By Courtney Conover – There are simply too many to choose from.
Ask Kitty Monit, the Taft-Galloway Elementary School main office secretary, to pick the most memorable moment of her career, and one will find that she’s got her work cut out for her.
Perhaps it’s the time she helped build an igloo–large enough to serve as a cozy reading retreat for several children–out of empty milk jugs. Plot twist: A few days after it had been built, Monit arrived one morning to find that, because the nearby heating vent had melted the glue, the entire structure had collapsed. “We ended up having to rebuild the igloo—and weave wire through each jug to keep it stable,” recalls Monit, 67. “It took a week.”
Or maybe it’s the countless times she’s doled out a Hershey’s Kiss as an additional comfort for students who had been sent down to the office for a bandage or bag of ice. Back when Monit served as the secretary of Vandenberg Elementary (which closed in 2011), she became known for the Band-Aid-covered bucket on her desk that was filled with the chocolate treats. A family at the school, the Millers, gifted Monit with an upgrade: A shiny silver container shaped as a giant Hershey’s Kiss, complete with the signature white tag on top. In fact, the jar still sits on Monit’s desk today.
“It plays loud, obnoxious music when you open it, and the rule is that if a student wants a Kiss, they have to dance for it,” Monit explains. “I remember one time when a student came down—Nathan was his name, and he was not in a great mood. I asked him if he wanted a Kiss, and he replied, ‘Yes, I do. But I don’t want to dance, so I’m not doing it,’” Monit chuckles.
After Monit’s laughter subsides, she pauses a bit and declares, “Wow, what a ride this has been.”
She’s right. We should all be so lucky to look back on the trajectory of our livelihood in the way that Monit looks back at hers.
It’s the morning of Monit’s interview for this cover story, and she’s the personification of school spirit. She’s donning a long-sleeve orange and navy Taft-Galloway baseball tee that bears the school’s motto at the bottom, The World’s Greatest Elementary School.
“There is magic in this building,” she says in a tone that is both definitive and compassionate.
Perhaps Monit should add an S to the word building, because, technically, she is referring to two of them. But more on that in a minute.
Monit’s storied history with Taft-Galloway began in 1988 when she accompanied her eldest son, Justin, on his first day of kindergarten. But it’s important to note that Taft-Galloway didn’t look back then the way it does today—an entirely different (and much older) building existed on that site back in the 1980s.
“I introduced myself to the principal and said, ‘If you need anything, call me. I’d love to help and want to be involved,’” Monit remembers.
Shortly thereafter, her son’s teacher began reaching out with garden-variety requests: “It was like, ‘Can you put this bulletin board up?’ Stuff like that,” says Monit. But then it progressed to other staff members asking if she could come to the school and run the copier.
It wasn’t long before Monit became a Taft-Galloway staff member in an official capacity. The role of lunchroom sub came first, and a full-time lunchroom assistant position followed. Next, Monit became an overload aid before moving on to become a paraprofessional (one who works alongside teachers to support students).
And then came a plum of an opportunity that was highly unexpected: The secretary at nearby Vandenberg Elementary was retiring. And that presented Monit with the chance to hone an entirely new skillset. So, she jumped at it and assumed the role of school secretary in 1999.
“Vandenberg was so different, the school itself was so small,” Monit recalls. “There were no bussed kids, so we never had bus issues—everyone walked. Also, the parents were very involved. I had a great time there,” Monit says fondly of her four-year span.
The next chapter in Monit’s journey caught her by surprise and couldn’t have been better scripted if it had been written by a New York Times bestselling author: Now, it was the secretary at Taft-Galloway that was retiring. Monit was then welcomed back and hired by then-principal Mike Hurley.
“There was no doubt in my mind,” says Monit, who has memories of coming to the school with her father on Election Day when she was a young girl. “My heart was here.”
So back to Taft she went in the fall of 2001, but the school wasn’t at all the same: In 1999 an entirely new school had been built–only the gymnasium and one hallway remained as relics of the first structure. Still, a certain familiarity loomed, which is to be expected when one has the pleasure of working with someone they get along well with.
“He was not only a boss, but a good friend,” Monit says of Hurley. Mike’s a combination of friend, dad, brother, the whole thing. You can run anything past him and get feedback.”
Like Monit, Hurley had developed a decades-long career in education. Prior to his retirement from Wayne-Westland Community Schools in 2004, Hurley had worked at numerous schools within the district, including Vandenberg, C.P. Titus Elementary (which has since closed), and P.D. Graham Elementary, in addition to serving as the principal of Taft-Galloway for 12 years. “Working with Kitty was such a joy,” says Hurley. “She was like a mom; she just has that ability to smooth things over with parents and handle things with kids—and we had some pretty tough cases back in the day. But nothing frazzled her. She just took it all in stride. We worked together for a long time. She could read me, and I could read her. That made the workplace so much better—and fun to go to every day.”
Hurley also credits Monit and her husband, Skip, for their invaluable work with the bond committee that paved the way for the construction of the new Taft-Galloway building. “Kitty was just an all-around great person to work with,” he says.
But February 28 will mark the end of an era of sorts: That will be Monit’s last day in her desk chair at Taft-Galloway. Not that she’s running for the hills. In fact, it’s the opposite.
“I’m probably the only person in the world not counting down until my last day,” says Monit. “Just the other day, somebody asked me how many days I have left, and I said, ‘No clue.’”
Monit cites wanting to spend more time with her husband of 45 years, former Wayne-Westland school board member and Wayne City Councilman, Skip, as the leading catalyst for her announcement to retire. “It’s time for us to do some stuff,” says Monit, who still characterizes herself as “just Barb and Dave’s daughter.” Monit has been a resident of Wayne all her life.
“It’s something we’ve talked consistently about,” Skip seconds. “We want to make sure we can enjoy each other’s company as much as we can in the coming years,” he says of the woman he describes as his “other half.” He goes on to credit his wife for the diligence and passion she’s demonstrated during her well-respected tenure. The Monits have a spot in Grass Lake, Michigan, where their camper stays, and the couple plans to enjoy it more often. Not that the two will be alone, however: the Monits have three adult children and eight grandchildren. There are plenty of memories yet to be made.
But first comes the hard part: Actually going through with retirement.
Says Monit, “I hear people who grumble, ‘Gee, I don’t want to go back to school on Monday,’ [following the recent two-week holiday break] and I’m like, ‘I’m looking forward to it.’ But now I’m thinking: What am I going to do on March 1?”
It is likely that the folks at Taft-Galloway Elementary will be pondering the same question. To say that Monit will be missed by her colleagues and the approximately 430 students is a colossal understatement.
“I will not only miss her—working with her and seeing her, but the families, staff, and students—the community—will, too, because she’s been such a pillar in this community,” says Brandon Cox, who has served as the principal of Taft-Galloway since 2018. “She’s put forth all this effort selflessly–every sick child, every Band-Aid needed, every little thing that needs to be typed up. She deserves to be honored.”