at Grade 3, 6, 9 and 12. Our students graduate with an Alberta high school diploma. If a child from this school is applying for university anywhere in the world, they are applying as though they are from Alberta, Canada. The standards are the same.”

In recent years she has sometimes found herself working with the grandchildren of her MSA classmates.

“That is strange,” she said. “I am trying to adapt to realising that we are all getting older now. But it is fun to connect with those folks.”

Anna Faria-Machado will take over as principal in the coming school year. Kim Raymond will become the deputy principal and Chris Tannock, the assistant principal.

“It has been a really nice transition,” Ms Moench said. “When I announced I was looking at winding down and retiring, my recommendation to the board was that they promote internally and they identify people to work alongside me for a period of time.”

In retirement she plans to sew and become more involved in volunteer activities at her church, St Joseph’s in Sandys. She also hopes to travel, once the pandemic is over.

“Really, I just want to enjoy life,” she said.

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Wednesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

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Published June 23, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated June 24, 2021 at 8:00 am)

It’s been a challenging year for retiring MSA principal Susan Moench

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